I recently visited Medieval Times in Buena Park for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the horse stables and to talk with the cast of the popular "Dinner and Tournament" show.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Medieval Times' arrival in North America. Their Buena Park castle recently underwent a $2.5 million renovation and its cast is performing a brand-new, live production that was two years in the making. Guests are treated to an unrivaled experience as they are taken back to medieval Spain to cheer for their favorite "Knights of the Realm" as they battle for the title of King's Champion."
While the Knights give good show, the Kingdom's horses are the main attraction. During my visit, I met with head horse trainer and stable manager, Redha Gharsa, who explained "the boys" are easily the most celebrated cast members. Nearly 30 horses, including Friesians, Menorcans, Quarter Horses and Andalusians are boarded on site and take turns performing in daily shows."
Preparing for a role as a featured performer requires some extensive training. Authentic to the medieval era, new hires begin as squires and are required to take care of the animals and assist the knights in practice and competition. Only after months of training can squires achieve the rank of knight and participate in the live tournament."
Gharsa explained that he prefers to hire performers who have had little to no experience with horses, as it is easier to build a relationship between the actor and the animal. He strives to build a balanced and cohesive team to ensure top quality care of the horses.
The horses are born and bred on the company's private ranch in Texas, where they spend the first three years learning simple training such as lunging and working with reins and a saddle. They are then relocated to one of the castles in North America where a master trainer, like Gharsa, teaches the animal an advanced level of dressage riding and the Spanish walk, a synchronized horse step."
Without revealing too many behind-the-scenes secrets, I learned that the show is" highly choreographed but that the weapons are real. Performers practice weapons training, choreography and horse training up to eight hours, daily. I also learned that the winner is already determined far before the actors step into the sandy arena, but you would never know with the extreme physical effort each knight puts forth during the show."
My family and I took in a mid-day show a few days after my visit. While wearing our yellow crowns and waiving our team flag, we were mystified at the almost magical and effortless performance from both the knights and the horses. There was a palpable camaraderie between all which could only mean that Gharsa has successfully built a balanced and cohesive team.
Medieval Times is located at 7662 Beach Blvd. Buena Park, CA 90620
Reservations can be made online.