Tall, charming and an excellent horseman, Arne Koets is the quintessential ‘knight in shining armour.’ But, as Isobel Uden finds out, there’s more to life as a 21st century jousting knight than meets the eye.
Born in the Netherlands, but now based in Germany, Arne rode in his first joust in 2002, having only started riding eight months earlier. He is now established as one of an elite few in the world practising the martial arts of the medieval knight to a standard comparable with the real chivalric warriors of the Middle Ages.
Interested in military history from a young age and having studied archaeology at the University of Amsterdam, Arne is concerned with the science as well as the art of historical interpretation. He strives not just for historical accuracy, but authenticity, a subtle, but important distinction, according to Arne.
What this means in practice is that he lives and breathes jousting. Having worked for the Royal Armouries in Leeds as a rider/swordsman, along with the Dutch Army museum in Delft he now runs his own business, planning and performing in tournaments all over Europe and as far afield as Australia.
“Arne regularly works close to a hundred hour week, and an eighteen hour day is deemed ‘lazy’”
This determined and focused mindset is illustrated by Arne’s approach to learning to ride. In the early days, he suffered two extremely bad accidents, which by rights should have put him off for good. But motivated by an inexpressible drive to persevere, and aided by fellow jouster Joram Van Essen, who despite insisting that he couldn’t teach, gave Arne the tools to achieve what is most elusive in riding; ‘feel’.
Arne Koets riding Maximilian in a live joust © Neil Bury
“Now, not only can he ride down the tilt rail in a straight line towards his opponent, wielding a 3m lance with only a 5mm slit to see through, but he is capable of executing ‘high school’ dressage movements with incredible finesse.”
Arne explains that a conscious decision was made by the leading jousters to raise the standards of their riding to emulate the best traditions of classical horsemanship. For example, one account he read of hunting deer on horseback, described the need to turn the spear at the point of contact with the animal, in order to drive it in further. This suggested that the medieval rider had the expertise to go from full gallop to a pirouette on the spot, using just one hand. Therefore, achieving this level of skill became Arne’s expectation.
To be this dedicated undoubtedly has its drawbacks - lack of sleep, eating out of tins and constantly being on the road, are just a few which spring to mind! But when asked about the most rewarding aspect of his work, Arne is quick to say, “It is about the friends you make.” He describes having the opportunity to come together with people and horses, at some amazing places, and collectively achieve a spectacular tournament, which delights and inspires the audience.
It is hard to describe what the difference between historical accuracy and authenticity is, just as it’s hard to really know what life as medieval knight was like, until you meet Arne Koets.