When I read about a horseman here in Northern California who tries to re-create the Middle Ages by jousting with other middle-aged hobbyists, I was moderately interested in attending one of his events. But then I realized it was a must-see when I read that the horseman had named his Percheron horse Rohan. In the Lord of the Rings Rohan is the name of the kingdom of pale brown grassland and craggy hills where humans on horseback roam.
We attended the opening of the Harvest Festival at Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore, CA, to see "Sir William" and Rohan perform a jousting demonstration.
I stood in amazement as the knight and Rohan hit a target with a spear and slashed an "evil pumpkin spirit," a pumpkin attached to a wooden pole.
What I loved the most was when the knight rode Rohan around the busy parking lot where bored parents were ushering children in to get pumpkins. Amidst all the noise and SUVs, turning the corner was a gorgeous whitish horse. The clop-clap of his enormous hooves was like a sound from long ago. When he trotted, you could feel him moving the air around him from 20 feet away.
Just as I had my own quest to see Rohan, the Percheron horses of the Middle Ages carried knights, especially from France, all over Europe. They were bred in the Percheron region specifically to be heavy and relatively fast. At 2,000 pounds, they easily carried the 70 pound weight of armor and had the advantage of increasing the force of the knight's spear just through their weight.
It is possible to view artwork of knight's horses online. A frieze painted in an English church around 1200 represents a battle between virtues and vices. Each knight and horse pair represents either a vice or virtue. I can sense the power and fluid movement of the horses through this artwork.
Percheron horses are part of a larger horse group called draft horses. They are calm and quiet. They have medium to heavy bodies, strong legs, and large hooves covered with hair. Their faces are fine and elegant reflecting Arabian ancestry.
Their colors are usually black, grey, or sorrel. Rohan is actually gray as shown by his gray ears. When I was researching horse colors, I realized that I have never known the meaning of terms such as sorrel, bay, or chestnut. This great website explains all the colors in basic terms. Here is a summary of some of the main colors:
Sorrel: light brown with white mane and tail
Bay: reddish brown with black mane and tail
Chestnut: rich brown with lighter mane and tail
Dun: sandy brown to medium brown. Darker dorsal stripe running down the back. Usually darker legs and in some cases, even zebra stripes on the legs
Before the Industrial Revolution, draft horses worked in so many farms that in some countries, they made up 80% of the horse population. Percherons pulled stagecoaches in France where their relative speed, for such a large horse, and their light and visible color were an advantage.
Percherons can even pull small trains. As an educational attraction, one Percheron can pull a small train car filled with 30 people at Ardenwood Farm in Fremont, CA. It was amazing to see the back muscles of the horse ripple as he pulled the train.
For more information on horses in general, see my horse page.
Many years later, I've had the chance to visit up close with two black and white Clydesdale horses at the Pleasanton Scottish Games. The horses were so gentle. I felt if they had wanted to they could have stomped over the fairground fence. Instead, one of the horses walked to each group that wished to pet him. They were both so tall that they could see a different perspective and horizon than I could. I didn't get a great photograph, because the horse was so eager to see different children. At least the photo below is a small souvenir.