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Littlefield: Competitive Hobbyhorse Riding02:44Download

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The Kentucky Derby is near. But Bill Littlefield is thinking about another kind of horse competition. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)MoreCloseclosemore
The Kentucky Derby is near. But Bill Littlefield is thinking about another kind of horse competition. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

There are lots of reasons to like Finland. One of them is universal health care. Another is competitive hobbyhorse riding. I’ve been reading about it in the Wall Street Journal and a few other places.

Maybe, when you were younger, you had a hobbyhorse — that is, a broomstick with a cloth horse’s head at one end and perhaps a cloth tail at the other. Maybe you gave your hobbyhorse a name. The competitors in Finland — over 10,000 of them — do that.

A 16-year-old hobbyhorse rider named Ada Filippa has two steeds, named Charmi and Jadwa. Ada describes Charmi as “a Danish Warmblood stallion,” though, in fact, Charmi is a stick with a cloth horse’s head on one end.

Hooray for Ada Filippa’s imagination, say I. May it never desert her.

Together, Ada and either Charmi or Jadwa walk and jog in place. They trot. They flip their ponytails and jump over obstacles that look sort of like the same obstacles over which people astride flesh-and-blood horses jump.

The girls and young women can’t count on the hobbyhorse to supply much spring in these exercises. In fact, they have to do the jumping and prancing and turning themselves, all the while keeping their slender, temperamental partners steady.

Nah, their partners aren’t really temperamental. They’re sticks, is what they are … with cloth horse’s heads on one end.

Competitors are judged on their grace and control, and then there is the athleticism. Some of the jumps are several feet high, which is just a bit higher than some of the riders. I read about a recent competition in which the judges were stunned by the “elegant movements” and “perfect rhythm” Ada Filippa and Jadwa demonstrated. They were awarded first place, Filippa and Jadwa were, after which Ada patted Jadwa’s neck, such as it was. She resisted the temptation to feed Jadwa a sugar cube, because that would have been silly.

Ada Filippa has some older cousins who are curious about why she’s still riding a hobbyhorse. They have apparently asked her when she is going to put Jadwa and Charmi out to pasture, so to speak. She does not see that happening any time soon.

“If your hobby is ice hockey, nobody asks you when you are going to stop,” she said recently. “I am always happy, I always smile when I do this…and I’m always improving. Why would I want to stop?”

Why, indeed?

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield has been the host of Only A Game since the program began in 1993.

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