Hobby horsing: Why some Russians ride homemade horses

Some people take riding a stick with a horse’s head seriously, while others profit from it.

Two girls about 10 to 12 years old are walking along a park path. They reach a lawn, drop their things and begin to run. First, they throw their straightened legs forward, as if imitating a Russian folk dance. Then they gallop and jump, pushing off the ground with one foot and landing on another. After, they look as if they ran a 100-meter distance, overcoming a barrier at the end with a “hop!” shout… It looks like regular training for runners or gymnasts. If not for one thing. Between their legs, the girls are tightly holding a stick with an artificial horse’s head. The toy is harnessed and, after the jump, the girls proudly hold the reins of their stick-horse. They call themselves hobby horse riders.

Russian Hobby Horsing Federation

Many people in their childhood ride a stick, imagining it to be a horse, a unicorn, a dragon – whatever their imagination is capable of. But, a couple of years ago, it stopped being just a pastime for kids. Teenagers and even adults single-mindedly ride their “horses” – sticks with an artificial horse’s head, beautifully decorated, with proper equipment. Some do it “just for themselves”, enjoying the process, while others take part in competitions, organized by the Russian Hobby Horsing Federation that was founded in 2019.

Russian Hobby Horsing Federation

“When I was a kid, I made a horse by myself from a stick and a head made of a sock and a sponge. I offered my kids to do the same and, later, learned that this activity is popular and there are competitions,” Valentina Lukoshkina, mom of 13-year-old Kira, explains. “Right now, at the horse riding school where I work, there’s a hobby horse club where we conduct training and then take part in competitions.”

Russian Hobby Horsing Federation

Other kids learn about the unusual activity by themselves. “My daughter found a video on YouTube and got a strong desire to try it. I was not against it, now we actively train at a club,” Kristina Marchenko, mom of Vika, a 6-year-old girl, says.

For the participants, hobby horsing turns into a way of self-expression. They give toy horses names and buy them equipment, such as a harness and a shabrack, and order special brushes for the horse’s mane.

Russian Hobby Horsing Federation

However, not all their peers understand and accept the unusual hobby. Sonya Safiullova from Dimitrovgrad says she had to change schools because of hobby horsing. “Last year, I enrolled in another school. My classmates bullied me and, for me, the road to accepting my hobby was long. But I didn’t drop hobby horsing, because it brings me pleasure. I enjoy both training and competing.”

Almost like an equestrian sport

The sport of hobby horsing has its own rules: there are judges, requirements, competitions, winners and losers. A participant riding their “steed” has to go through an obstacle course with barriers. Their height varies from 20 centimeters to 1.5 meters. The series of barriers needs to be overcome according to the rules, as if imitating the behavior of a horse. So it’s a sort of a “centaur”: legs represent the horse, while the torso – the rider. You better not drop your stick – for this, points are deducted.

Russian Hobby Horsing Federation

The Hobby Horsing Federation organizes competitions among children and adults, holds educational seminars, conducts training and master classes. Gavriil Morkovkin, the Federation’s president, says hobby horsing is similar to an equestrian sport, but with slight changes. “The scale is smaller, but we keep the same disciplines – show jumping and dressage. We have our own panel of judges and lots of people who want to train.”

Russian Hobby Horsing Federation

Gavriil Morkovkin also notes that hobby horsing could be a great way to prepare for those who want to do real horseback riding. “It prepares you both physically and morally. The riders can feel with their own legs how to do a volte, a diagonal, a serpentine, lateral work – all those moves that a horse performs in the manege. Then, with this knowledge, they’ll enter equestrian sports and will have a better understanding of what’s going on.” Besides, this hobby has obvious advantages: it’s cheaper – the “adult” equestrian sport requires a serious investment; plus, it’s safer – it’s not as painful and embarrassing to fall from a stick and simpler – if only because you need just a hobby horse for your training.

Profiting from hobby horses

Certain fans of hobby horsing are attracted not just by sporting interest, to run and to jump, but also by the creative aspect of it. For example, Viktoria Pauk, a 19-year-old student from Pskov, says that she got into hobby horsing back in 2019. “First of all, I was attracted to hobby horse making, because I love all kinds of handicrafts and I am a creative person overall. Then, I started making barriers and jumping, studying the technique of the jump, following the accounts of foreign hobby horse riders, as well as our country’s hobby horse riders afterwards,” Vika shares.

Russian Hobby Horsing Federation

For some, this hobby grows into a full business. You can spot a lot of advertisements for selling hobby horses in theme groups. A price for a hobby horse can reach 10,000 rubles (approx. $171), depending on the complexity of the work and the realism of the result. You can make a mane from thin threads, put on glass eyes or even copy the look from a real horse.

Russian Hobby Horsing Federation

Anna Horsey [that’s obviously a pseudonym – Ed.], a hobby horse maker, started her craft two years ago. Then she decided to run an ad and created a TikTok account to find her target audience. Now, she visits large horse shows. “They usually have salons where you can buy equipment and food. I bring my product there; people approach me and ask around. I also visit hobby horse rider competitions – to support people I know and show my new horses. Kids often recognize me, get excited and come for hugs. Adults show interest, too – once, an old lady bought a hobby horse: the toy appeared to be similar to a real horse the buyer had when she was young. Now I have from 20 orders and up per month, I even hired an assistant to paint the hobby horses.”

Anna Horsey

Hobby horsing in Russia attracts more and more new fans. Although a person riding a stick over barriers looks funny from the outside, it provides great physical training. Perhaps, soon from a hobby it’ll turn into a real sport – the Hobby Horsing Federation is already developing a program to submit it to the Sports Committee. But, formal recognition of this hobby as a sport is probably not as important for the people with toy horses – judging by their high jumps and cheerful “hop!” during training, they’re already having fun.

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