The broad popularity of riding in Sweden is largely due to government involvement, researchers have found.
In many countries, horseback riding is considered an upper-class hunt, but in Sweden it has gained a prominent place in society as a whole.
Until the end of the 19th century, horseback riding in Sweden was something that men in the military, or upper class, practiced. Today, the sport is one of the most popular youth sports and the Swedish Equestrian Federation has more than 150,000 members.
Susanna Hedenborg, Gabriella Torell Palmquist and Annika Rosén, write in International Journal of the History of Sport, indicates that the state’s interest in riding schools has been a decisive driving force for the riding’s broad popularity in the Scandinavian country.
– We wanted to understand why equestrian sports have become more of a classless sport in Sweden than in many other countries, says Hedenborg, sports professor at Malmö University.
It was during the 20th century that the Swedish state became interested in equestrian sports and it was also the government’s commitment that contributed to the growth of equestrian schools. The motive behind this was military readiness.
“After the end of the First World War, there was a strong military focus on horses, riding and breeding. The horse was still considered important for the army, say for example if Sweden would go to war and the situation caused an oil crisis, says Hedenborg.
When it became too expensive for the military to keep horses, the state instead began to support equestrian sports as a way of maintaining war readiness. The horses were lent to riding schools where they could be bred and trained; it was also considered important that all children should have the opportunity to learn to ride.
“It was thus in the interest of the state and politicians to support the riding schools, which did not happen in the same way in other countries. And although riding is not a cheap sport, it is more accessible here today than in many other places. ”
Hedenborg and her fellow researchers also described how riding has undergone a feminization. From being a military and male business, the sport has become something that is mainly practiced by young girls.
At the individual level, we can see that many of the male practitioners have grown up on horse farms or have parents who ride. The threshold for starting riding at a riding school is lower for girls. It is an issue of gender equality that will continue to be one of the major challenges for equestrian sports, says Hedenborg.
The researchers said that public support and its consequences separate Swedish equestrian sports and the riding school’s activities from riding in many other countries.
In Sweden today, many children and young people learn their riding skills at riding schools. The schools organize leisure riding in the afternoons, evenings and on weekends.
Many of the riding schools are members of the Swedish Equestrian Federation, which in turn is a member of the Swedish Sports Federation.
The Swedish Equestrian Federation is one of the ten best sports federations in terms of activities, number of member associations and individual members.
The researchers said that girls’ participation in riding school activities is now linked to a political pursuit of equality in sports in general. Support for riding activities for girls was used to promote sports activities as a whole.
The researchers noted that the education in equestrian sports differs from many other sports, where youth courses are more focused on athletic training and competitive exercises.
At riding schools, there is a combination of formal and informal learning activities where children from an early age are trained to take care of the horses through riding and stable chores. They are taught to be responsible people who take care of the entire riding school and to develop skills that can be used in many different contexts.
Palmquist is with Karlstad University and Rosén with Malmö University.
The origin of the Swedish riding school from the middle of the twentieth century
Susanna Hedenborg, Gabriella Torell Palmquist and Annika Rosén
The International Journal of the History of Sport, August 26, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1080/09523367.2021.1959321