In many countries, riding is considered something for the upper classes, but in Sweden, the sport has gained a prominent place thanks to the riding schools. “Here, it has been in the state’s interest that all children should be able to learn to ride,” says Susanna Hedenborg, Malmö University, researcher behind a new study on the development of Swedish riding schools.
Until the end of the 19th century, horseback riding was something that men in the military or upper classes practiced in Sweden as well. Today, the sport is one of the most popular Swedish youth sports and the Swedish Equestrian Federation has over 150,000 members. This development is something Susanna Hedenborg, professor of sports sciences at Malmö University, and her research colleagues took a closer look at.
– We wanted to understand why equestrian sport has become a sport with wider popular appeal in Sweden than it is in many other countries, she says.
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 riding schools. The motive: preparedness for war.
– After the end of the First World War, there was a strong military focus on horses, on riding as well as breeding. The horse was still considered important for the Swedish army if Sweden were to go to war and there would be a shortage of oil, says Susanna Hedenborg.
Eventually became too costly for the military to keep horses, and instead the state began to support equestrian sports as a way to maintain war readiness. The horses were lent to riding schools where they could be fed and trained and it was also considered important that all children should have the opportunity to learn to ride, says Susanna Hedenborg.
– 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 even though horseback riding is not a cheap sport, not even in Sweden, it is more accessible here today than in many other places.
Letting the riding school students take care of the horses and work in the stable is also something that is uniquely Swedish, according to Susanna Hedenborg who describes how riding has undergone a feminization: From being a military and male affair, 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 great challenges of equestrian sports.
Read more about this study here.