Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gymkhana - A First for the Festival

- Charlotte Bothma -

In the misty morning of winter, draft horses adorned in armour prance to the battlefield. Knights astride their powerful backs hoist heavy lances into position. Steam pours from the horse’s nostrils like a dragon ready to burn his enemy. They await their leader’s battle cry.

"Let the games begin," yells the scorekeeper.

According to the book, LEGACY OF THE HORSE of the International Museum of the Horse located in Lexington, Kentucky, tournaments in the Middle Ages became the most popular form of recreation for knights all over Europe. To keep in shape for battle the events included jousting, melee, and fighting on foot. Although heavily armoured knights became obsolete, the sport of games on horseback retained its nobility, valour and grandeur.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the noun gymkhana (pronounced jim—‘ka-na) came into the English language around 1877. Today gymkhana is associated with games on horseback that involve skill and speed which test both horse and rider.

Tentpegging, the noble equestrian sport of Lance and Sword has more recent origins in India. Around 1851 the officers and troops of British mounted regimens stationed in India whose sport was wild-pig sticking with lances, amused themselves by galloping in and amongst the army tents and cutting down the guy ropes with swords or pulling out wooden pegs with their lances. This resulted in the collapse of the tents. The high spirited behaviour caused some dissatisfaction amongst the troops. The senior officers decreed that the pegs be put into the ground away from the tents and lance and sword events thus came into being.

Tentpegging was introduced into South Africa from India at the beginning of the last century by the Dragoons and the Bengal Lancers. It was essentially a mandatory sport and aided the young mounted cavalrymen in the proper handling of lance, sword and revolver, their weapons of war. Tournaments took place for much the same reason that inspired the knights of old in England and Europe to joust in the lists.

Families love the games of gymkhana where the young and young at heart can compete in a sport steeped in history, but modernised to satisfy even the most contemporary rider. It takes talent and skill, not lots of money or elite breeds to enjoy the sport.

Gymkhana will continue because of the friendships it builds, the family ties it creates, and the equestrian skills competitors learn will last a lifetime—and by involving the children the noble sport of gymkhana will shoot it’s historical arrows into the future.

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