From Työhevoskurssit täpötäynnä (yle.fi 15.1.2013 by Siru Päivinen, shortened translation)
This is a true Finnish heritage sight: crisp winter weather, temperature just below zero, the sun is shining and a handsome, flaxen-mained horse harnessed in front of a traditional sleigh is waiting for passengers. More and more people wish to live in this view.
Työhevosharrastajat is a Finnish work horse club that operates under Suomenratsut ry. They arrange courses in traditional harnessing, agriculture work and logging. The courses have showed to be extremely popular, especially among young urban women.
One of these courses took place in Tuulikummun Tila, Kiihtelyysvaara, in North Karelia. It was a surprise for the stable owner Heidi Meuranen that so many people came a long way to learn about work horses -most of them from Southern Finland, several hundred kilometers away!
– This was the first course we arranged. We thought we could offer the local horse people to get to know working with finnhorses, but it was filled in moments with southern participants. That was a surprise.
Finnhorse reflects the Finnish heritage
Horses have made their way back to Finnish countryside. Horse industry has been growing for the past years, and finnhorse as a part of it. The biggest amount of horses ever was in 1950, when there were altogether 410 000 horses in Finland. The mechanization in agriculture put many horses out of work after that. The lowest number of horses was in the early 1980s, when there were only about 31 000 horses left. As the standard of living grew, horses became more and more popular as a hobby. Finnhorses got accompanied by warmbloods, ponies, Icelandic horses, Norwegian fjords and other foreign breeds, and their work field was more and more often on the race track and as riding horses rather than work horses.
At the moment there are altogether about 76 000 horses in Finland, and about 16 000 stables. Horses have been the only growing form of agriculture industry in the 21st century.
Knowledge and learning
During the few “darker decades” the traditional horsemanship was slowly disappearing. Nowadays the native Finnish horse and traditional horsemanship and working is making its way back to fashion. People are looking for teachers -old horsemen.
– My work horse hobby started with horses that came to the farm with the wife. So we built a stable for the horses. I was more interested in this traditional horsemanship rather than riding, being interested in old Finnish culture overall. Since we had the horses and the abilities, we decided to organize a course for the interested, told Anssi Okkonen, one of the course leaders.
Okkonen believes that this rising interest to work horses is a part of need to calm down, get back to nature. Urban people come to these courses for experiences and get out of their busy city lifes for a change. Some people even want to stay permanently, so they find a house at the countryside and most of the time these dreams include a small stable -and a finnhorse.
Meuranen family looked for a flaxen-mained finnhorse in particular, and found one six years ago. Poika Tuisku raised hopes for a trotter career at first, but his speed was not enough for the track. Instead he has proven himself a really good horse for riding and working.
– This horse is my precious, I could even say the horse of my life. Tuisku is a bit stubborn sometimes, but I happily allow that for a good horse. He’s also very honest and hard-working, tells Heidi Meuranen about the gelding which she owns with her husband Jouni Meuranen.
Heidi’s way to work horses was a common one -through saddle. At the moment a sleigh is as familiar to her as the saddle, and she tells that driving and working are good change for riding.
Atmosphere and nostalgia
Along with Meuranen couple, older horsemen Eino Leikas and Veikko Ripatti were called to offer the course participants knowledge about the traditional working with horses along with younger instructor Anssi Okkonen. The course offered learning in practice; by learning to harness real horses, driving with work sleighs, bringing wood from the forest and so on.
– Practice makes perfect, you can’t learn these things properly in theory, says Heidi. Getting to know different ways to work with horses opens one’s mind to new ideas as well, and a finnhorse is a true multipurpose horse.
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