Jousting is a medieval equestrian sport which was designed to demonstrate suitability and fitness for battle. Through the late 1500s, jousting was a very popular sport throughout Europe, and competitions were often well attended. The popularity of jousting declined after this point, although the sport is still practiced by modern fans, who have adapted it somewhat to make it safer. Jousting demonstrations can often be seen at large Renaissance fairs, and some organizations hold regular tournaments to display and hone their jousting skills.
In medieval jousting, the goal was to unseat the opponent or to demonstrate the ability to kill from horseback. Most people associate jousting with tilting, a division of jousting in which knights ride directly towards each other carrying long lances. The knights attempt to knock each other from their horses with these lances, typically in three attempts. Other weapons can be used in jousting as well, including daggers, war axes, and swords; typically, the knights went through three cycles with each weapon before moving on to the next.
The goal of medieval jousting was not to kill or even seriously injure the opponent, although this did happen. Often, fellow knights and members of the military would organize jousts among themselves to hone their skills or determine their champion. An ill-placed blow could result in injury or death, especially if a lance managed to penetrate a jouster's helmet. Jousts were typically watched by a crowd of nobles and others, and they could get quite raucous, often including other war games as well.
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The horses used in jousting tended to be solidly built and trained to respond to leg commands, so that their riders could have their hands free. Typically, horses wore armored face shields to protect them, along with breastplates, and sturdy saddles which were almost like armchairs. The riders wore full helmets and plate or chainmail, usually heavily padded to distribute the impact of lance and axe blows.
In modern jousting, weapons are made from lightweight materials so that they break upon impact. Riders usually wear authentic clothing and armor, and their horses are historically accurate as well. Points are given when weapons are broken on shields or armor, and the goal is a demonstration of skill, rather than unhorsing the opponent. Although modern jousting is much safer than the historical version, it is not a sport for amateur riders, since it requires immense coordination and control, along with a well trained horse.