The Tournament: Ring Spearing in Surry County

At the 1952 tri-centennial celebration, horsemen line up for the tilting tournament. Tilting, otherwise known as riding at the rings or ring spearing, is a form of jousting in which the horseman rides at full gallop and inserts his lance through small metal rings.

At the 1952 tri-centennial celebration, horsemen line up for the tilting tournament. Tilting, otherwise known as riding at the rings or ring spearing, is a form of jousting in which the horseman rides at full gallop and inserts his lance through small metal rings.

The Tournament of the Horse was a popular sport in England in the 1400's. Jousting was a part of this tournament, but numerous deaths from this sport led Popes and English kings to ban the sport. For the most part, this enhanced the popularity of the sport. An offshoot of this sport was another sport called Ring Spearing. The description I found of Ring Spearing is very close to the tournaments I remember being held at local fairs. This and dressage are present day adaptations of England's Tournament of the Horse. Ring Jousting is Maryland's Official State Sport.

I don't know the year in which the first tournament was held, nor do I know how many years they were held, but I remember the tournaments at the Surry County Fairs that were held in the 1940's. I rode in tournaments at Surry and at Wakefield and seems to me they were also run at Waverly. I don't recall any riders at Surry who were not from either Surry County or Sussex County.

No particular attire was required though one year we wore capes in the parade which was held before the tournament was run. I'm sure all or most of the capes were made by family members. Mine was green and yellow, made by my mother and I still have it. I won't try to name the participants because I surely don't remember them all. However, some are fixed in my mind due to some special circumstances. Dick Pittman rode a black horse with a black saddle and bridle decorated with silver conchos. Herman Truehart Burgess rode a horse that had been in the US Cavalry. It's likely that Wilson Cofer rode in more competitive tournaments (such as at Richmond) than anyone else who rode at the Surry County Fair. He dressed more formal than most of us and his horse was constantly switching his tail when he ran.

 
An unidentified rider is moving at full gallop, trying to win the 1952 ring spearing tournament tournament held during the tri-centennial celebration.

An unidentified rider is moving at full gallop, trying to win the 1952 ring spearing tournament tournament held during the tri-centennial celebration.

 

We weren't big on formality in Surry but certain rules and niceties were followed. People rode English or western and I remember a McClellan saddle being used. You might see shoes, boots, riding britches, ties, open neck shirts, jackets or most anything else that was decent. I never saw a rulebook and I don't know that there was one, but I don't recall a dispute either. Everyone seemed to know the basic rules.

The course was laid out on the old S, S and S roadbed where it ran through the schoolyard. There were 3 arches 30 yards apart and the course started 20 yards before the first arch. They were called arches but they were more like the number 7 with the long end stuck in the ground. The ring was suspended from the left side of the 7. You were allowed 10 seconds to ride through the course. Each rider rode one trial ride and three rides for record. If you picked up three rings in each of the three rides, you participated in a ride off to determine the winner. The ring size decreased during the ride off. The lance I used was 9' 6" long and 1 1/2" in diameter at its largest point. It's hanging on the wall here at home. The steel tip is 21" long and has a slight curve so that you can sight along tip with the lance held under your arm. The rings I have are 1 1/2" OD covered with red cloth. I think that's the size used for the three rides before the ring size was decreased for the ride off. Rings were hung from the arches approximately 6' from the ground. They could be raised or lowered, within limits, at the rider's request.

There was a judge or judges who determined that the rules were followed. A Ring Steward (I'm not sure of that title.) removed the rings from the lance as the rider returned to the starting point after each ride. It was a courtesy to reverse your lance so that there was less danger to the Ring Stewart when he removed the rings. He held the rings up for the judge and score keeper to see and confirm. If a rider caught the cloth wrapping on the tip of his lance, he lowered the lance and returned to the Ring Stewart. When the lance was presented to the judge, he would determine that the lance tip was on the inside or the outside of the ring. If it was inside the ring counted. The judge would also determine whether or not the rider had lowered his lance during the ride and deserved a reride for the remaining rings.

Riders participating in one of the Surry County area’s ring spearing competitions, date unknown.

Riders participating in one of the Surry County area’s ring spearing competitions, date unknown.

A Coronation Ball was held in the evening after the Tournament was run. The winner of the Tournament crowned the Queen of Love and Beauty and their court was made up of the 3 or 4 runners up and their lady of choice. I don't remember any ladies riding in a tournament at Surry so there was never any question of role reversals here. However, if my memory is up to par, I saw a lady ride in a tournament in Waverly. The Coronation Balls that I remember were held in the S, S and S warehouse just off Route 10 in Surry.

Anyway, that's the way I remember it.

Note: Ollie Hux, from near Dendron, Surry County, Va. is a member who now lives in Millarsville, Alberta, Canada. JEA

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Ollie Hux