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Tent pegging

File:Tent pegging.jpg
Flemish Farm competition, UK. credit: Peter Meade

Tent pegging (sometimes spelled "tentpegging" or "tent-pegging") is a cavalry sport of ancient origin, and is one of only ten equestrian disciplines officially recognised by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. Used narrowly, the term refers to a specific mounted game with ground targets. More broadly, it refers to the entire class of mounted cavalry games involving edged weapons on horseback, for which the term "equestrian skill-at-arms" is also used.


Essential rules

The specific game of tent pegging has a mounted horseman riding at a gallop and using a sword or a lance to pierce, pick up, and carry away a small ground target (a symbolic tent peg) or a series of small ground targets.

The broader class of tent pegging games also includes ring jousting (in which a galloping rider tries to pass the point of his weapon through a suspended ring); lemon sticking (in which the rider tries to stab or slice a lemon suspended from a cord or sitting on a platform); quintain tilting (in which the rider charges a mannequin mounted on a swivelling or rocking pedestal); and Parthian (i.e., mounted) archery.[1]

A given tent pegging competition's rules specify the size and composition of the target; the number of consecutive targets placed on a course; the dimensions and weight of the sword, lance, or bow; the minimum time in which a course must be covered; and the extent to which a target must be struck, cut, or carried.[2]


Cavaliers have practised the specific game of tent pegging since at least the 4th century BC, and Asian and later European empires spread the game around the world. As a result, the game's date and location of origin are ambiguous.[3]

In all accounts, the competitive sport evolved out of cavalry training exercises designed to develop cavaliers' prowess with the sword and lance from horseback. However, whether tent pegging developed cavaliers' generic skills or prepared them for specific combat situations is shrouded in anecdote and national chauvinism.[4]

The most widely accepted theory[5] is that the game originated in medieval India as a training tool for cavaliers facing war elephants. A cavalier able to precisely stab the highly sensitive flesh behind an elephant's toenail would cause the enemy elephant to rear, unseat his mahout, and possibly run amok, breaking ranks and trampling infantry.

The term "tent pegging" is, however, certainly related to the idea that cavaliers mounting a surprise pre-dawn raid on an enemy camp could use the game's skills to sever or uproot tent pegs, thus collapsing the tents on their sleeping occupants and sowing havoc and terror in the camp. However, there are few reliable accounts of a cavalry squadron ever employing such tactics.

Because the specific game of tent pegging is the most popular equestrian skill-at-arms game, the entire class of sports became known as tent pegging during the twilight of cavalry in the twentieth century.

Contemporary sport

Today, tent pegging is practised around the world, but is especially popular in Australia, India, Israel, Oman, Pakistan, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The Olympic Council of Asia included tent pegging as an official sport in 1982, and the International Federation for Equestrian Sports recognised it as an official equestrian discipline in 2004.

From the results of the 2008 International Tent Pegging Championships, the world's three leading national teams are currently Canada, India, and Oman.[6]

While members of cavalry regiments and mounted police forces still dominate world-class tent pegging[7], the sport is being increasingly embraced by civilian riders.

New and emerging national tent pegging associations have helped spread the sport's popularity. The Australian Royal Adelaide Show, the British Tent Pegging Association[8], and the United States Cavalry Association[9] now hold annual national championships and demonstrations in their respective countries.

The pre-eminent tent pegging games remain centred in Asia and the Middle East, with the International Tent Pegging Championships and the continental Asian Games traditionally enjoying the highest number of competitors and participating states.[10]

Popular culture references

In George McDonald Fraser's Flashman novels, title character Harry Flashman served in a lancer regiment, and frequently mentions tent pegging and his broader skills with the lance.

See also

  • Cavalry
  • Quintain

Notes and references

  1. "Tent pegging with UNICEF Team Canada", Akaash Maharaj, 2007, retrieved 14 January 2007
  2. Major General RKR Balasubramanian, Rules for Tent Pegging (First Edition), International Equestrian Federation, June 2002
  3. "Tent pegging at Hurlingham", Illustrated London News, Summer 1875
  4. Lenox-Conyngham Papers, "Camp on the Raptee River", Cambridge University Centre of South Asian Studies, 16 January 1859
  5. "Tent pegging recognised by the FEI", International Equestrian Federation, 2004, retrieved 17 May 2006
  6. Kangla, 14 January 2008, retrieved 21 January 2008
  7. "Tent pegging competition cancelled", United States Equestrian Federation, 20 January 2004, retrieved 31 May 2006
  8. "Up in arms to peg back cavalry regiments", Equestrian Today, 15 August 2005, retrieved 02 June 2006
  9. "The National Cavalry Competition", US Cavalry Association, 2006, retrieved 02 June 2006
  10. "Indian riders to the fore", The Sportstar, 22 March 2003, retrieved 02 June 2006

External links


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