In the past we wrote an article about bachelorette parties and now that it was the bachelor’s turn, we realized that the fellas could basically do the same activities. So instead, we wanted to focus on a unique activity that is exciting for a groom and his party! Meet James Zoppe, and escape into his world for medieval and adventure enthusiasts and enter the American Jousting Alliance. This is a perfect place for a unique experience and an ideal location to get away from the city and the suburbs. Not to mention, it’ll make for some funny and exciting photographs!
Q. Tell us about how you started your career?
A. I started jousting back in the early 1980’s and I came from a circus background where my family are trick riders, and I’m the third generation circus rider. Working with horses is something I’ve always loved. I had a good circus career for about 14 years where I worked with a lot of different traveling circuses, classy European style circuses, the Big Apple Circus in New York, and Circus Flora. In 1988/89, I settled here in CA. I liked the weather, there were a lot of horses and arenas, there were a lot of renaissance spaces close by. so since then I have been building up the ranch to really promote jousting and overall, a unique experience.
Q. How did American Jousting Alliance start?
A. One day I was asked to do a show at a renaissance fair in Kansas City, and after the end of the run, the producer said he really enjoyed my trick riding and asked if I could come back next year and do a jousting performance— this was my introduction. After I settled here in CA, I was training some people and there was one particular fellow who was an aspiring actor, and he loved jousting! He said, “James, you can write up a set of rules that we can joust by and be safe by. Why don’t you take some thought and time and write up some rules that we can actually compete by?” And I took it to heart, and in 1995, I completed the rules and guidelines to the American Jousting Alliance.
Q. What is it about jousting that made you interested to pursue it?
A. It was exciting! When you trick ride there is a lot of satisfaction and adrenaline and jousting is like that as well. It enables you to test yourself, test your skills with the horse, and best of all it just worked its way into my career. I couldn’t do summersaults anymore as I got older but jousting still fulfills the need to be able to test yourself and still get a satisfaction with what you’re doing. It’s still a thrill!
Q. Tell us about the ranch.
A. We’re out here just outside of Frazier Park, CA and it’s surrounded by Los Padres National Forest and we’re about a mile high. It’s typically nice, cool weather in the summer time and dry a lot of the time so it enables us to not have to deal with too many rain problems. We’ve customized the ranch for of course, jousting training.
Q. What kind of programs do you offer?
A. We do a program now called Knight for a Day, which is an evolution of years of training people and finally coming up with a system being able to allow people the thrill, for one day, to be able to joust in a modified version. We handle this in a safe environment so everyone can get the thrill and the essence to making a hit, and enjoying it all with their friends.
We also do day camps and sometimes groups like to see a jousting demonstration but we highlight good sportsmanship and how something that can be potentially dangerous, can be done in a completely safe way if you watch what you’re doing and watch out for each other.
And because we have the beautiful country around here, we also do trail rides up into the mountains starting out in Lockwood valley, and we end up in the mountains with great views and sceneries with some good settled down horses.
This is our main focus but to also train people and do local tournaments, where everyone can test their skills in this organization. All for the action, the thrill, the camaraderie, and the sportsmanship.
Q. How safe are your events?
A. Very safe, and I don’t say that lightly. There are a lot of things that can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. But the reason for my confidence is because I have a really great ground crew where a lot of them have been working with me for many years; we have a safety talk before we do any event, and our main thing is to watch out for people. However, if and when people do make a mistake and start to slide off their horse, we’re right there to help push them back up. Speaking of horses, they have a lot of experience doing shows with me for years. And no matter what, I’m always there with the group and I keep a very watchful eye on everyone. As soon as I see any potential problem developing, I just nip it in the bud and stop it right away. All of this is thanks to the years of experience and diligence my crew and myself have.
Q. Do I need to know how to ride a horse in order to participate?
A. No, but you do need to have good balance. I’ve had people as young as 12 and 13 make hits! As long as you have the desire to do this! We are always close and help with the horses with a safety line. There’s an old saying, put one leg on either side and keep your mind in the middle!
Q. What sort of events do you host for Bachelor Parties?
A. Hahaha, first I’d like to say that I love the bachelor party groups! A lot of these guys know each other from college, and some are flying in for the event, and when they arrive, they have so much energy! We have done some in the past where they do some spear throwing and archery on the ground and then we’ll do a competition after they understand the basics of it. Then we’ll do the last part of the Knight for a Day where we’ll do the horse activites—these are the most popular! The last bachelor party we had, they chose all horse activities, which is the Knight for a day program. They did the ring spearing on horseback, then the spear throwing, and later in the afternoon after they had their lunch, we start to practice making hits with the jousting spears against shields on the ground first. It’s always funny because these guys have known each other for years and they really don’t mind hitting each other, they really enjoy it.
Q. What do you enjoy most about all of this?
A. I’ve had many titles, but if I had to use one, I’d say I’m an entertainer, and boy I really enjoy entertaining people. I’m telling you, I’ve had groups of men and women arrive where they don’t know what they’re in for until they arrive! But I assure them, ‘don’t worry, you’re going to have a great time and we’re going to keep you safe,” and you should see their expressions half way through it— true joy and exhilaration on all of them! I know this is corny, but they are high on life, and it’s catching and it’s a great feeling.
Q. What advice do you have for the bride and groom?
A. Always respect one another, listen to each other, and don’t let that feeling you have for each other escape. Do things together to reestablish your feelings and keep your love alive!
Have an amazing day, and remember to breathe.
Love what you see? Call James Zoppe for a fun day of jousting for your Bachelor (or Bachelorette!) Party!
James Zoppe, owner and founder of American Jousting Alliance
15568 Greenleaf Springs Rd
Frazier Park, CA 93225
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