Le Tournoi is a unique competition that you will only find at one place in the country. Once a year, Cajun “Knights” on horseback race around a quarter-mile track in Ville Platte, Louisiana, as they try to spear seven small metal rings.
The seven rings represent the seven enemies of cotton. Cotton farming is important to the economy of this rural Evangeline Parish town. Those seven enemies are drought, flood, the bollworm, boll weevil, rayon, nylon and silk. Twenty riders compete in three rounds, trying to collect all seven rings in each round. Kent Guillory was the first rider to snatch all 21 rings. He did it and won the championship 20 years ago. Guillory says it requires, “good hand-eye coordination and you better have a good horse.”
Watch the action of le tournoi
how le tournoi began
The modern version of the competition began in 1953. But Le Tournoi dates back to the founding of the Ville Platte community in the early 19th century by Frenchman Marcellin Garrand. The competition was similar to ancient tournaments held in France.
harder than it looks
The horse riders race around the quarter-mile long dirt track at speeds of 40 miles per hour. They use a 5-foot long wooden lance to spear the small metal rings that are a mere 2.5 inches in diameter. In addition to catching as many rings as possible, their goal is to complete the quarter-mile in less than 14 seconds. Spectators, who have RVs, tents, barbecue grills and ice chest full of beer, cheer on their favorites.
breaking the gender barrier
It was always thought that only men could enter the competition. Lisa Crane, an experienced equestrian, changed that six years ago. “It was an unwritten rule that women couldn’t run. So we actually checked into it and it was in fact an unwritten rule,” explains Crane. “Since there was nothing against it, we were allowed to run.” Crane has qualified to run each year since then, sometimes finishing among the top 5 riders, she says.
Le Tournoi featured on tv
Grand finale of ville Platte’s cotton festival
Le Tournoi de la Ville Platte is the highlight of the annual Cotton Festival held in late October. The tournament riders take part in the festival’s parade through downtown Ville Platte before heading to the nearby industrial park for the competition.