Training companies offering tuition and coaching services operate in a crowded market – but there can’t be many firms offering a curriculum that includes horseback archery, jousting and stunt riding skills.
But that’s what can be on the timetable if you turn to Karl Greenwood as your teacher.
Karl and partner Zana Cousins-Greenwood operate an equine stunt production company from their base at Gaddesden Place on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead – and they’ve just added a training arm to the organisation.
At the Centre of Horseback Combat you can learn how to joust like a knight of old, let loose arrows from the saddle and build on your riding skills with help from real experts.
Karl has been there, done that and worn the chain mail. Although he has local roots, he joined a Spanish circus after leaving school and developed a trapeze, stilt and fire-eating act.
Then he began to work with performing horses in jousting and trick riding shows, which took him to Dubai.
Now he is back in the UK performing jousting and trick riding routines at county shows, fun days and summer events.
Karl said: “We provide entertainment for the whole family. It works well on many different levels. The kids get the jokes, but we also make contemporary references for adults. I love it when you can hear the audience titter and you know they they’ve got it.
“We always try and keep it topical and fresh. The music we play also reflects this. For our medieval jousts we prefer epic film scores such as Gladiator, but for our new show we play My Chemical Romance and The Prodigy.
“Our ethos is to always raise the bar. We are passionate and professional about everything we do.
“We also innovate and pay great attention to detail, but we also try to make it as much fun as possible”
“It is hard work. We work 12 to 14 hour days seven days a week. All our horses are bathed daily.
“We take great pride in everything that we do – it is about trying to make the public who pay their hard earned money have a great experience in all that we provide.
“But we know that we are lucky to combine a job with our passion, something that we excel in, and something we love”.
His historic base – the stables that are his HQ were built in 1768 as part of the 2,000 acre Gaddesden Estate – is a far cry from other corporate headquarters.
Karl said “It’s such a beautiful place and a great location. It’s untouched. It fits us like a glove – people love jousting in front of the mansion house, and there can’t be many working Georgian stables left in the country”.
The couple have a stable of strongly built Andalusian horses – a compact but elegant breed with long, thick manes and tails, renowned for their intelligence, sensitivity and docility.
Zana, a former pupil at Tring Park’s Arts Education School who holds an Equity stunt card, said: “We choose our horses for the character they show. They have to have personality.
“We look for the ones that are curious, the ones that are inquisitive and always in your face.
“What also attracts me to the horses is the connection you make with them – establishing and maintaining that bond of trust and respect”.
Karl added: “All our horses are brave. They have to perform. The biggest crowd we have performed in front of is 50,000 at the Glasgow fair.
“They are also clever. If they could come and sit down and watch TV with us they would”.
Karl is also in demand for film and stage work with big name productions like Hot Fuzz, Merlin, Clash of the Titans, Merlin and Snow White And The Huntsman on his varied CV. He has even featured in Doctor Who as a cyberman.
Karl is a qualifed hypnotherapist and runs courses to help riders build up their confidence, some in the wake of nasty falls.
He said: “One of the nicest letters we had was from a woman who I helped with hypnotherapy two years previously, who had just recently been thrown.
“She told us because of the work we had undertaken with her she had the absolute confidence to get straight back on. It made me proud to read that we had helped her believe in herself like that”.
To find out more about the courses on offer, or about opportunities with Karl and Zana’s team, email firstname.lastname@example.org
To see Natalee Hazelwood’s video of the combat horses in action, visit our websites.