“It’s barbaric!” was the first reaction of a lot people when I told them we were going to see the Ganzenrijden. Ganzenrijden is a yearly contest where horse riders have to pull off the head of a dead goose to become De Koning der Ganzenrijders (=The King of Goose-riding). I must admit it sounds pretty harsh but we were too intrigued and wanted to know more about this absurd folklore.
A ganzenrijder in full action
Stabroek is a small town in the Polder - where the Videoland is still more famous than Netflix. Ganzenrijden is basically the biggest event of the year (“Het Tettenbal” is a close second) and the whole village is crazy about it. To be a rider is a great honour, and to be a Koning brings joy and prestige to the family for generations to come.
Ganzenrijden is a folklore ritual from a forgotten (yet not so far away) time to celebrate the beginning of spring and to bring a fruitful harvest. Young farmer boys wanted to test the strength of their horses after a long winter.
Since 1924 and they had only a few breaks as you can see
Like every year, horse riders of different Polder communities (with exotic names like Zandvliet, Berendrecht, Lillo, …) will fight for the title of Keizer (=Emperor) . But before you can become a Keizer you’ll have to become Koning of your own town. And before entering the contest to become a Koning you'll have to do at least ten practice rides on a horse. A sort of a driver’s licence for ganzenrijden.
Ready for take off
Each town has its own guild or community of riders from young to old. Everyone can join the community. There’s even a waiting list. Except for women, they can’t join. They’re allowed to ride on another, less-important occasion, and nobody really cares. Basically like women’s football. Women, what do they know about ripping off a head from a dead goose?
'Nen blote nek' as they would say
When we arrived at the Ganzenrijden around three o’clock the dead goose was already hanging on a pole and the riders were already trying to pull of its head. This was not as easy as we thought it would be. The goose was covered in a net which made it impossible to pull the head off instantly. Every 30 minutes or so they make a little cut in the net until at one point the neck gets naked - the moment supreme. From this moment if you were lucky enough you could pull off the head and become the Koning of Ganzenrijden. But from three o’clock until 5 o’clock people are just waiting and drinking and the riders joke around.
The Boetebiezel, the entertainer who jokes around a bit
A lonely goose hanging on a pole
But what about the goose one may ask? What happens after the head gets separated from the body? And did it used to be a living goose? “The goose is carefully picked, it has to be an old one with a strong neck - one which had led a good life.” reassured Frans De Schutter. “The day before the contest it gets euthanised by a veterinarian and the day after it will get eaten, a sort of a feast meal.” Frans is the president of the Ganzenrijders maatschappij of Stabroek. That’s a big fuckin’ deal - basically he’s the mayor - and he wore a knitted tie. Yes, a knitted tie. Swag. Frans has been in the game for years. Since 1924, when the age-old tradition was picked back up again, the goose has never been alive. “This is only an urban legend”, Frans reassured us. “The goose probably had a better life than most of the animals which end up on your plate daily.” Sounds legit, right?
Mr. President of the Ganzenrijders
Two hours later it was finally time for some action. The goose's head went naked, ’Nen blote nek’ as they would say. Suddenly everybody was on the tip of their toes and the atmosphere got real intense. "From this moment it can last 5 minutes or it could go on for another hour.” said a drunk stranger who was standing next to us and decided to become our new BFFL. The next rider came in draft on his massive Ros (=a farmer’s horse) and nearly grabbed the head, but didn’t manage to separate it from the body. Loud “Oooohs” from the crowd followed. It didn’t take long and the next rider was already galloping towards the goose. He lifted his hand, grabbed the head and ripped it off. Boom! The drums of the fanfare started banging, trumpets started trumping and a new King was crowned.
This is the real deal
And although he just pulled off the head of goose, which still sounds a bit absurd, the emotions were real and Peter Peeters and his family were for one day the happiest family on earth. Tears of joy, real raw emotions, people hugging each other. It was beautiful.
Go see it yourself 13th March in Zandvliet at Het Keizerrijden. Being a King is one thing, but being an emperor - Oh My! Ciao!
Peter Peeters, de Koning der Ganzenrijders, during his moments of glory
Moments of joy
What goes up
Must come down
Another shitty report by Benni B. & Vieze Freddy.