By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski | June 8, 2021
Edward Maciejczyk walks through Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament’s stables, petting and making conversation with horses with names like Jalapeno, Jaramillo and Donador.
Medieval Times’ head knight treats them like they are his own, kissing up to them and making sure they’re OK. Like the other knights, he’s particularly close to the horses with whom he performs.
“We have a tight bond,” he says. “When the horses retire, they head to a ranch in Cave Creek. We keep them close so we can visit them. It’s hard to let go.
“It’s almost like, if you can imagine, having a dog and then giving your dog away after 10 years. We like to retire them anywhere around the age of 15 to 20. We want to do what makes them happy.”
Medieval Times in Scottsdale is open at 50% capacity. Each show includes trumpeters who beckon the guests into the Grand Ceremonial Arena, where they are seated in one of six color-coded sections corresponding to the colors of the knights. A four-course meal is served, and, in true Medieval style, silverware is not included.
As the guests eat, the stage is set with medieval pageantry. Then the pace intensifies and trumpeters summon the knights for the Tournament Royal.
Recently, Maciejczyk described what he and the horses go through to prepare each show.
“We’re really fortunate in that when they designed this castle, they created ‘open stables,’” Maciejczyk says during a backstage tour of the Scottsdale castle. “They can see each other so that they get familiarized with each other. They can create their bonds and friendships.
“We spend countless hours with the horses and develop a bond with them, too.”
The horses and the knights look to each other for support during the performances, which, since the pandemic, have been decreased. The horses trust the knights when they’re unsure of themselves, which makes the show run smoothly. Even if guests try to spook the horses, they turn to the knights as well.
Medieval Times, Maciejczyk explains, is “theatrical jousting,” which isn’t historically accurate. It still has its drawbacks.
“We do everything, more or less, right,” he says. “That being said, it still can hurt when you’re hitting the lance against the shield. The pressure is there, and the contact is there.”
Maciejczyk’s job is multifold. He trains the knights and the horses to perform the stunts safely. Anyone age 18 and older can apply to become one of the queen’s knights.
“Anyone who has an athletic background is perfect,” Maciejczyk says. “We train entirely within our castle.”
Most folks who apply have “zero experience” with horses or Medieval Times’ style of riding, which is a hybrid of disciplines, he says.
The head knight determines if applicants are a good fit and observes how comfortable they are with horses. Those who are hired begin as squires.
The training program varies in difficulty.
“Some people struggle with horse riding, others with sword fighting,” he says. “Every individual has their shortcomings and strengths. We help them with whatever they struggle with.
“Basically, we train people who have never touched a horse how to sit on them and, in 10 weeks of training, they learn how to ride a horse and how to do stunts safely. We don’t have an off season, but we do have busy seasons. We need to make sure everyone performs safely so they have a long career with us.”
Medieval Times is based upon authentic medieval history and is the true story of a noble family with documentation dating back to the 11th century, according to Maciejczyk.
Medieval Times began with two dinner/entertainment complexes in Majorca and Benidorm, Spain. The first North American castle in Kissimmee, Florida, opened in December 1983. Medieval Times’ castles have since entertained more than 60 million guests.
As for Maciejczyk, he grew up in Chicago and Poland, and with his wide smile, he’s a favorite among visitors. He receives a slew of comments from guests about Medieval Times.
“When we get guests from Europe, they’re surprised that we have something like this, because the history of knights and everything is not present in American culture,” he says.
“So, whenever Europeans come in, they’re like, ‘Well, I didn’t even know you guys cared about knights.’”
Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament
9051 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale
General admission is $45.95 for adults; $35.95 for children ages 12 and younger