Medieval Grit – Charlie Andrews, World Champion Heavy Jouster
Westerner Charlie Andrews Takes Professional Jousting to a New Level
By Hannah McBeth
Photos by Vladimir Chopine
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Charlie Andrews has never been a stranger to the rough-and-tumble lifestyle. He grew up ranching in the dry craigs of mountainous California, working with horses and becoming familiar with the animals’ abilities, intelligence, and strength. His early experience instilled in him a strong work ethic, a tendency to take all manner of injuries in stride, and the ability to sense the unique facets of many types of horses’ temperament and potential. In his constant quest to challenge himself mentally and physically, he discovered professional medieval and Renaissance jousting: for him, the next frontier in horse training and punishing physical conditioning. In our interview with Andrews, he details how he’s blurring the line between modern cowboy and medieval knight. He hints at what could make this the most exciting year to date, including how he—along with his best horse Jagermeister—will star in upcoming episode of a new unannounced Netflix series, and in September, defend his titles of reigning World Champion for light armor, heavy armor, and best all-around jousting. He also details his hopes to increase jousting’s mainstream recognition around the world, but especially here in Utah.
Over 12 years ago, Andrews relocated to Utah and developed a piece of property in rural Utah County where he could pursue his career as a competitive equestrian and horse trainer. Always on the lookout for the next challenge, his first real jousting experience came when a friend talked him into giving it a try at a Renaissance Fair in Michigan—in front of a paltry 5,000 spectators. At that moment, the ear-splitting crack of lances hitting metal armor, the racket of the cheering crowd, and the adrenaline rush of hurtling toward an opponent on a 2,000-pound horse hooked Andrews and has never since loosened its grip.
Jousting, at its core, is about violent impact. The Latin root for joust means, “to approach” or “to meet,” which gets to the point, but is also the tiniest bit of an understatement. In a typical jousting match, two fully-armored knights are carried by hulking draft horses galloping at full speed towards each other along a centerline. They play an intense and technical game of chicken, where the ultimate objective is to hit your opponent with a lance, often shattering the 11-foot piece of smooth and deadly hemlock. Extra points are awarded when the opponent is unseated and flies to the ground. At its birth in the 12th-13th centuries CE, jousting was a martial sport, devised to imitate cavalry clashes in battle and keep steeds conditioned, and was used as an intimidation tactic, displaying the knight’s and horse’s steeled nerves.
While many history enthusiasts like to read about or act out jousting events with some increased safety measures to prevent fatal injury, Andrews was always drawn to the genuine competitive, physical, and, some might say, “crazy,” components of the game. The type of jousting he prefers is conducted in full, heavy armor with maximum impact and danger, and Andrews says, “If I’m going to play something, I’m not going to play flag football, I’m going to play rugby.” In the course of his participation in over 1,000 competitions and events, Andrews has suffered numerous concussions, broken bones, and bruises. Despite the danger, Andrews has refined his technique, found ways to make armor safer, and has continually pushed for jousting to become a more-widely practiced and accepted sport. While in today’s movies and TV shows, the jousting used is mostly acting and Hollywood magic imitating the real thing, Andrews hopes with his showcasing of “realgestech” (full-impact) jousting around the world, it will once again be respected as an authentic athletic feat.
How do you coax a large, dangerous animal to participate in such a sport? It takes horses who are brave and capable of developing a special bond with their riders. Although Andrews owns 5 horses, his fearless Belgian draft horse Jagermeister (Jager for short) is his favorite. Jager has been his partner since birth 15 years ago, before he started jousting. Andrews tells me about the regimen, determination, and mutual trust that he used to train him. “After doing all the initial work of sacking them out and starting [breaking] the horse, you have to get them used to the increased weight of armor slowly.” Years ago, Andrews rode Jager with a couple pieces of armor until he was used to them, then added more. He then introduced the pieces of horse’s heavy protective gear and let Jager become accustomed to walking and running with them on. Then, the horse and rider team practiced running down the centerline at a quintain (a special jousting dummy), before adding another horse and knight into the equation. Patience and time are the only good recipes for effective horse training, but you also need to find a special horse. Jager loves events and has been admired around the world for the great working relationship he has with his rider.
While Jager took to bearing a knight with armor, Andrews says that not every horse is capable performing these tasks. “Horses are just like people. They each have their own personalities, and you can’t judge a book by a cover either.” Andrews continues, “Some horses, like people, will surprise you. Some who look strong on the outside end up being timid and flighty once you get to know them. I’ve seen horses, and people too, who don’t look like much, but when they’re put to the test, surprise you with their courage and strength.”
In all, Andrews’s imposing figure and larger-than-life personality combine the discipline of an athlete, specialist armor knowledge of a history geek, and the type of grit that can only be forged in the rugged, almost mythic, West. Over the coming years, they will continue competing and will look to show the public in Utah, many of whom are familiar with rodeos and equestrian events, that jousting is just as much a fascinating show of technical skill and athleticism.