SANGER — It is sometimes referred to as one of the best-kept secrets in Denton County. On a 240-acre ranch near Sanger, hundreds of horses have been bred and raised to entertain thousands of people across the country.
The ranch is the sole breeding ground for the horses used at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament venues, which feature medieval-style battles and entertainment.
This year, Medieval Times celebrates its 30th anniversary in the United States. And to celebrate, company officials opened the doors of the ranch Thursday to give people a glimpse behind the scenes.
“This is where every horse is bred, trained and retired,” said Celeste Lanuza, senior vice president of marketing and sales.
This year the organization welcomed 22 foals born between March and late May.
“These horses will be trained and raised and shipped to another state somewhere once they’re old enough,” Lanuza said.
The ranch raises pure Spanish Andalusian horses, and when they’re about 3 years old, they’re shipped to one of Medieval Times’ nine castles in North America.
“The horses are like children,” said Victor Lara, director of equestrian management. “Some are smarter than others and can learn the moves in months. Other can take a lot longer.
Horses are trained to take commands, fight, compete in the games, dance, leap, kick in the air, walk on their hind legs, rear and bow.
“We are nothing without our horses. They are the stars,” said Jon Speier, senior vice president. “Since 1992, about 430 horses have been born on this ranch.”
Another big part of the show is the talent, Speier said.
The ranch is also where many of the knights of Medieval Times get their start.
Many of the actors must go through years of training before they become one of the featured knights, said Crew Wyard, the head knight at Medieval Times in Dallas.
“No one becomes a knight quickly,” said Wyard, who has been with the show for 11 years. “A lot goes into it.”
To give the show a level of authenticity, he said, the knights use weapons that can weigh 20 to 30 pounds — and are made of titanium.
“The weapons we use are much stronger than the ones used in the medieval time period,” he said.
He said knights must possess the physical build and personality for the position.
A squire in training to become a knight must pass the gauntlet by completing a series of challenging tasks. Those include learning and completing choreographed routines at a very quick pace.
The actors perform routines so much that the fights look and feel real to spectators.
“It’s important to learn the moves because our weapons are battle-ready and our No. 1 priority is safety,” Wyard said.
Wyard said he and his fellow knights train about 50 hours a week to stay in shape and prepare for each show.
“We’re like brothers,” he said. “We camp together, we protect each other, and we spend a lot of time together.”
Every year, the Dallas location continues to entertain more and more people. In its first year, the theater scheduled 210 shows. In 2012, the number of shows peaked at 413.
“We have something for everyone,” Speier said. “This is a venue that kids and adults will enjoy. It’s because we put so much time into our horses and knights. It’s a family here and that comes across in our shows.”
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.