Hobby-horsing real craze with girls

Cape Breton Post - - Classifieds / Lifestyles -

Sport­ing a black leather jacket, dyed red hair and a tat­tooed arm, Alisa Aarniomaki looks like she’s on her way to a rock band re­hearsal ses­sion.

But in­stead of car­ry­ing a gui­tar, the 20-year-old Finn gently holds on to some­thing else: a puffy stuffed horse head on a wooden stick com­plete with glued-on eyes, mane and reins.

She’s been rid­ing real horses from the age of 10 but be­came in­stantly smit­ten by hobby-horsing - a sport with gym­nas­tic el­e­ments that has spawned a so­cial me­dia sub­cul­ture among Fin­nish teen girls - when she first heard about it on a web dis­cus­sion fo­rum sev­eral years ago.

“Hobby-horsing has a strong ther­a­peu­tic side to it,” says Aarniomaki, adding that it has helped her to deal with dif­fi­cult per­sonal is­sues such as her par­ents’ di­vorce and bul­ly­ing at school.

“I’ve gone through lots of trou­ble and I’m still strug­gling with some is­sues. It has helped me a great deal that I can oc­ca­sion­ally just go gal­lop­ing into the woods with my friends. It some­how bal­ances my mind.”

Like a real horse and its rider, the hob­by­horse and its master form a team and be­come at­tached to each other. Sim­i­larly, the sports sim­u­lates tra­di­tional eques­trian events in­clud­ing com­pet­ing in dres­sage and show jump­ing, and is phys­i­cally de­mand­ing.

Hobby-horsing has gained mo­men­tum out­side Fin­land be­cause of this year’s re­lease of the doc­u­men­tary “Hob­by­horse Rev­o­lu­tion” by the Fin­nish Os­car-nom­i­nated di­rec­tor Selma Vil­hunen. Over a year, she fol­lowed young hob­by­horse en­thu­si­asts and their prepa­ra­tions for a com­pe­ti­tion.

Some ac­tual horse rid­ers may look down on hobby-horsing as child­like past-time not suit­able for any­one aged over 10, but Fred Sund­wall, the sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Eques­trian Fed­er­a­tion of Fin­land, dis­agrees.

“We think it’s sim­ply won­der­ful that hobby-horsing has be­come a phe­nom­e­non and so pop­u­lar,” Sund­wall said. “It gives a chance to those chil­dren and teens who don’t own horses to in­ter­act with them also out­side sta­bles and rid­ing schools.”

The vast ma­jor­ity of the hob­by­horses are home­made -splen­did, col­or­ful crea­tures com­plete with names like Chat­tanooga Choo Choo and Panda - ex­changed and sold by own­ers at events and through so­cial me­dia. Some of them have been known to fetch up to 200 eu­ros ($218 dol­lars) at auc­tions.

Afi­ciona­dos take high pride in the sport’s do-it-your­self at­ti­tude, and very few in­dus­tri­ally made hob­by­horses are seen at events be­cause they are “low­er­caste horses,” said Venla-Maria Uutela, a spokes­woman for a reg­is­tered in­for­mal hob­by­horse so­ci­ety in Helsinki.

About 10,000 peo­ple, nearly all of them be­tween the ages of 10 and 18, are es­ti­mated to be in­volved in hobby-horsing in Fin­land. Its pop­u­lar­ity is also grow­ing steadily in the other Nordic coun­tries and else­where in Europe, though the num­bers are much smaller.

No of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics ex­ist as hobby-horsing doesn’t have an af­fil­i­a­tion with Fin­nish sports as­so­ci­a­tions and en­thu­si­asts meet and ex­change views mainly at web dis­cus­sion fo­rums and share photo ma­te­rial and videos through In­sta­gram and YouTube.

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