Young Girls in Finland Are Pretending to Ride Horses — Inside the Prancing Phenomenon

While most children have, at some point, likely picked up a broomstick and used it to pretend they were riding a horse, a community in Finland has embraced riding around with a toy horse as a real-life art form.

Many young girls in the country have taken up the craft of “hobbyhorsing,” which sees them use a stick equipped with a toy horse’s head to dance and show off their riding skills at events, the New York Times explained in an April article.

While it may seem like the girls are simply pretending to ride their horses, it becomes as genuine as it can get at competitions, where they’ll learn how to care for their hobbyhorse just as if it were a real animal. They even pick its breed and gender.

“A veterinarian lectured girls on hobbyhorse vaccination schedules, saying ‘check that the eyes are clear and there is no nasal discharge,’ ” the Times said of a recent hobbyhorse event in Helsinki. “The girls discussed hobbyhorse bloodlines and hobbyhorse temperaments, hobbyhorse training routines and hobbyhorse diets.”

Becoming a part of the country’s growing hobbyhorse community reportedly allows the girls to express themselves without fear of ridicule in something they may not find in school or in their neighborhood.

“The normal things, that normal girls like, they don’t feel like my things,” 11-year-old hobbyhorse enthusiast Fanny Oikarinen told the Times.

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“Some are sports girls,” added Fanny’s friend, Maisa Wallius. “Some are really lonely girls. And some can be the coolest girl at school.”

Enthusiast Alisa Aarniomaki found online stardom thanks to her hobbyhorsing, but despite her popular videos, she was unsure about revealing her skills to kids at school.

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One day, classmates spotted her practicing outside and made fun of her.

“It didn’t fit with their idea of a 12-year-old girl,” Aarniomaki, now 22, told the newspaper. “They said I would never get a boyfriend.”

Hobbyhorsing got the attention of filmmaker Selma Vilhunen, who released a documentary in 2017 about the craft.

“Little girls are allowed to be strong and wild,” Vilhunen said of hobbyhorsing. “I think the society starts to shape them into a certain kind of quietness when they reach puberty.”

Aarniomaki added: “If someone says we are playing, it strips away everything we made, it strips away the reality.”

Hobbyhorsing, while having its foundation in the imaginary, has a very real effect on those who embrace it.

“I have many friends who are interested in it too, so I knew I wasn’t alone,” Fanny told the Times. “I can be as childish as I want to be.”

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