In my life so far I’ve dabbled in ballet, guitar, art, badminton and tennis, but only one hobby has stuck with me through the years: horse-back riding. I started taking riding lessons as an eight-year-old, encouraged by my mother, and fourteen years later, I have had two horses. Incidentally, my first one was the horse I had my very first riding lesson with. The second one is a Friesian horse called Victor and I’ve had him for seven years now. As you might have guessed, it’s not the cheapest hobby and therefore not the most obvious choice for a student, but if one has the time and the money, I highly recommend it. I asked a fellow student what it’s like having this hobby in the metropolitan area (as I don’t go to the stables here, my horse is back in my hometown) and this is what I learned:
‘Horse-back riding in the Helsinki region is naturally more expensive than elsewhere in Finland. There are many stables and multiple choices on where to go. Some stables focus on adult riders, some on show jumping and some on dressage. There are also a couple of stables that specialize in organizing trail-riding on Icelandic horses for small groups. Depending on the place and quality of the riding school, the prices go up to c. 45-50 euros per lesson (in a group of 6-10 riders; up to 70 euros for a private lesson). Many of the stables are out of reach of public transportation, but making the trip with friends (there is always someone with a car) is a good option.
Having your own horse is even more expensive and good stables are limited in the Helsinki region, but with your own horse, you are of course freer to do whatever you want to. For an experienced rider, loaning a horse is also a viable option.’
If there’s a sport where the equipment plays an important part, riding is definitely the most demanding one. I’ve ruined pairs of pants, shoes, gloves and whatnot after one summer of riding and stable work every day.
So it’s expensive, time-consuming and it’s not always easy to get to the stables. Why do we do it then?
Working together with a creature that weighs half a ton or more will not only boost your self-confidence, it will also give you a chance to escape work, studies and whatever troubles you may have. As my born and bred Helsinkian source tells me: ‘Even though horse riding is sometimes even ridiculously expensive, it is totally worth it. It takes your mind off of other things and makes you relax in a way no other sport does.’
It’s no coincidence that riding therapy has become rather popular during the last ten years or so. They are large creatures that have a very commanding presence. Horses are very demanding and they require your full attention. Going to the stables in a bad mood is not a good idea because horses will quickly pick up on that and mirror your attitude. Horses prefer calm people. I quickly learned to not let a bad day ruin my horse’s time with me, as well.
Knowing about leg-yield, the usefulness of voltes, the difficulties of piaffe or the correct way to approach a fence may not be of much use in everyday or working life, but one great lesson that horses have taught me is the value of patience and concentration. Training a young horse to not be afraid of every shadow and sound in the woods has also helped me strengthen my own nerves. Falling off is not a big deal, either. I’ve fallen plenty of times and have never been hurt to a point that I couldn’t get back on the horse in a few minutes. However, I may have limped for a day or two afterwards.
What I love best of all is the companionship of such a powerful yet flighty creature as a horse. Having owned horses since the age of ten I can say that they have had a big impact on me and I see them continuing to have a strong presence in my life. Due to studying in Helsinki, I’m unable to see my horse as often as I’d like, but every time I go up north and see him, he treats me like I’d never been gone. Although, sometimes he does mope a little, but he is not very good at staying angry with me. Not when I give him a good scratch behind his ears and take him out for a little trek.
It’s never too late to get into this hobby and you won’t lose anything by trying it out once or twice. The University of Helsinki has a club for those interested in horses and riding. It’s called Troijan hevonen (The Trojan horse). The aim of the club is to help students with horses and riding as common interests to get together and have a good time at the stables and outside the stables. A quick look at the website (only available in Finnish) will tell you that the club is very active and welcoming.