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Ring Riding in Zeeland: an Age-Old Tradition

Posted on Sep 21, 2023 by

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When I visited Domburg, in the province of Zeeland, I had the chance to witness an age-old Zeeland traditional sport: ring riding.

The main square was bustling with people and had been transformed into a tournament field. A sandy path had been laid out for the competition, and there were many horses around. Some of them were regular horses, but most were Zeeland draught horses: huge, impressive animals, so beautiful with their grand proportions and long manes. We were captivated by their presence, and after gently stroking the soft fur of a few, we found a good spot to watch the games.

Ring Riding Domburg

Ring riding is a competitive sport where riders, atop unsaddled horses, wield lances to aim for a small ring hanging along the course. The rings start at 38 millimetres and then, as the level of difficulty rises, they go to 32, 26, 20, 14 millimetres and eventually even down to 10 millimetres. Both women and men can compete in the tournament, although women were introduced as competitors only in the 1950s.

This traditional game takes place in the Walcheren region, and it’s believed to have originated in the Middle Ages, during tournaments for nobility, when the lance had to be stuck through the rings provided by beautiful ladies. Other sources claim that the ring riding is of Germanic origin.

While its exact beginnings remain unclear, the game has enjoyed success over the centuries, evolving into a pastime for farm workers. Traditionally, only draught horses were used in the competition, but nowadays, any horse is accepted due to a significant decline in the number of Zeeland draught horses. To preserve this tradition, the Zeeuwse Ringrijders Vereniging (Zeeland Ring Riders Association) was founded in 1950, to give a structure to these games and keep the tradition alive. The games’ existence was threatened by the mechanisation of agriculture, so an official organisation was needed. The ring riding tradition holds a special place in the hearts of the locals, and you can find a statue depicting a ring rider in Middelburg, next to the Nieuwe Kerk.

Ring Rider Statue Middelburg

We watched the tournament for a while, but didn’t stay there until the end, because it can be very long, and we wanted to visit the rest of the town. It was a cool game, and it caught our interest very quickly. We don’t know who won, but I definitely had a couple of favourites!

To learn more about Zeeland and other Dutch provinces, check out Amsterdamian’s other articles: Dutch Provinces, a Complete Guide.

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1 Comment

  1. It was so interesting to read your article.

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