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Ground Crew, or How to succeed in horses without actually riding…

By Anne-Marie Rousseau aka Maitresse Anne-Marie d’Ailleurs Updated May 2, 2008

One of the unfortunate things about running about on a horse, knocking things about is that physics dictates that the knocked off things must be put back for the next rider.

Another unfortunate thing (depending on your point of view) is that when on a horse, you are suddenly MUCH taller than you were before. While this has its uses, it makes it more difficult to grab things that are closer to the ground.

Getting on and off the horse can be a time consuming prospect, and for short people with tall horses, can be logistically challenging as you either develop swami like flexibility, or else waste precious arena time trying to find something to stand on to get your foot in the stirrup.

In period, these roles were filled by squires, pages and other underpaid and under appreciated minions. We have manuscript illustrations of young men practicing the knightly arts by being pulled around on a vaguely horse-like cart, or jousting on foot. These same young men would be put to work, assisting their knight with his helmet, sword, lance, baton, spear, barding, etc. Giving a leg up or holding a stirrup so the knight could get on the horse without upending over the other side or pulling the saddle off (both EXTREMELY undignified!). Leaning on the fence, egging their knight on and shouting derisive comments to the squires of the less fortunate knights.

In the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) equestrian venue, these roles are filled with the much more appreciated and highly desired Ground Crew!

The Ground Crew is responsible for helping set up and reset the equipment during the tournament. They will hand mounted competitors their weapons of choice from the weapons rack. They will assist by holding horses, holding stirrups, opening and shutting gates, etc. They can often assist with time keeping or scoring jobs as needed, and are in the best seats in the house, often within mere feet of charging destriers as they run to the tilt!

Sound fun?

To help with Ground Crew, the requirements are few

1. You must be at least 18 to be in the arena when the tournament is ongoing by SCA rules. Younger Ground Crew are still useful as runners, helping with the scoring, helping with equiupment setup and breakdown before and after the tournament, assisting with grooming, etc.

2. You should be authorized. AnTir is just starting to get this process together so don’t worry about it for now. (ed note: as of 5/08, groundcrew are authorized by the Equestrian marshal in charge of the event at the time of the event.) Volunteer and “on the job training” can count when we get the authorization system up and standardized.

3. It is very helpful to have a brief orientation with an experienced Ground Crew member. Even if you have been around horses all your life, there’s some special things about doing horses in the SCA, and especially how to assist during the games we do here.

If you don’t have much knowledge about horses, but still want to be involved, no worries! Ground Crew is an awesome opportunity to get closer to horses and be part of the action.

Some basic things to keep in mind:

1. Horses are BIG and quite frankly, not very bright sometimes. There are very few horses that are MEAN but they are often scared, tense, worried and distracted. Always assume that the horse doesn’t see you. (Chances are, even if they DID see you they probably forgot. Remember the not too bright part?)

2. Both ends of the horse are equally dangerous. Even their heads can cause you an injury if you don’t have some savvy. Fortunately you are MUCH smarter than they are, so chances are very good that if you’re paying attention you can avoid any unpleasantness!

3. The rider knows their horse best. Just like different parents have different ideas on the best way to raise their kid, each horseowner will have their own ideas on how to deal with their horse. When in doubt, ask before petting, re-buckling, untieing, feeding, reprimanding and/or touching any horse. Just like kids J. If you see something askew/untied/questionable, its ok to ask the rider “did you know?” and they can decide from there what to do about it (if anything). Actually, most of us highly appreciate another set of eyes on the ground who might see something we’d miss!

4. To approach a horse, ask the rider first! It's best to move carefully (no flapping!) and quietly towards the head. Talk low and soft. Doesn’t matter what you say, it’s the tone. Reach out your hand , palm down, arm relaxed. Look the horse in the eye. Is it calm and quiet? Or is it rolly and you can see the white? That’s a sign of an upset horse…best to step away until their owner can deal with it. Wait for the horse to reach to YOU to sniff. Let them sniff for as long as like, until they turn their heads, or sigh. Licking their lips is another sign (means they’re thinking!). You can now move your hand, palm down, to the neck. Some horses are nervous about you touching their heads. Neck and shoulders are nice and safe.

To go around the back of the horse, be sure to leave a good 6 feet of space (really!). if you can't, call the horse quietly from alongside. Watch her ears and eyes, to see if she sees you/knows you’re there. Horses kick when they’re mad or startled. After I know she knows I’m there, I will gently but firmly run my hand along her neck (safe!) to her side (still safe) along her rump as I move around her butt (this tells the horse “here I am! I’m still here! And here! Moving, but still here!” until you’re on the other side).

Also, if you’re going to be kicked, the closer you are to the hoof the less impact you’ll feel. It will still bruise something fierce, but to be on the end of a long kick has a lot more force than to be at the starting point.

Getting stepped on

Something a lot of non-horse folks worry about is what to do if the horse steps on you.

  • Always wear “real” shoes. No sandals or bare feet!!! (there’s the whole thing about tetanus as well). Soft leather shoes are better but hard leather shoes are best of all. “paddock boots” can be bought online fairly inexpensively, cowboy boots will work in a pinch, or for the more authentically minded, turnshoes can be made or purchased.
  • Where the damage comes in when you get stepped on is the skin if the horse pivots at all (the leather will help protect against this), and if the horse puts all its weight on it, which is unlikely.

Horses HATE stepping on things. Chances are if you end up with Dobbin on your foot it was an accident and as soon as they realize it, they will move their foot away. If not (some horses think its funny to step on you and watch you jump around, pinned like a bug ;)), its an easy thing to LEAN hard and slowly into the shoulder of the leg that’s stepping on you. As they shift their weight, you can pull your foot out. DON’T pull at your foot. No way its moving with a horse on it! And hopefully the ground is soft enough that you wont get too squished.

When in the arena

  • Look out for horses. Just like pedestrians in the road, they aren’t trying to run you over but sometimes stuff happens. Horses sometimes get excited and the guy on the ground doesn’t even register on their little horsie brains. When in doubt, climb the fence. Chances are they will at least see the fence! And if you’re on it, they cant run over the top of you.
  • Dress sensibly. Arenas are usually sandy and uneven. Sometimes there’s mud (who are we kidding, there’s ALWAYS mud!). Its perfectly fine to work around horses in skirts but they should be of materials that you don’t mind getting dusty/muddy/covered in horse hair. Big long floopy sleeves and trains will be annoying at best and potentially distressing to the horses. A hat will keep you warmer and protected from the sun. Gloves are good to keep your hands warm and cleaner. Some horses really don’t like the sound of bells, etc so you might want to consider leaving the belly dancing belt at home. Good sturdy shoes that you can move over uneven ground and run in if needed are a must.

·Find the person who is in charge of the Ground Crew and ask what you can do to help. Tell them your experience level (“I wanna help! The horses are the FOUR legged ones, right?” to “shall you score or shall I?” ;)) and they’ll find tasks for you. Some tasks are better suited to tall people and some are better suited to horse savvy people and some anybody can do!

What if there's a loose horse?

  • It's funny. a horse gets loose. "woohoo!" says Dobbin. "I'm FREE!" sometimes they start trotting around checkin' stuff out. Sometimes they head for the hay bales. Sometimes they don't do much of anything, depends on the horse. But the best way to make a horse head for the hills is to have someone running after it trying to catch it. At best, they think this is a cool game and are happy to play with you. at worst, they think you must want to eat them and so run off in a panic. Neither is helpful, and both are potential dangerous to the horse as well as anyone that happens to be in the path.
  • Horses are herd animals. as such, their first instinct is to stick around the other horses. Take advantage of that! if a horse is loose. grab a rope and a handful of grain. Grain in a loud rattlely bucket is better. Stand where the horse can see you, and call her. you don't need to know her name, its the nice calm tone of voice and that lovely rattle of grain in the bucket. Be sure to tell others "I got her" so they don't run up and try to "help". When she comes to chew on the grain, you can clip that rope onto her halter, or around her neck.
  • If you're new around horses, its best to leave this type of thing to people with more experience, and the horses own owner is best of all....they know their horse and how best to nab 'em.
  • The biggest thing is DO NOT RUN AFTER THEM! A horse on walkabout, exploring is not nearly as dangerous as a horse who has decided that you're going to eat her when you catch her. Scared horses can really injure themselves and others.

Helping with the games

There's a number of games you can help with. One constant...please do not move suddenly around the horses. This includes jumping out to take photos, or using flash at any time. Move quietly and calmly and if it looks like things are getting out of hand, back away to the fence.

At the weapons rack

There is a definite way to hand a weapon to a mounted competitor safely and efficiently.

  • Ask if they have a preference. For some events which are timed its ideal to do this ahead of time
  • Allow THEM to come to YOU, then STOP. The horse MUST be a complete stop before you hand them the weapon. This is spelled out in the rules. If the horse stops, then starts moving around, feel free to back up until the horse is back under control. Sometimes there’s a box (real or imaginary) on the ground that the horse must stop in.
  • Hand them the weapon by pointing the HANDLE to whatever hand they stick out. Move smoothly and efficiency. No waiving about or loud noises please! Sometimes the horse (and riders) can get very excited by the games etc. you should be a sea of calm in all that!
  • Do a quick visual check. Everything ok? Nothing loose and flapping? Horses legs look ok? (its amazing how sometimes they can cut themselves with their own hooves). If you see anything amiss, tell the rider and let them decide whether to deal with it now or later.
  • Step away and let them take their run!

The Heads (aka “reeds” with slightly different equipment)

This is a game where the rider serpentines through a course of poles, knocking heads or other objects off the posts with a sword. Much fun!

After someone runs their course, toddle out and replace the heads. Get off to the side and announce in a loud clear voice “HEADS CLEAR!” this will tell the competitors and marshals that the course is ready for the next rider. Please don’t announce CLEAR until you are out of the way. J


In this game, riders move along a line of rings suspended from an overhead armiture, attempting to pull them off with the point of a lance. There are often TWO passes to a run, one each direction. At the end of the course, the rider is supposed to STOP completely, lower their lance and let the rings fall into a tidy pile. They may do this at the end of each side, or only after the completion of the second pass.

After someone runs their course, toddle out and replace the rings (this is a job for a tall person!) Announce in a loud, clear voice “RINGS CLEAR”!


In this game, riders will rush at a gizmo called a quintain, attempting to hit it as hard as they can with their lance. Points are accumulated by how many times it spins around. Sometimes we set up parallel quintains so you have horses running on either side at the same time. Woohoo!

In this game, depending on the quintain itself, sometimes someone is needed to hold the arm of it steady until the person hits it. This can take nerves of steel! You’ll stand very still, holding onto a string until JUST before the lance hits the target. You’ll let go, duck! (there’s a counterweight that will swing around) and count the revolutions. Not for the faint of heart! But it’s the best seat in the house J.


In this game, riders will charge at a target and attempt to hit it on the run with a short javelin. After a pass, you will need to return the javelin to the weapons rack (or next rider) and straighten the target/hay bales as needed. Report the score to the score keeper.


In this game, riders run at a “herd” of “pigs” (usually cloth wrapped balls) and attempt to pick one up on a spear point at the run. Usually the riders return the pigs to the pile after their run but they may need some help.


There is always a need for someone to open and close the gates!


There are always people needed to keep score and tally and run messages from the tiltyard to the score keepers area.


There will always be a need for people to pick up horse poop! Its much easier to clean up at the end of the day when we pick up the poop as we go, before it gets ground into the dirt. A simple scoop will take care of most piles.


It is very useful to have someone willing and able to bring water to the riders. Having a pocket of baby carrots would be appreciated by the four-legged competitors, as well but be sure to ask the rider if its ok first!

As you can see, there’s a million fun jobs for people who want to participate in horse activities in the SCA! Ground Crew is an easy way to get involved. You’re highly appreciated and you get to be in the middle of everything.

For more information

Check out the following links or ask your local horse guild!:

SCA Handbook online (PDF format)

This can also be purchased from the SCA Stock Clerk.

An Tir Equestrian Handbook (PDF format)

An Tir Equestrian Home Page

An Tir Equestrian Officer – Master Togrul Guiscard

An Tir Horse list


Western An Tir Announcement List (Puget Sound area)


Inter-Kingdom Equestrian Competition

Maitresse Anne-Marie d’Ailleurs

11532 Dayton Ave N

Seattle, WA 98133


Madrone Equestiran Guild Webpage

Contains lots of info on horses in the area, as well as how to articles for various jobs

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Page last modified on May 02, 2008, at 03:45 PM PST