A secret Finnish subculture of women and girls who ride hobbyhorses has come out of the shadows

A once-underground movement of Finnish girls who conduct elaborate dressage routines with toy hobbyhorses has gone mainstream, with coaches, competitions and trainers, and is spreading abroad.

The subculture came together through quiet internet message boards that attracted girls and young women who traded tips on routines, making their own hobbyhorses, and created an informal network of competitions and routines.

The girls come from a variety of backgrounds: some are the popular kids, some are outcasts, but they are united by a form of intense shared fantasy and athleticism.

The practice has become more widely known thanks to Selma Vilhunen's 2017 documentary Hobbyhorse Revolution (Vilhunen stumbled on the scene through internet message boards in 2012).

Alisa Aarniomaki is the hobbyhorse scene's "unofficial spokesperson" and has traveled around Europe giving hobbyhorse demonstrations, kicking off local scenes in the Netherlands, Russia and Sweden. There's an annual championship every year in Finland.

It sounds like an incredibly good time: playful and inventive and creative all at once, imaginative and physical at the same time.

On a recent afternoon, the two girls trudged home through the wet snow.

Then Maisa brought over Tarzan — "He is a very gentle horse, he learns fast, and he really loves to jump" — and the two girls set out into the cold.

They broke into a run, pounding the slush with their boots. Then they cut into the forest into deep snow.

They galloped through stands of straggly pines until their cheeks burned. They knew the terrain by heart, running along pathways that were invisible under the snow.

They ran for an hour, laughing all the way, and were ready to go on much farther into the forest. They would have, if their mothers hadn't called them home.

Finland's Hobbyhorse Girls, Once a Secret Society, Now Prance in Public [Ellen Barry/New York Times]

(via Super Punch)