It’s got a nice ring to it

Tilting in action in Jutland
Tilting in action in Jutland

BorderS horseriders are being openly invited to stay with Danish townsfolk during Jutland’s ‘ringriding’ festivals next year to learn the mediaeval equestrian sport of tilting, and then bring the skills back home.

Tilting, or riding at a ring with a lance, was once popular in Scotland, but now only exists as a competitive game in south Jutland, near Denmark’s border with Germany, where the annual tilting festivals share some features with the Borders common ridings.

Through the Borders Festival of the Horse, a group of three riders from Scotland competed in the Sonderborg Tilting Festival for the first time this year.

Councillor Vicky Davidson, who holds the sports portfolio for Scottish Borders Council, rode the procession with her daughter Rowan, and silversmith Robyn Kinsman Blake.

They were accompanied by Ann Fraser of the Festival of the Horse, and David and Judy Steel, whose long association with Denmark and Danes led to their discovery of the festivals after one of their Danish “family” settled in Sonderborg.

“The main element is an equestrian one,” reports Judy, “with hundreds of horses, flags, processions and bands – Sonderborg boasts a pipe band of its own – and the week of enjoyment and community spirit that imbues each one.

“Riders, of all shapes and sizes on mounts from Norwegian fjord ponies to thoroughbreds, and in age groups starting at six to nine-year-olds and going through the decades to over-80s, canter or gallop towards a ring suspended from a ‘gallows’ attempting to catch it with a steel-tipped lance.

“In the first round of the competition, the ring is 22mm in diameter. Competitors are allowed 10 runs: to move on to the next round, they must spear the ring every time.

“From then on it’s a straight knock-out, with the ring reducing in size every round until it is a mere 5mm in diameter. The winner – of whichever sex – is adjudged ‘king’ of the contest; his or her runners-up are the crown prince and the prince. It’s an entirely amateur sport, the prize being a wreath to wear on the winner’s cap.

“The tilting is preceded and followed by a procession in the town of up to 400 horses and riders, and half a dozen bands.”

The Borders contingent received hearty cheers along the route from the locals, and marked themselves out as Scots by wearing riding accessories designed by Maria Rankin, sashes and hat covers in St Andrew’s tartan from Selkirk weavers A. Eliot, and with Robyn carrying a Saltire.

“Although their tilting – which they had never tried before – was not crowned with success,” writes Judy, “they managed to take several rings between them, and they were presented by their hosts with the traditional laurel wreaths awarded to the winner.”

The Saturday of the tilting festival is devoted to music, with the bands, including one from Norway and one from Bournemouth, giving a concert in the town square, which traditionally finishes with Highland Cathedral.

And on the Monday there is an all-male lunch – at which nearly 1,700 men sit down for a six-hour session of food, drink, songs and speeches. For David Steel, it had definite echoes of the Hut at Hawick.

Now the Danes are anxious to make the return visit in 2013 to found the first tilting contest in Scotland for about 450 years at the Borders Festival of the Horse.

They also hope to welcome more Scots to Sonderborg, and to export their unique tradition of tilting across the North Sea to the Borders, the region with which they have so much in common.

A working party of Danes and Scots has now been set up to look at ways that the latter can learn tilting, and take part in the Sonderborg Ringriding Festival next year.

For further information about tilting in Jutland see www.ringriderfest.com, and for more about tilting in the Borders, and how to be a part of it, see www.bordersfestivalhorse.org