George A. Godette, MD, has a passion for the fast-paced sport of jousting
After George A. Godette, MD, gets his horse, Smokey, into position, he gives the command to proceed. In the blink of an eye, Smokey accelerates from a trot to a thunderous, 35-mile-an-hour gallop. Dr. Godette stands up in the saddle, high over Smokey’s neck, and steadies himself with a firm grip on the horse’s mane.
“I aim my lance at the three tiny rings hanging from the arch at the end of the track, and then ‘boom,’ I either get the rings or I don’t,” said Dr. Godette.
For more than a decade, the orthopaedist has been drawn to the sport of jousting. As the 2011 jousting season begins this month, Dr. Godette, a member of the Manteo Jousting Club of Buckingham County in his home state of Virginia, is looking forward to more exciting moments on the track.
A modern, medieval sport
When he attended his first jousting competition, Dr. Godette had the same misconceptions that many people have about the sport: that it involves two riders trying to knock each other off their horses. But he found that modern jousting—which has been a sport in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland for almost two centuries—is much different than it was in Sir Lancelot’s day.
Today, riders of all ages and ability levels take part in small, local competitions as well as state and national competitions. They ride their horses down an 80-yard track, and use a lance to catch metal rings with diameters that range from one and three-quarters inch down to a quarter inch, depending on whether the rider is ranked as a novice, amateur, semi-professional, or professional competitor.
“Scoring is based on how many rings the rider gets,” said Dr. Godette, noting that riders must complete each run in 8 seconds or less. “If more than one rider gets a perfect score, smaller rings are used, and the riders go again. The rider who gets the most rings wins.”
Dr. Godette and his family own three horses, including Smokey. His two youngest daughters—7-year-old Ella and 5-year-old Grace—participate as lead line jousters, meaning that an adult walks their horse down the track. Caroline, his 8-year-old daughter, plans to join her sisters in jousting this season.
As much as this now family-friendly sport has evolved, it still contains many nods to the chivalrous but violent contests of yore. Competitors take on the title of “Knight” or “Maid” of their farm, county, or other place they choose. When Dr. Godette competes, he is known as “the Knight of Glade Farm.”
“We also still have the tradition of going up to get your trophy with your ‘lady,’ who for me is my wife,” said Dr. Godette. “When you receive your crown and flower, you bow your head to your lady and give them to her, along with a kiss.”
He adds, with a laugh, that “if a guy comes up to get his trophy without a lady, we heckle him.”
No horsing around
The most important quality of a jousting horse, said Dr. Godette, is that the animal can run straight down the track at a consistent speed without being distracted. Dr. Godette’s first jousting horse, Breeze, died in November 2010.
“Breeze and I won national championships in the novice, amateur, and semiprofessional classes in 2003, 2007, and 2009, respectively,” he said.
One of his most exciting moments competing with Breeze occurred 6 years ago, when he arrived at the National Jousting Championships in Leesburg, Va. All of the riders—except for Dr. Godette—had completed their second run down the track, and all had missed a ring.
“I was the last rider—the guy who could win it all without having to ride again,” he remembered. “The other riders were sitting on their horses, hoping I’d miss one.”
He got Breeze ready, took a deep breath, and focused on the rings.
“I tried to remember all the things I taught myself in practice, and then I just had to execute,” he said.
He remembers the thrill of capturing the first, second, and third rings, securing his victory.
“My adrenaline was really pumping,” he said.
Taking a spill
One year, the weather spelled trouble for Dr. Godette and Breeze when they competed at Natural Chimneys Regional Park in Mt. Solon, Va.
“It had rained, and Breeze did not like standing water,” he remembered. “She would do anything to avoid it.”
As Breeze galloped at top speed and Dr. Godette stood in the saddle, the horse suddenly came to a complete stop to keep from running into a puddle.
“I went flying through the air,” he said. “I landed on my face and my thumb dug into the ground.”
Dr. Godette finished the weekend tournament—and took home a trophy—thinking that his thumb was only sprained.
“I went into the office that Monday with a terribly swollen thumb and thought I had better take a radiograph,” he recalled. “I had a comminuted fracture of my proximal phalanx. My partner had to put three pins in it, so I was out of action for about 6 weeks.”
A new season begins
This is the second season that Dr. Godette will joust with Smokey. Last season, they made it to the finals in the professional class, but lost in the second run-off.
“I don’t have any expectations of winning a lot of pro tournaments this year,” he said. “When I turned semi-pro, it took me a season or two to start winning tournaments. This year, I’ll be practicing on half-inch rings because that’s what it will take to win in the pro class.”
He is particularly looking forward to night competitions at Natural Chimneys.
“It’s completely dark out there,” he said, “except for lights shining on the rings. Riders come flying out of the dark into this bright light, aim for the rings, and then go right back in the dark. It’s a ball.”
There’s nothing quite like competing in a jousting tournament, he said.
“When your horse gets up to speed,” said Dr. Godette, “you feel as though you’re flying down the track. You have to learn to control your emotions, take a deep breath, and completely focus on those three little white targets.”
Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch Dr. Godette on NBC’s Today Show
View a segment that aired on NBC’s Today Show last year that features Dr. Godette and Smokey.
For more media coverage and to learn more about the sport of jousting, visit www.nationaljousting.com