Tentpegging/Mounted Skill-at-Arms

Tentpegging has nothing to do with Boy Scouts or leaky tents!!

It is hard to say exactly where the sport of tentpegging originated. If we look at knights in the Middle Ages they frequently used suspended rings to help improve their accuracy. A man in armour is well protected except for a few weak spots – hence the need to be accurate with a lance or a sword.

In the UK it is generally felt that the sport was imported in roughly its present form by the British Army from India – in a similar way to the sport of polo. When Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 B.C. he had lancers with him.

Stories are told that his mounted soldiers would ride out of the sun at dawn removing with their lances the pegs that held their enemy’s tents to the ground. Foot soldiers would then follow to ‘mop up’ the entangled enemy. Other stories are told that his lancers would engage enemy elephants and try to ‘peg’ their toes. The infuriated and agonised beasts would then turn on their own army! Both of these stories seem to be the sort of tall stories that an ‘old soldier’ may well tell a young one on April 1 !

Leaving the above aside, it is fairly safe to say that the sport of tentpegging owes its origins to the North West Frontier of India and was used as a way of training horse and rider. It also made use of equipment that was to hand, i.e. tentpegs, and – in the case of sword dummies – sand bags.

Like many other sporting disciplines – be they equestrian or otherwise – it has evolved from the games and exercises practiced by generations of cavalrymen to hone the skills necessary to fight the enemy.

In the countries where this sport is still practiced there has developed considerable national individualism as to the detail of the rules and the style of execution. A standard set of rules for International competitions helps with the judging. It also enables countries to compete on a more even footing with each other.

National identity is a good thing – the world would be a greyer place without it! Rules in Great Britain are based on those used by our cavalry and would probably be recognised by any long past cavalryman, no matter in which far-flung outpost of the Empire he saw service

What has changed is that tentpegging is now purely a sport that is open not only to the military but to everyone.

Tentpegging/Mounted skill-at-arms is a sport in which the whole family – from grandchildren to grandparents – can take part. A cavalryman had to look after his horse well, if only because, at the end of the day, his life depended upon it – it also depended on his skill. Today, competitors have to apply themselves in the same way as was done in the past – the difference however being that their own and the horse’s life no longer depends on the outcome of their training!

Mounted Skill at Arms is a fun, fast and exciting sport, where riders are expected to hit a variety of targets with, e.g., a lance or sword – at speed. As potentially lethal weapons are used, the safety of horse and rider is a high priority and correct drill and training is vital to ensure that no injuries are caused.

Like many equestrian sports, Mounted Skill-at-Arms has its origins in the military. In recent years however interest in (and funding for) the sport within the military has waned. It has however become increasingly popular with civilians and is popular in an increasing number of countries such as, e.g., South Africa, Australia, India, Pakistan, Holland, Germany, Israel, UK and USA.

The weapons that are used are potentially dangerous. Therefore, before riders are introduced to weapons, an assessment of their general riding skills must be carried out. After that has been done, disciplined instruction needs to be given in the handling of the weapons – at first on foot and then on horseback.

There are several disciplines involved in basic SAA competitions, of which the best known is tentpegging. This involves removing a three inch, 2 inch or 1 inch wide tentpeg from the ground with a sword or lance. It may sound easy but it has to be done at the gallop, so the rider has to be able to think fast and aim faster!

Other disciplines in basic SAA competitions involve taking rings (with a lance or a sword) or slicing oranges (with a sword) [all suspended from gallows at head height], penetrating straw dummies (with a sword) and/or bursting balloons (with a revolver or what is known as a pricker) while jumping small fences. In competition, points are awarded for accuracy, style and pace. Different disciplines are involved in cavalry-based SAA competitions