Lance in hand, she leans forward on a galloping horse, her eyes focused as she spears hanging rings. She captures the small white circles, and a crowd in the stands applauds.
Jackie "Maid of Cranwood" Rosenthal is last year's amateur-class state champion in the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association.
She will defend the title Saturday, Oct. 2, when the tournament comes to the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds in Crownsville during the weekend fall craft festival.
Rosenthal, a rental property manager from Green Spring Valley, is one of a small number of Marylanders devoted to the official state sport.
This is the first time in at least 16 years that the tournament will be held in the county. It's the second opportunity in a few months for people to see the state sport near Annapolis — St. Margaret's Episcopal Church held a joust in July in keeping with a tradition established in 1860.
What visitors to the state tournament won't see is combat — no armored knights skewering each other or tilting at opposing riders to knock them from their steeds. They will see a modern ring tournament that follows a costumed parade to honor the history of the sport. On horseback, the knights and maids, wearing riding clothes, charge as they try to spear suspended rings with fine-tipped lances.
"It's positioning. It's practice," said Vicki "Maid of Northwind" Betts of Finksburg, who is the association president.
Participants adopt names, and though many call themselves "Maid of" or "Knight of" their farm, others use such whimsical monikers as the "Maid of Visa" and "Knight of Passion."
Jousting teaches sportsmanship, self-reliance, training an animal and personal skills, Betts said. Families do it — Betts' daughter jousts — and some families have had four generations taking part. People from all walks of life, from physicians to farriers, joust. And there's pride in participating in what became Maryland's state sport in 1962.
During breaks in an exhibition last week at the Great Frederick Fair, riders said that although they compete against each other, the challenge is intensely personal, as it's up to each person to bond with his horse and try to improve scores and skills to move up to higher competitive classes. There's no age limit, one set of rules applies to men and women alike, and any kind of horse will do.
All jousters take three runs through three sets of arches in an effort to collect nine rings.
The rings are always suspended from arches so that they are 6 feet 9 inches from the ground. But the size of the ring varies, becoming smaller for higher competitive classes. The largest is 13/4 inches in inside diameter, and competitors work their way down to the smallest, which at a quarter-inch are the size of a Lifesaver candy.
"You are only competing against yourself," said Rosenthal, in her eighth year of jousting.
A jouster must lean out of the saddle and stay still — "You don't want to be bouncing up and down, you can't get the ring that way," said Rosenthal — and hold the lance steady at the right height. The focus must be not on the ring, but on the hole.
That, Rosenthal said, she learned from getting thwacked in the eye by a ring.
"We have a saying: The hole's in the same place no matter the size of the ring," she said.
Like jousters, the horses have good days and bad. Her horse, Beau, had his moments at the exhibition.
"I went for the last ring, but my horse wanted to duck out. I could feel him saying, 'I'm not going to go through,' " she said.
"The hardest part is getting the horse to pay attention and getting your position," said Heidi "Maid of Warspring" Hallein of Middletown, who, like her husband, Mike "Knight of Warspring" Myers, is a novice.
They share a horse, Althea, whose mane was braided with the state flower, the black-eyed Susan.
Many lances, usually 6 feet or longer, started out as broomsticks, but metal poles and pool cues also are used. Hand-forged steel tips are added, with the tip often painted neon orange for visibility, Betts said.
Arches often aren't arched — they're akin to frames from swing sets, the angular shape making them easy to make and transport. The rings are wire wrapped in cotton string.
Watching a tournament has drawn many to try the sport.
Years ago, Betts recalled, someone said, "Hey, they're doing jousting up the street" — in her case, on the grounds of Trinity Church in Smallwood, near Westminster. She watched all day.
"I fell in love with it because it's a sport that didn't care what type of horse I had, what breed it was, how much it cost."
She watched a national champion, Mike Virts. When he saw she was interested, he offered to come to her farm to set up some arches. He brought about eight horses and about 14 people, she said, and "taught us to joust. I used a broomstick whittled down. … I used one of my Tennessee walker horses — they don't trot. I got three rings before lunch. I was hooked. I had a horse trailer by the following spring."
The Maryland Jousting Tournament at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds begins at 10 a.m. Oct. 2.