Did I find dazzling horses in the surreal city of Las Vegas? You bet. Prepare to double down.
The Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas is shaped like a castle and Medieval themed so what else would show here regularly? Well, the Thunder from Down Under male exotic performance for one.
However … if, like me, you’re more excited by horses, you’re in luck. The Tournament of Kings is a Medieval Times style dinner and jousting horse show (though NOT Medieval Times) in the basement ring of The Excalibur.
Twenty years ago, I saw the Lipizzaner Stallions perform at the Excalibur during my first visit to Sin City. This was my third and I was in town for SuperZoo, a gigantic pet industry trade show and conference. (Check it out on dogtrotting.net). I flew in two days early, because well, it’s Vegas. This time I didn’t book a riding trip as I did my second time here, and regret that a bit.
But I did find horses, almost accidentally.
In Vegas I knew I had to see a Cirque du Soleil show. (I opted for KA at the Mirage – highly recommend it). But what to combine it with? Blue Man Group? The ticket counter in the Excalibur, discounts tickets if you buy two at once, depending on the show.
Then a guy put the sign up: At 4:20pm every Monday, join the cast of Tournament of Kings at the stage door entrance for a free 20-minute behind-the-scenes tour of the show. Today was Monday. I pictured going into the stables, getting up close and personal with the horses, great photos.
Turns out, that’s not exactly what happened but…
I did step out of line and come back, with many families, for the tour that turned out to be sitting in the theatre seats, in the round with a table in front of me, and watching cast members ride the horses into the ring, do some demonstrations, answer questions, and yes, promote the heck out of the show. On the way out, I was handed a 15 percent off coupon, which was better than the bundling offer. Score.
Here’s what I learned on the tour:
- Cast members have at least two years riding experience before auditioning for the show but are taught a modified English method of riding.
- Stunts are everything. Being able to jump off the horse and roll is the bulk of the training.
- Horses are mostly Quarter Horses. It takes about a year to carefully train them for the show so they learn to run toward each other and not spook when lances are smashed into shields.
- The swords are made of titanium to create sparks during fight scenes.
- The lead rider/instructor is formally trained in dressage and that’s part of the show. (My favourite part, though the skill is lost on most audience members).
- There 30 horses in the stables and 10 are used for each show. Each horse works two days on and two days off.
- Each year the horses vacation for two weeks in a pasture.
- Approximately 1000 horseshoes are changed each year.
- Only steam is produced by fog machines during the show using no chemicals for the safety of the horses.
- The soil used in the arena is a mix of synthetic fibres to create better cushioning.
If you’ve been to Medieval Times, the Tournament of Kings is similar – it opens with feast hosted by a king and attended by a wizard who set the story stage. Actors and dancers fill the arena more than horses, and dinner – Cornish Hen or ravioli if you’re vegetarian.
Fun fact: Thanks to the show, The Excalibur apparently buys more Cornish Hen than another single customer in the U.S.
This show, however, is more about the fighting and jousting than horseback riding, and it wouldn’t be Vegas without bursts of flames and pyrotechnics (not near the horses of course). Though I did notice one mare stare into a corner for a while then get urged forward by her rider. Sure enough, a small firecracker went off behind her. She knew it was coming.
Toward the end, when the desert round of apple Danish is distributed, a lone Andalusian and rider enter the ring to perform a complex dressage routine to the sounds of a Medieval lute. I loved it. Audience members near me started to leave, even though there was 10 minutes of show left.
Did I get my horse fix? Yes. For the time being, even as the crowd spilled into the downstairs arcade of the Excalibur (the casino cash grab for families), I was reeling from being close enough to thoughtful mounts trotting out one more show before retiring to a stall far from the chaos of The Strip.