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Medieval jousting lives on in Tilting at the Ring competitions

Horses key to this folklore and tradition

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

It is highly unlikely that Tilting at the Ring will draw huge crowds the world over the way soccer has in recent months. Yet, Tilting is a much older sport, one that also has many more modern variations. Among Dutch sport traditions, Tilting (in Dutch ringsteken or ringrijden) has a 500-year history and is actively practiced throughout the Lowlands.

Many Dutch-born people will have practiced a form of Tilting at the ring before graduating from elementary school: riding a bicycle, with the basic threshold for success being the mastery of steering the bicycling with one hand and balancing it simultaneously. Those who continue to tilt at the ring likely belong to the more active crowd willing to try other forms of the traditional sport.

That ringrijden has a significant fan base can be deducted from the fact that Zeeland's provincial capital honours the (folkloristic) sport with a very costly life-sized statue, a horse with rider and lance appearing to charge at the next ring. Enthusiasts in Zeeland consider this sport to be a widely popular pastime in their province, where these sporting events frequently were (and still are) held in conjunction with annual fairs and market days, and other agricultural events. For onlookers from elsewhere the huge galloping Belgian horses charging in a narrow cordoned off lane at the next ring is a very impressive sight. Other competitive game categories involve a span of (decorated) horses pulling a (luxurious or even an antique) two-seater gig, pony pulled light wagons and or tractors with the driver holding the lance at ready in an effort to snag the snap-on rings hanging from hands attached to poles. Depending on the situation, there could be as many as eight poles while in smaller venues participants may have to go around a few times. An attendant at each pole quickly snaps a new ring into the pole's hand in time for the next approaching contestant.


Event organizers in Zeeland proudly point to the fact that members of the royal family have been attending their tournaments for ages. The earliest known attendee from the House of Orange even predates the Dutch monarchy by two decades. Stadtholder William V spent July 1, 1786 watching a tournament in Domburg and gave two golden medallions for the winners. Between the years 1823 and 1921, Dutch royalty –involving four monarchs in succession- either visited Zeeland tournaments or gave prizes for them no fewer than eleven times.

The first recorded jousting tournament was staged in 1066, although jousting itself did not gain in widespread popularity until the 12th century. It maintained its status as a popular European sport until the early 17th century.

The print version of this article is much more extensive and also richly illustrated. A copy of issue #1148 of August 23, 2010 with the complete article maybe requested with a new subscription start (offer in effect as long as supply lasts).