Copy of an article by Minna Harmaala, links added
published in 2007 in the Vapaa Sana newspaper, North America’s Finnish weekly
The Finnish multipurpose horse breed 100 years
The Finnish “sisu” is not just an attribute of people. The Finnhorse has plenty of it, too, say the enthusiasts.
– We are in massive debt to the Finnhorse. If it wasn’t for the Finnhorse we would be speaking Russian in Finland, says Jukka Salonen, the president of Suomenhevosliitto, Finnhorse union, referring to the Finnhorses in the wars.
The wars 1939-1945 are a significant part of the history of not only Finnish people but also the native horse breed. During the wars, tens of thousands of Finnhorses pulled the cannons, delivered food and mail to the front and took the injured soldiers to safety.
As important as the past is, the 100th anniversary of the Finnhorse studbook in 2007 is more focused on the present and the future.
– The future of the Finnhorse looks good at the moment. At some point things were looking gloomier as the need for working horses at farms ended so suddenly in the 1970s. If you look at the curve representing the amount of horses at that time it is practically vertical, says Päivi Laine, the director of the adult education in the Equine college of Ypäjä.
In 1950 there were around 409 000 horses in Finland, most of them Finnhorses. In the 1980s the numbers went down to as low as 14 000 horses.
Today there are approximately 19 500 Finnhorses in Finland.
– The history and the versatility of the Finnhorse makes it so unique that it will always have special value to Finns, believes Suvi Louhelainen who is the contact person of the project Finnhorse 100 years.
The monarchs of racing
Jukka Salonen from the Finnhorse union says that the Finnhorse is increasingly popular as a riding horse. It is mostly used for harness racing, however.
– The Finnhorse either lives or dies with the harness racing. After the depression in the early 1990s, the situation of the Finnhorse has continuously worsened in the horse racing field as the use of standardbreds has boomed, says Salonen.
It does not, however, look like the racing people would discard the native breed altogether. The “Kuninkuusravit”, the Finnhorse racing championships, is a proof of this. It’s an event in which the “king” and “queen” of Finnhorse trotters are crowned.
In 2002 the Kuninkuusravit brought 50 000 people to Kaustinen, a small town of 4 000 inhabitants.
– The event is enchanting because people in the provinces know the horses, says Jukka Salonen.
According to Päivi Laine, the horse racing industry has influenced the development of the Finnhorse throughout the times, alongside with agriculture. The state used to arrange races to which the farmers took part in with their Finnhorses.
Enduring and healthy
Finnhorses have succeeded even on world championship level in carriage driving.
For someone seeking success in international riding arenas, however, the Finnhorse is not the right breed. But it is increasingly popular among recreational riders.
– The Finnhorse is an enduring, healthy breed that has been specifically developed for the conditions in Finland. Also, its calm but persistent character is highly suitable for recreational riding. The valuable cultural history of the breed also contributes to its popularity. As a sport horse the Finnhorse is long-lived, ponders Suvi Louhelainen on the reasons for the breed’s success.
Performance is emphasized
The historical uses of the Finnhorse made the breed sporty and mild mannered.
The Finnhorse is considerably lighter in build than any Central European working horse breeds. This is due to its job in forestry. The lumber was cut and collected from the forests in the winter so the horse had to be light enough to work in deep snow. Also, the horse had to have patience.
When the studbook was opened the horses were chosen to it by judging their physical characteristics. If the horse had features considered foreign, such as white colour, he was not accepted in the studbook.
According to Terttu Peltonen, The breeding director of Finnish Trotting and Breeding Association Hippos, the Finnhorse looks pretty similar today as it did 100 years ago. Since 1929 however, the emphasis has been on performance.
– I doubt the horses that lived 100 years ago would pass today’s requirements. As a trotter the record times for Finnhorses are nearly 20 seconds faster today.
The pedigree makes all the difference
According to Päivi Laine of Ypäjä, it is of outmost importance to know the pedigrees of the Finnhorse. Without this knowledge it’s hard to choose the right horse for the task.
– Basically a Finnhorse is good for any equestrian sport but there are enormous differences in type among family lines and individual horses.
The build of a successful trotter is different from the one of a good riding horse. A trotter needs speed, a riding horse three good gaits – including a rolling canter which is rarely a trait of a trotter.
Päivi Laine notes that the Finnhorse has always been intertwined with the development of the Finnish society. The horse families with characteristics unwanted at the time would vanish and others blossom. One of the discontinued lines is by a stallion called Manu.
– It has been suggested that had women been riding when Manu influenced the Finnhorse population, his family would have continued. His offspring were extremely sensitive and light to ride but too speedy for farm work.
Most modern day Finnhorses have a stallion called Eri-Aaroni in their pedigree.
– Eri-Aaroni has produced the best trotter and riding horse lines. And apparently he himself had all the characteristics we look for in a Finnhorse. He had a pleasant temperament, he was beautiful and had enormous trotting talent. Based on his build he looked like he would have made a good riding horse, too, says Päivi Laine admiringly.
- Sisu (mustapaa.wordpress.com)