REAL LIFE

I gave up my day job to be a knight!

When Sarah stumbled upon a medieval event, she never imagined it would change her life forever
Sarah Hay

Sarah Hay, 46, Bargo, NSW

Wandering around a festival one weekend, I could hear a crowd cheering in the distance. What’s all the fuss about? I wondered.

Following the noise, I found myself standing outside a ring with hundreds of revellers. In the middle were two men on horses, dressed head to toe in silver armour. Each of them carried a shield in one hand and a long pole in the other.

They look like knights, I thought excitedly. I’d always loved all things medieval, but I never knew modern-day jousting existed!

Suddenly, the men charged at each other, aiming their lances at the other’s shield. When one rider made impact, the crowd erupted with cheers. I could do this, I found myself thinking.

I was an enthusiastic horse rider, having competed in equestrian events since I was five. At 16, I was even selected to travel to New Zealand to represent my club. But two years later, I was kicked by a horse and broke my leg. I had to stop competing as I slowly recovered.

Instead, I threw my efforts into finishing my university degree and became a teacher. Climbing the ranks, I was soon Deputy Principal at Cecil Hills Public School. I loved working with kids and seeing them flourish. But watching the jousters hat day reignited my passion for horse riding.

(Credit: Sarah Hay)

Enquiring straight away, I was soon practising with a trainer every weekend. To be good at jousting, I had to become comfortable riding one-handed, carrying a weapon and shield, and wearing a suit of armour. It was extremely heavy, weighing around 30 kilos, and cost over $10,000. But it was worth every cent.

A few months later, I was ready for my first jousting show in Sydney. Most competitors were men. In fact, I was surrounded by them! It didn’t put me off though. I was determined to show them that a woman could do anything they could.

Grasping the reins, we kicked off. As my horse galloped faster, I raised my lance toward my opponent and struck his shield with an amighty force. I was made to do this I thought, as adrenaline coursed through me.

I was determined to show them that a woman could do anything they could.

In June 2008, I drove to my first tournament in Caboolture, Qld. Looking around, everyone was dressed in medieval costumes. I felt like I’d been transported back to the 15th century! Putting on my armour, I couldn’t help but giggle, wondering what my students would think if they saw me.

The music was pumping and the crowd cheered as I walked onto the field. Once my opponent and I saluted one another, we rushed forward. Aiming my lance, I hit right on target as I passed him. After three more passes with the same opponent, I was crowned the winner.

Exhilarated, I knew I had truly found my passion. Even though I loved my job, it didn’t compare to the feeing of sitting atop my horse.

I knew I had truly found my passion.

Word spread around the school about my jousting achievements. My students were fascinated. ‘Does it hurt?’ one asked. ‘Sometimes!’ I laughed.

As time went on, my skills improved, and two years later I travelled to Belgium for my first international tournament.

I was petrified about how I’d fare overseas. I’d have to ride a new horse, and the lances were much heavier. At just 70cm tall, I was also up against men three times my size. But amazingly, I ended up winning first place!

Since then I’ve travelled across the world to compete, visiting France, Poland, Canada and more. I’ve been ranked fourth in all of Europe.

Although, the title did come with it’s fair share of injuries! I’ve had bruising, concussions and broken my thumb. During one tournament in Denmark, I even shattered my right knuckle and spent months in physiotherapy.

Me (left) with friends at a joust in Winnipeg, Canada (Credit: Sarah Hay)

I still have days where I’m not confident before a match, but I try to stay positive. You’re a successful rider on the world stage, I tell myself. You’ve got this.

People often ask whether it’s intimidating to go up against such burly men, but I take it as a compliment to be hit hard. It’s all in good spirit and I don’t want special treatment.

I often get messages from women on Facebook, thanking me for inspiring them. You make me want to become a jouster! one wrote. 

Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to take my jousting journey further. ‘I’m quitting my job and moving to Oman in the Middle East,’ I told my friends. There, I’d be much closer to all the European events.

Initially they thought I was mad, but they knew how much it meant to me.

(Credit: Sarah Hay)

So earlier this month, I packed my bags and left for my new life. Working as a teacher, I’m still able to compete on weekends.

I’m proof you don’t need a knight in shining armour, you can joust become one!

Originally published in Issue 38 of that’s life! magazine – September 22, 2016.

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