Equestrian hobby brings well-being and balance to one’s life

6.2.2022, Kati Prusi

Equestrian hobby is versatile, enjoyable and rewarding. At the same time, the activity brings along comprehensive well-being and teaches the enthusiast responsibility. Wellness trainer Kanerva Ahonala has been horse riding all her life. Icelandic horses in particular are close to Kanerva’s heart.

Kanerva Ahonala is a passionate Icelandic horse enthusiast.

Equestrian hobby suits people of all ages

It is possible to begin equestrian hobby at any age. Horse riding, one of the most popular forms of equestrian sports, is a hobby liked by people of all ages. Besides actual riding, equestrian hobby consists of several other different ways to act and communicate with a horse. In addition to riding, horses are utilized for example in harness racing and equine assisted activities, such as therapeutic riding.

Kanerva Ahonala is a passionate Icelandic horse enthusiast. For her daytime work, she acts as a wellness trainer running two wellness studios in Helsinki. Kanerva feels that equestrian hobby is the perfect balancing factor beside her hectic city life. ‘At the stable, in the middle of nature, and breathing the clean air of Vihti, many things and priorities become clear’, Kanerva describes. Like many other horse enthusiasts, Kanerva has found her way to return to practice the hobby more actively in her adulthood. ‘I’ve been riding almost all my life. As a teenager, I competed in gait competitions even at the international level. Because of my work, the hobby was left in the background for approximately 15 years, until I re-discovered it about five years ago’, Kanerva tells us. As far as time is concerned, most of the time in equestrian hobby is spent on taking care of animals. The most active horse enthusiasts spend several days and hours a week at stables. Even though it is a hobby consuming a lot of time, the benefits brought along by it may be so immense, that they are visible in all areas of life. This has happened to Kanerva, too.

’I visit our own stable in Vihti from 3 to 4 times a week, and usually the trip takes the whole day. It took two years to arrange a 4-day working week; it, however, has been one of the best decisions for my wellbeing. Keeping things separate provides perspective and clarifies your thoughts’, describes Kanerva.

Good horsemanship skills involves building a trusting relationship between horse and rider.

Good horsemanship skills are in the key position in equestrian hobby

When beginning the equestrian hobby, an important thing that you have to learn is horsemanship skills. Horsemanship skills have the key role in everything you do, since the starting point for all equestrian sport always is the well-being of horses. Good horsemanship skills consist of the care for the horse, the control of the handling of the horse as well as establishing a trusting relationship between the rider and the horse. To be able to establish a trusting relationship requires deeper understanding of the moods of a horse.

’When doing things with a horse, and young horses in particular, you must always ‘keep your antennas up’. You must evaluate the mood of the horse daily, and execute the exercises according to what seems to be appropriate for the horse. Horses have also different days, and we have to accept this’, Kanerva sums up.

Working for the wellbeing of horses is of outmost importance for Kanerva.

To combine a dear hobby and working life

Acting as an entrepreneur and owning several horses require a lot of time, work and ability to organize things. Kanerva describes herself warm and emphatic by nature, but also honest and direct, which works fine when doing things with horses.

The family got their first own horse, Strakur, when Kanerva was approximately 20-year-old. ’Strakur’, also known as Takku, is now already 32-year-old, which means that he has been with us already for a long time. Takku is ’The grumpy old man’, who despite of all his stubborness and grumpiness, loves attention and doing things. A proper ’society man’ who has many tales to tell, as long as you know how to listen to them’, describes Kanerva.

Kanerva and his family own Icelandic horse stable Ofeigur in the beautiful cultural landscape of Pääkslahti in Vihti. In the summer of 2021, an Icelandic horse stallion called Dagdraumur aka Dagis was born in the family. Despite of his young age, this stallion has already made history – he is the first Icelandic horse artificially inseminated in Finland with frozen semen. Regardless of his small size, Dagis already is a big man. A friendly ’kissing boy’ practicing the gestures of a stallion with the mares of the herd’, Kanerva tells us.

When you ask Kanerva about the most important reason for going to the stable, the answer is very clear: ‘For me, the wellbeing of horses is of outmost importance. When you do things for the wellbeing of horses, you certainly notice the relevance of the work. It, for its part, gives me a lot of energy and wellbeing.’

Don’t forget to dress in layers! This way you’ll be warm enough at the stable all year long

Because horse riding is often an all-year-round hobby, proper and according to weather dressing takes a key role. ’The quality and fit are important for the gear of both the horse and the rider. When dressing up for the stable you must take into consideration the materials, that they are comfortable, light and fit properly. A rider’s most important gear consists of comfortable clothing according to the weather, a good helmet and safe shoes’, Kanerva sums up her thoughts about the gear needed for horse riding.  

Merino wool has been a part of Kanerva’s clothing already for several years. ’Merino wool won’t tickle, it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and it won’t smell bad very easily’, Kanerva repeats the benefits of merino wool at the stable environment. ’It is difficult to choose my favourite product from North Outdoor because I use those products in a really versatile manner and almost daily. Nevertheless, merino wool baselayer set and merino wool socks of the Sensitive collection are two products that I couldn’t work in the winter at the stables without. I wear merino wool socks in layers according to the need, and therefore, I have socks of several different thickness’, winks Kanerva.

Dressing in layers takes an important role especially in winter season. During the coldest days, Kanerva wears often also a warm merino sweater from the Nature collection. In addition to the accessories mentioned earlier, it is also important to protect your head and neck when riding: ‘A tube scarf of the Sensitive collection is an indispensable accessory for a horse rider! It is often difficult to make a beanie to fit under the helmet; nevertheless, a tube scarf pulled over your ears works perfectly ‘, Kanerva gloats.

The purpose of gait riding is to present a horse and its different gaits in the best possible way.

Gait riding is the own sport of Icelandic horses

Kanerva has ended up spending time with Icelandic horses via her own mother, who has been an eager horse enthusiast in her younger days. ‘I’ve noticed that several friends of my age group end up moving near to their childhood homes or surrounding areas. In my own childhood we moved often, and I don’t feel that any one of those places actually is my childhood home. I feel that horses bring me that atmosphere of childhood where I want to return to’ Kanerva tells us.

The family’s first horse, Icelandic horse mare called Brunka had been in the family already when Kanerva was born. Later, Kanerva has learnt to ride on Draumur, Brunka’s foal. ’I could say that I was born horseback’, Kanerva laughs.

In addition to their natural gaits, i.e. walk, trot and gallop, Icelandic horses usually know one or two special gaits. A gait refers to the different ways of moving, that horses use. The special gaits of Icelandic horses are called the tölt and the flying pace. This means that, at their best, Icelandic horses may have five gaits. Gait riding is a special sport for Icelandic horses. The purpose of gait riding is to present a horse and its different gaits in the best possible way. In Finland, gait riding competitions are organized by the Finnish Icelandic Horse Association, Sihy.

As the best characteristic of Icelandic horses, Kanerva highlights their versatility. According to Kanerva, the versatility of Icelandic horses, however, is not limited to the mere control of gaits. ‘At its best, in addition to riding five gaits, with Icelandic horses, you can practice dressage, jump over fences and ride on the terrain even longer wanderings. Their neural structure and character suit often also for various equine assisted forms of therapy. Because of its character, an Icelandic horse is a suitable mount for both children and adults. The best individuals adapt their speed and urge to go according to the rider, being this way a suitable mount for everyone.’

Kanerva has dreams for the future to return gradually to gait competitions. In the picture, one of the latest additions to the Kanerva horse family, Jarl.

The most important thing is to dare to dream

The latest newcomers in Kanerva’s horse family are the 8-year-old Jarl aka Jartsa and Jarhletta aka Jarla, who arrived from Iceland to Finland at the end of August 2021. ‘As far as his training level is concerned, Jartsa is exactly suitable for me. Skilful, however, far from mature. I believe that for our skills we’ll a develop a lot together during the next few years’, Kanerva tells us.

Kanerva has dreams for the future to return gradually to gait competitions. At her best, in her younger days, Kanerva has competed even in the Finnish National Team for gait riding, and she has dreams of reaching the same level also in the future.

As a challenge for success in gait competition, Kanerva points out the number of Icelandic horses, and along it, also the increased competition level, as well as other changes occurred in the event. According to Kanerva, it is also difficult to foresee the potential of a rather young horse. When making her decisions regarding the future, Kanerva will approach her choices giving priority to the capacity of the horse. As a determined character, driving persistently forward, Kanerva, however, dares to dream: ’Dreaming feeds motivation, and therefore, I cannot control my dreams.’

#equestrian sports #Icelandic horses #gait riding