Equestrians know better than most that investing in a hobby can be expensive. Competing in dressage competitions and simply owning a horse can put a serious dent in your budget, but teen girls in Finland have found a solution. They'd like to welcome you into the world of hobby horse tournaments.
More than 10,000 teen and young adult women are galloping across Europe with children's toys consisting of stuffed horse heads attached to sticks between their legs. But this craze isn't child's play. It's a hobby with serious competitors that is spreading across Finland and has extended as far as Sweden, Germany, and France.
There are hobby horse fairs and tournaments, and competitors commit real time and effort toward excelling at their sport. They craft their own hobbyhorses using extreme detail and give each horse a unique personality. When they have a horse they're proud of, they hit the training ring with their friends and mentors. Hobby horse tournaments are fierce, but it's the strength of the community that truly endures.
Selma Vilhunen, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, quickly fell in love with the craze and set out to show the world exactly what hobby horse tournaments are all about. She made a documentary, "Hobbyhorse Revolution" to tell the stories of three hobbyhorse enthusiasts.
Each of the girls in the documentary turned to hobbyhorsing for their own reasons. Whether it was to cope with their parents' divorce or to make new friends, the girls credit their stuffed horses and the welcoming community with changing their lives. They say handcrafting the horses encourages creativity, and the galloping and jumping improves coordination and athleticism.
Running around with a stick between your legs may look easy, but professional hobbyhorsing is about more than that. Just like with regular dressage competitions, riders must perfect their steps with poise and grace. They need to be powerful enough to leap over hurdles more than three feet high while maintaining the perfect rhythmic trot. Instead of relying on a horse, they do everything with their own two legs.
While the number of people involved in competitive hobbyhorsing is continually growing, the true enthusiasts admit to being bullied and made fun of. People say they're silly children playing make believe, and harsh words have many competitors living double lives. They keep their secret during the week, but their closets are more like stables and they interact online and go to a hobby horse tournament on the weekends.
But then there are girls who talk about their hobby with pride. They join in on group rides chanting "respect the hobbyhorse," and they're committed to sharing their passion with others.
Vilhunen says, "There's a lot of prejudice from people who think...It's the stupidest thing in the world. But [hobbyhorse enthusiasts] don't care, because they know how cool it is."
The young girls involved in hobbyhorsing make up a defiant community of people that stand by each other in their mutual "weirdness." They protect their own and offer everyone a place where they can have fun, learn new skills, and be themselves.
Horse Courses by Elaine Heney
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Would you compete in a hobby horse tournament? Let us know in the comments below!