A travel tip for Denmark - visit a Riding at the Ring festival
Want to experience something truly Danish and different, when visiting Denmark? Then consider visiting in summer and go to one of the many, so-called Riding at the Ring events that take place over the summer in the towns and villages of Southern Denmark. Taking part will give you a unique opportunity to see a centuries old tradition, drink a beer and meet the locals. So what is it and how do you get there?
The very term "Riding at the Ring" or "Ring-Riding" (Danish: ringridning) refers to a competition of marksmanship from horseback. Each rider gallops towards a so-called gallow, where a small ring hangs from a wire, and the rider must then skewer it with her spear, and keep it there while the horse takes at least two more galloping steps. The contest originated as a modification to the medieval Knights competitions, where armored knights at full speed charged against each other with their long lances. While still thrilling, the modern version is less violent. As the contest progresses the ring becomes smaller, and in the end only one rider remains who has taken all rings. She or he is crowned as the King, while the runner-up becomes Crownprince. The overall titles are attained irrespective of age and gender, but often sub-competitions defined by age are also held, for example for children or rookies. If you find riding a horse too daunting, there is even a sub-competition, where you can participate from the saddle of your bicycle. You should then remember to decorate your bike with some ribbons and flags for the event.
Most participants are from the local communities in Southern Jutland, the southern part of Denmark just north of the Danish-German border. While amateurs, they are often very skilled as they spend several weekends over the summer participating in the various events.
The term Riding at the Ring does however also have a broader meaning to locals. To them it refers to the whole festive event, where the riding is but a small part. Weekend after weekend there will be a town party of this kind during the entire summer, each weekend in a new small village or town of the area. Each time the event will have a fun fare, marketplace, concerts, beer tents and major parties with several hundreds in attendance. It is typically kicked off with a musical parade through the town centre with local march bands followed by the riders, whose numbers may exceed 500. The whole town is decorated with flags with crowds watching the spectacle in the small streets.
The term even has a third meaning, as locals ask for "a ring-rider" to order a barbecued sausage served in large quantities at the festival. This local specialty comes with a small bread, some ketchup and strong mustard, and it all goes very well with a cold and fresh tap beer conveniently available at the same place.
The two largest events are in Aabenraa and Sonderborg, which are small provincial towns beautifully situated on the southeast coast of Jutland with small hills, green fields and beech woods next to charming fjords. Both are right next to a highway and very easy to stop by if you ever drive from Hamburg to Denmark. In Denmark, Copenhagen is the major city and capital, whereas Aarhus is the major city in Jutland. They are certainly worth a visit and are well-known travel destinations, but if you want to get somewhat off the beaten track, do make a stop in Southern Jutland in summer. You can also easily go by train to Sonderborg or Aabenraa (the train stop is in Rodekro 4 miles away with connecting buses) from either Aarhus or Copenhagen.
Should you decide to stay longer in Southern Jutland, then head to the southwestern corner at Hojer to see the special and preserved marshland which is now part of the National Wadden Sea Park - one of Denmark's protected national parks. The landscape is flat and somewhat harsh, and very different from the hilly eastern part of Jutland. Here, at the Lock of Hojer you can feel completely away from the rush of civilization, even though you are only a small drive away.
A final tip: If you want to challenge your language skills, you should try to make one of the locals teach you how to pronounce the word Ring-Riding in their local dialect. It would be written something like this "æ rin'æ-rie", where the "i" sounds like the opening sound of "easy" and "æ" is like the opening sound of "eligible"... Enjoy your trip :-) - and please comment here, if you have any further tips for visiting the area of my childhood!
Photo credits: Henrik Stovring.