North Fulton Times
By May Smith
My daughter finally talked me into going to Medieval Times at Discover Mills Mall. Friends had told me how great it was, but I was afraid I would be disappointed. I've raised and trained horses. I'm a history buff. I expected to be underwhelmed. I WAS WRONG. If you haven't gone yet, take my advice and treat yourself to a taste of history, a good hot meal you eat with your fingers, first class horsemanship, costumes, stunts, and historical accuracy that will WOW you.
You gotta love how the Castle looks as you drive up. But the really special stuff is inside, and it's not just the show. It's the feeling you get as you are transported to another place and time. This is entertainment at its best. The fictional story is a historically correct portrayal of how fighting and gaming was done in Medeival Europe. The fighting, jousting, falls, and games are realistic. The horses fight, compete in the games, dance, leap, kicking in the air, walk on their hind legs, rear, bow, and steal the show! You are served a meal served in true Middle Ages style, with just a plate and cup. You find yourself cheering for your very own champion, hoping he becomes the King's new champion!
The Royal Abode: Guests are welcomed to the outer arena and crowned with different colors. This organizes them into groups so that they can cheer for their own champion. We found ourselves entertained by all kinds of interesting things, and souvenirs were available, as were pictures in costume with the Princess and as a group. The dÃ©cor makes you feel you have stepped back in time, getting you in the mood for the adventure to come.
The Royal Fare: On the day we went, the arena was almost sold out ( it seats 1100 people ) yet my food was still hot and very tasty. It was served by a "wench" dressed in period costume, lovely, yet strong enough to carry the huge platter of chicken halves, pot of soup, and four pitchers. The meal consisted of half a chicken, soup, bread and tasty apple strudel, and was more than any of the 5 in my party could eat. Vegetarian meals are available on request.
The Royal Knights: Incredibly athletic, they fall off horses on the run, sword fight, joust, compete in realistic Middle Ages games, all the while looking great ( ladies they are EASY on the eyes! ). These young men are hired and trained especially for this work. They duplicate the process real knights used, literally training "from the ground up". First they learn the work of "Squires", handling the weapons. Then they are trained to ride, fall, do the stunts required, fight, etc. Most have no riding experience when they are hired, another amazing fact especially since often as you watch them gently guiding the horses through their moves, you can hardly even see their signals. The company trains them intensively, not just because of what is needed for the show, but for safety reasons. They usually start with short hair and by the time their training is complete enough to be a knight, their hair is shoulder length.
The Gallant Steeds: These amazing animals are bred and raised at the company ranch in Texas, the largest breeder of Andalusians in the USA. The company has many locations, and they need a lot of horses. They start "from the ground up" with the horses as well, breeding, raising and training them for their specific needs.
Andalusian horses are one of the oldest known breeds. The characteristics of this breed can be recognized in cave drawings. Named for their city of origin, Andalucia, they were so well suited to the fighting done by real Knights of old that their use spread from Spain to all of Europe, until most of the Kings of Europe owned and used them. They were known for their courage in battle, their beauty, loyalty, and unusually powerful rear end. Later they were used for the style of riding known as dressage, which also makes use of the athletic hind quarters. Dressage is a form of riding where horses are trained to do moves that look like dancing. It is done to music, and includes complex patterns of stepping, turning, moving in formations to music written especially for the production.
What captures the heart is the way these horses perform. It is obvious they love their work. At one with their riders, who communicate so subtly with them that you cannot even tell they are controlling the animal, they move with great style and grace. Battle scenes show off their athletic ability, and the dressage moves are elegant and lovely. They are the stars of the show. Because I have been involved in horse shows, I know how horses usually react to the kind of stimulation that comes from a crowd. I was watching for normal signs of stress and fidgeting on the part of the horses, and they were notably absent, even during the parts of the show where I would expect to see it. I found myself wondering how they manage to accomplished this!
The horses live at the Castle in 20 stalls equipped with state of the art technology that keeps them healthy and relaxed, yet still allows for the level of cleanliness needed for an establishment that is also a restaurant. 24 hours a day they are under state of the art surveillance. They are bathed every day and groomed twice a day. They work a lot, so they get regularly scheduled "vacations". They, like the knights, switch off parts so that for one show they may do a large, physically exhausting part, next show they may play a bit part, to keep from getting overly tired on days when there is more than one performance. This means they can safely put on multiple shows daily, but it also means they must be more intensively trained. Because of my experience with horses, I found this all the more impressive.
The ranch: Since I was intensely interested in the horses and their training, I was able to arrange to visit the company ranch. Located in Dacula, this beautiful wooded retreat is where the horses are brought to hang out and to just be horses. They are rotated from the Castle to the ranch on a regular basis. The time they spend there is mostly recreational, but also where they are trained and increase continually their skills. Once again I was dumbfounded. Not only did it not smell like a horse ranch, but as I stroked and scratched one of the horses I noticed no horsey smell, and no dirt under my fingernails. I have petted a gazillion horses in my time, and that has NEVER happened, not even at a show!
The training: Here is where the wonderful difference is made, the star quality that shines through and makes this show different from any other horse production you will see is a result of a really different approach to working with these amazing animals. And it is such a difference, that I have written a follow up article that talks about my visit to the ranch and with the trainer who oversees the Duluth Castle. Look for it next week. Suffice it to say that the training is focused not on the dollars that can be made, but on helping the animal be his very best and love what he does.
What I loved most:
The more I learned about Medieval Times, the more I felt I had come upon something very unusual in corporate America- a company that grew from a noble and correct vision: Recreate a fascinating period of history beautifully, artfully, and correctly, make it affordable for the average person to enjoy, and control the process so that you truly care for those who help bring your vision to life! The idealist in me was so gratified to see that it IS possible to be a caring company and still flourish in this great country of ours! Run, don't walk, to experience this for yourself, your family, and be sure to bring along the kids!