Sussex Peggers Riding Club is no longer active. Thank you to all the riders, helpers & horses involved in the club from 2009 to 2015.

Skill at arms: The equestrian extreme sport

Skill at arms is a mounted sport that is exhilarating, action packed and fun. Disciplines are many and involve riding at the canter and gallop, on the flat and over jumps, with weapons such as sword, lance, revolver or pricker. Points are awarded for striking and carrying targets, and for speed and style.

The disciplines in skill at arms

Our competitions typically consist of the following six classes testing the skills of both rider and horse.

tent pegging with a lance

Tent pegging with a lance

A test of accuracy, agility and athleticism. This involves you galloping towards a 7.5cm wide peg placed in the ground and removing it with the point of the lance. For maximum points you need to hit the tent peg and take it over a carry line. Fewer points are scored if the tent peg is struck but remains in the ground, or is drawn but not carried the required distance. You are also judged on speed and style.

tent pegging with a sword

Tent pegging with a sword

A change of weapon to swords but with the same intention and scoring as tent pegging with a lance. Using a cavalry thrusting 1908 type sword a rider needs to bend down low and be well balanced to hit and carry the 7.5cm tent peg.

tent pegging in teams with swords

Team tent pegging

This can be done as a synchronised team riding abreast known as half sections (2 riders) or sections (3 or 4 riders) or with 4 riders closely following one another in single file known as Indian file. One run is done using lances, another with swords. Although done at a gallop it is not a race with style points awarded for synchronicity with your team mates.

two rings and a tent peg

Two rings & a peg

This is tent pegging with the addition of 2 rings, of 6cm diameter, suspended from gallows at approximately throat level when viewed from horseback. The aim is to carry both rings on the lance or sword before removing a tent peg from the ground. Again, this is to be done at a gallop.

slicing oranges with a sword

slicing oranges with a sword

Two oranges & a peg

It takes a skilful rider to gallop toward 2 suspended oranges, with a sword in hand, and slice them clean in half. The first orange is attacked with a forward stroke of the sword, the second with a backhand stroke and then a peg must be removed from the ground. For maximum points all three targets need to be hit.

bursting balloons on skill at arms course

Skill at arms course

Also known as Sword, Lance Revolver (SLR) - this is a course of 3 elements. Starting with a sword you jump a couple of fences and impale 2 straw dummies. Next you draw a pricker (or revolver) from a holster and attempt to burst balloons attached to the left and right of 2 jumps and 1 in between. In the last element you pick up a lance and aim to collect 2 suspended rings and remove a peg from the ground.

The history of tent pegging

Cavalry training from history

A sport with heritage

Like many other sporting disciplines, be they equestrian or otherwise, mounted skill at arms has evolved from the games and exercises practiced by generations of warriors to hone the skills necessary to fight the enemy.

In the beginning

It is hard to say exactly where the sport of tent pegging originated, but it is known that when Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 B.C. he had lancers with him.

Stories are told that his mounted soldiers would ride out of the sun at dawn removing, with their lances, the pegs that held their enemy's tents to the ground. Other fanciful stories are told that his lancers would engage enemy elephants and try to 'peg' their toes. The infuriated and agonised beasts would then turn and charge, ransacking whatever was in their way.

Both of these stories seem to be, in part, the sort of tall story an 'old soldier' may well tell a young one on April the first.

Knights of the middle ages

If we look at knights in the middle ages they frequently used suspended rings to help improve their accuracy. A man in armour is well protected except for a few weak spots, hence the need to be accurate with a sword or lance.

Riding at rings was a favourite pastime of the future Tudor monarch and passionate sportsman Henry VIII. His father had banned him from competing in jousts after the death of his brother, Arthur, had left him the sole heir to the throne. As a regular competitor at the rings he could still prove his skill at riding.

Through Elizabethan times the quintain was a popular means of testing the agility of a horseman. Supposedly a Roman invention, this aid for practicing for jousting consists of an upright arm that swivels when hit. If a rider hits the target but is riding too slowly the arm swivels round and a counterweight on the other side strikes the rider on the back of the head.

The village green in Offham in Kent still has an Elizabethan quintain, reputed to be the last of its type still to be found in its original position.

Days of the Raj

In the U.K. it is generally felt that the sport was imported in roughly its present form by the British Army from India, in a similar way to the sport of polo. In the North West frontier of India the sport of tent pegging was used as a way of training horse and rider. It made use of equipment that was to hand such as wooden tent pegs and sandbags that could be used as sword dummies.

In 1875, the 5th Royal Irish Lancers gave the first exhibition of tent pegging in Britain at the Hurlingham Club in London; the regiment having recently returned from a posting in India.

It was a fashionable affair with the Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh in attendance. The Illustrated London News reported of the event: "there are more qualities needed than a good seat and a quick eye. . .the hand must be light as a feather, the grip as close as steel, the eye true and the aim unerring".

Tent pegging today

Today, tent pegging is practiced not only in the U.K. but also around the world. It is especially popular in South Africa, India, Israel, Oman, Australia, Holland, Canada and Pakistan.

In 1994 an international body the International Equestrian Tentpegging Association (I.E.T.A.), was formed. It did a great deal of work to create standard rules for international competitions but has now been disbanded. A meeting was held in March 2013 in India between a number of countries with an active interest in tentpegging/mounted skill-at-arms. Subsequently, on 21 March 2013, a new body the World Equestrian Tentpegging Federation (WTPF) was formed. We eagerly await information about - and development of - the new Federation.

In Great Britain our national rules are based on those used by our cavalry and would probably be recognised by any long past cavalryman, no matter in which far-flung outpost of the Empire he saw service.

While members of the Household Cavalry and Horse Artillery regiments still compete, increasingly it is civilian riders who are embracing the sport of skill at arms. The whole family, from grandchildren to grandparents can take part as riders, ground crew, spectators and supporters.

Sussex Peggers Riding Club are adding to the long history of the sport; being the first riding club dedicated to skill at arms to be officially recognised by the British Horse Society.

Did you know?

Mounted skill at arms is one of the few sports where men and women, young and old, as individuals or in teams, can compete against each other, on an equal basis.

The 5th Royal Irish Lancers gave the first exhibition of tent pegging in Britain in 1875 at the Hurlingham Club. It was a fashionable affair with the Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh in attendance.

Today, tent pegging is practiced not only in the UK but also around the world. It is especially popular in South Africa, India, Israel, Oman, Australia, Holland, Canada and Pakistan.