Going Medieval: Knights and horses likely to be this eatery’s main draw

Going Medieval: Knights and horses likely to be this eatery’s main draw

By Kristine Cannon

Huzzah! The Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament is well on its way to completing construction on the 80,000-square-foot, 11th century-style castle.

Medieval Times Scottsdale will offer the same menu as the other castles across the country.

That includes a four-course, utensil-free meal, comprised of garlic bread, tomato bisque soup, roasted chicken, sweet buttered corn, herb potatoes, the dessert of the castle, coffee and two rounds of select beverages.

Diners may also opt for the vegetarian meal, which includes hummus, pita bread, carrot and celery sticks, three-bean stew with fire-roasted tomato and brown rice, fresh fruit or Italian ice, coffee and two rounds of select beverages.

Scottsdale’s castle can seat a maximum of 1,050 guests. According to General Manager Kevin Gadbery, who has worked at Medieval Times for 18 years, they plan to hire starting in May 50 to 60 servers and a kitchen crew of about 10 people.

“It’s years, years, years and years of practice,” Gadbery says. “We can cook 360 chickens at a time in the oven.”

The kitchen will have four ovens, and the servers can carry out 30 chickens at a time to the noble guests.

It takes the servers almost no time at all to set up the tables for guests: 15 minutes.

“Once they’ve trained and they’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll and they know what they’re doing, we can do it really quick,” Gadbery says.

For Tim Baker, Medieval Times’ director of stunts, choreography and equestrian programs, though, the real star of Medieval Times isn’t the food, the knights or even Queen Maria Isabella.

It’s the horses.

“As a company, we love our horses,” he says. “After all this time, we still look at each other and we’ll be doing a fight or working on something and we’ll say, man, this is just so cool.”

At the topping-out ceremony held on the 10-acre lot adjacent to the Salt River Fields recently, attendees bore witness to the final piece of steel raised and placed for the castle.

Guests were also treated to a swordfight demonstration by the Medieval Times’ Knights of the Realm.

Following the ceremony, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament hosted an open casting call for individuals interested in training to be a Knight of the Realm.

The knights will not only compete in games, jousting and sword fighting – both on foot and horseback – but they will also work closely with the Medieval Times’ head horse trainer and stable team to help care for and train with the horses.

“We have really good retention level. I have guys that have been knights for 20 years, 25 years, 15 years, 10 years,” Baker says. “There are knights who are general managers, there are the knights who are in operations. The company loves to promote from within. We’re family.”

While Medieval Times team plans to hire 10 to 12 different knights – six perform each show – nine fully trained knights will transfer from other Medieval Times facilities in the country.

Baker was a knight himself for 35 years and head knight for 28 years.

“It’s the horses. I love the horses. Some of my best friends are horses,” he says.

He also collaborates with the creative director, helps write the shows, choreograph the combat and designs all of the weapons and body armor.

“All the fall techniques and the stunt techniques, nobody does what we do, so we kind of have to design our own systems,” he says. “The evolution of the product over the years has been pretty interesting. We have everything dialed in pretty well.”

Though the position of a knight does not require prior horseback, weaponry or combat experience or skills – because they’ll go through an extensive training program – Baker says it doesn’t hurt to have at least some experience in organized sports or martial arts.

“About 80 percent of our knights have never ridden before, and we’re using Andalusians and Friesians – huge, powerful animals with a mind of their own,” he says. “I teach the Knight candidates to stay calm and relaxed, and the horses get their confidence from their rider.”

Baker, who estimates he’s had 10,000 joust falls in his life and done 30,000 jousts, from training and shows combined, says it’ll take him 300-plus hours, on average, to teach a knight how to use one weapon.

“If someone takes five-times longer, we’re going to stick with them that they don’t quit. We don’t give up on someone as long as they don’t give up,” he says. “Weapons, while being difficult, is nothing compared to the horsemanship skills from as soon as you learn to ride. I’m going to teach you to fall off on purpose.”

All knight applicants must travel to Medieval Times’ 230-acre Chapel Creek Ranch in Sanger, Texas, from March through June for training.

On the ranch, the candidates learn a variety of skills, including horse care, how to ride a horse, performance and choreography, weapon training, nutrition and physical conditioning, and social responsibility.

“It’s like being a gymnast. If you’re going to go out and do this a minute-and-a-half, amazing routine, you have to develop a level of fitness that takes a lot of daily dedication,” Baker says.

Medieval Times uses Andalusian horses, also known as Pure Spanish Horses. They are known for their elevation, intelligence and long manes.

Before they perform their first show, all Andalusian horses spend their first three years at the ranch.

Here, they’re cared for by the ranch team, and then spend a minimum of two years trained using the classical dressage method of training, also known as Doma Classica or “horse ballet.” So, when you see a horse trot, jump, dance, bow on one knee, run and more, this is a result of says training.

As for Baker, he rode the same horse, Sheikh, six days a week for 15 years.

“When I was on that horse, I was like centaur man; his legs were my legs,” he says. “We were connected. It’s pretty amazing.”

He says the knights’ cues are so subtle, diners and show-goers can’t see what they’re doing.

“It’s like playing an instrument on their side, telling them different things to do and to turn,” he says.

The climate-controlled, state-of-the-art stable at the Scottsdale facility will have 24 stalls – so 24 total horses.

All the stalls are padded with rubber underneath. The shavings on the floor are changed out twice a day.

The horses are bathed and brushed every day.

“Our horses, by comparison, enjoy excellent care and comfort,” Baker says. “They get human interaction; they get the best veterinary care. This facility and all of our facilities have turnouts where they get to go out and get light and just be a horse.”

In discussions for the Scottsdale location is a possible opportunity for people to come to the stable to interact with the horses, outside of the shows.

“The good thing about Arizona is the weather and we’re going to have a big turnout and we want to have a dual perimeter so you can come up and see the horses and take pictures,” Baker says.

Medieval Times is expected to open this summer.

Information: medievaltimes.com