Finland’s latest sports craze involves ballerina-like leaps, expertly executed jumps, a strong dose of athleticism — and a fake horse head.
Hobby-horsing, a sport made up mostly of Finnish teen girls, mimics traditional equestrian events, such as show jumping and dressage. But rather than ride an actual horse, competitors straddle a horse head on a long stick, replete with glued-on eyes and manes.
The sport has spawned a social media subculture among young Finns, the Associated Press reported on Sunday.
YouTube and Instagram are filled with videos and photos of hobby-horsing competitions, training videos, and horse-head making tutorials. Online discussion boards help foster a sense of community and provide a place for swapping tips.
Hobby-horsing also has a strong element of female empowerment, some riders say. Young girls are building their own scene and setting their own terms, free of strict standards and the scrutiny of official committees.
“No boys are coming and saying what we need to do, or bossing around,” Alisa Aarniomaki, 20, told the AP. “I think hobby-horsing has a feministic agenda.”
About 10,000 people, nearly all of them tweens and teens, are thought to be involved in Finland’s hobby-horsing scene, though no official statistics exist.
Aarniomaki said she has been riding real horses since she was 10 but finds hobby-horsing to be very therapeutic. She said it’s helped her navigate her parents’ divorce, bullying at school, and other painful personal issues.
“It has helped me a great deal that I can occasionally just go galloping into the woods with my friends,” she told the AP. “It somehow balances my mind.”
Although hobby-horsing thrives on the internet and eschews rigid rules, participants still compete in real-world shows. Volunteers organize regional competitions across Finland, which culminate in an annual national championship. This year’s final show in late April involved about 200 competitors.
Hobby-horse haters might say this isn’t a sport at all and is merely a game for children, or an equestrian version of live-action role-playing.
But proponents point out that — along with the physically demanding jumping, prancing, and running — this sport also promotes art, friendship, and discipline, the Wall Street Journal reported in March. Finland’s top equestrian officials said they agree.
“We think it’s simply wonderful that hobby-horsing has become a phenomenon and so popular,” Fred Sundwall, the secretary general of the Equestrian Federation of Finland, told the AP.