All's fair in love, war and Ringsteken

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Apparently, all’s fair in love, war and Ringsteken.

Ted Vander Kooi’s wife Tina and three grandkids were along for the ride during Saturday’s Friesian Weekend Horse Show at the Tillsonburg fairgrounds.

But in a competition including his son and daughter-in-law, Ted recruited Marga Van Wyk of Tillsonburg as a true ‘ringer’ to sit beside him for the delicate ring-stabbing portion of the traditional Friesian competition.

Equine Friesians are a light draft breed of horse originating in the province of Friesland, Netherlands, with a stud book dating back 130 years.

“And there has never been any inbreeding from other horse sources,” said Ted Vander Kooi.

Agriculture’s transition from true horse, to mechanical horsepower was not kind to the breed, and it was close to extinction on a couple of occasions, says Vander Kooi, with only a couple purebred stallions remaining.

“But then they started to breed more for recreation and shows.”

A Friesian stands between 15.5 and 17 hands (64 inches) high, weighs in around 1,300 pounds, throws foals of around 110 pounds and must be black, ‘only black,’ Vander Kooi emphasizes, save for an allowable ‘star’ on the forehead.

“If they have any white on their body or legs, they won’t get in the stud book.”

Acceptance as a member of the official breed is strictly regulated. Two teams of judges travel to North America annually from the Netherlands to ascertain whether horses, typically foals, make the grade.

There are between 5,000 and 6,000 registered Friesians in North America Vander Kooi estimates, including around 400 in Ontario. He and Tina brought their own Friesians to Canada when they emigrated from Holland 15 years ago, and currently have a stable of 19, a mixture of mares, stallions and young animals.

“They have a really nice temperament,” said Vander Kooi. Really friendly, eager to please and really smart – they learn easily.”

Vander Kooi trailers his mares to Michigan for stud service, or sources frozen semen directly from the Netherlands.

The Vander Koois are members of the Friesian Horse Association of North America, an entity connected to the original organization in Holland. Currently essentially show animals, Friesians compete at Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair, along with smaller events including Tillsonburg’s annual Friesian Weekend. It features a horse show including Ringsteken and a pylon course Saturday at Tillsonburg’s fairgrounds as well as a Friesian church service Sunday at Marantha Christian Reformed Church in Woodstock.

Ringsteken features four posts with small rings on them, at a height appropriate for a passing horse and carriage.

“You have to be going full trot,” said Vander Kooi. Couples compete with the man driving, and the woman attempting to retrieve the rings in passing with a pistol-like device, resembling a wooden corncob pipe. Teams go through the four-post course four times, with one point per ring on round one, two points on round two, three on three and four on four, for a potential perfect score of 50.

The pylon course typically features 10 stations, or pairs of pylons says Vander Kooi, strategically placed to challenge teams and drivers. Knocking pylons over results in time penalties in what is a timed competition.

The events are enhanced by the fact participants typically compete in period costumes and period carriages.

“Like from the 1800s,” said Vander Kooi.

Apart from prizes for the top three competitors in both Ringsteken and the pylon course, ‘presentation’, an award for nicest-looking carriage and team of horses and humans is given out.

Beyond its anchor event, the weekend is essentially a celebration of things Friesian, language and culture for members of the community living in Canada.

“It’s a fun day out,” Vander Kooi concluded. “We love the horses and we like to show them off and promote the breed.”


Ringsteken Competition

First: Jisk Schuurman and Karin Van Wely; Second: Jack Vander Kooi and Rachel Mulder; Third: Gerhardus and Nichele Steenbeek.

Pylon Race

First: Ted Vander Kooi; Second: Gerhardus Steenbeek; Third: Klaas Steenbeek.

Best Presentation: Stone Creek Friesians, Gerben Steenbeek.




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