A Visual Tour of the Medieval Times Ranch
Sitting on a vast stretch of prairie land in Sanger, Texas -- a city whose name elicits involuntary drawl -- is a magical space filled with dancing ponies, knights, a three-legged dog and wild-hair locals revving four-by-fours.
Use this map wisely.
It's the Medieval Times Ranch, where an absurd, imagined world is drafted and rehearsed on a 241-acre plot of rural North Texas land. The Dallas-based company celebrates 30 chivalrous years of U.S. castle occupancy in 2013, so they sent out a royal media invitation, offering a tour of their equestrian breeding headquarters. The email decree promised face time with a king, weapons demonstrations, some light falconry and a free lunch. Naturally, I went. I took Catherine Downes along to capture the magic in photos. This is the story of our faithful quest.
King Sonny escorted us on our journey. He's a kind soul, a gentle ruler/actor whose costume clashed against the rented van's 1980's terrycloth upholstery. That was the first of many surreal juxtapositions that would make Medieval Times Ranch so captivating.
When we arrived at the property's edge, we passed through Ye Security Gate -- a spoils-plundering-prevention method of decidedly modern ancestry. Once ye code had been re-confirmed with ye management, we entered, rolling forward through greeting checkpoints landmarked by flag-holding serfs, dressed in 11th-century costumes.
Being a serf is like working a paid internship. It's an entry-level position for dudes with knightly ambitions. Serf life requires a minimum six-month commitment. After that its timeline fluctuates based on a laundry list of situations: knight employment turnover, order hired-in and general physical performance/mastery of titanium weaponry.
You know, usual new-employee stuff.
According to Head Knight Crew Wiard, most serfs are recent high school graduates searching for a non-boring job. I imagine the flow chart goes like this:
Escorted from our regal ride, we gathered on ye picnic tables for a feastly buffet. Medieval Times remains staunchly 11th century in many ways, but for its anniversary the company has decided to bend with dietary trends. Don't worry, it isn't going Paleo. There is, however, a new vegan option (seen in bowl), a bean stew served with hummus and raw veggies.
It's served with a spoon, and that's cheating.
If hippies demand watered-down medieval fare, they should have to eat it with their hands, same as their carnivorous peasant counterparts.
There's a dog named Sargento that lives on this ranch. Everyone loves him and fusses over him. Nobody mentions what happened to his fourth leg.
Photo by Catherine Downes
At one point I'm surrounded by a king, a knight on horseback and a three-legged dog.
Photo by Catherine Downes
I'm not stoned enough for this.
This is where Medieval Times breeds its treasured andalusians, traditional Spanish dancing horses it uses at its nine dinner-rodeo castles. They look like modified appaloosas, tricked-out and custom-built for well-heeled wizards and fairies.
They are magnificent.