If you asked me which of my traits I perceive as a blessing as much as a curse, I would say that it’s my natural competitiveness. I’ve been through some of my greatest experiences because of it, but it has also gotten me into more than a few weeks of heavy depression.
Beating my own records is one of my favorite hobbies. Speaking of which, before we embarked on this 170-hour European journey, my personal record was riding in three new countries in one week. Of course, it was meant to be beaten. And it was. I rode five horses in four countries over the course of exactly one week. And it all started in Sweden.
Three and a half years ago, I had a booking at the Häståkeriet stables, but my business trip to Sweden was suddenly cancelled and my dream of riding in Stockholm crushed. Well, at least it was at that time.
Eighteen countries later, I was finally there, and in good company too. My best friend, the same person with whom I ditched calculus classes to sneak to the Almaty Hippodrome, “published” our very own hand-written Horse Stories magazine in school, translated Ann Sewell’s The Black Beauty into Russian over the course of the summer holidays, rode on the football field in Kyrgyzstan, galloped over green hills in Kazakhstan, and climbed the Cappadocia rocks was there to join me.
That day, I met her at St. Ferdinand Platz subway station, and we quickly dropped her luggage off at the hotel and went to the stables. I love reading maps and hate asking directions; thankfully, navigating in Stockholm is a no-brainer. At 11 a.m., when the sun was already going down, we strolled down the endless Valhalla Street and yammered like we had during the good old times.
At the stables, we were introduced to our horses: the grey Lusitano Barao and the bay wooly North Swedish gelding Bellmax. I had never ridden Lusitano or North Swedish horses, but I quickly calculated my chances of riding Norvensk again and decided to leave Barao for Katya :-).
Bellmax didn’t really want to be ridden that day; he would have rather gotten cozy lying under the abnormally warm winter sun (+8 degrees Celsius in the middle of December) and munching some hay.
Convincing him to just stand up was an adventure of its own. It was as if he was teasing us: He would pretend that he was ready to stand and then fall on his side again. Attempts to pull him up by the halter were hilarious, as he was not only skillfully used the difference in weight categories but would also fold his right ear in such a way that the halter would slip from his big, fluffy head.
When he realized that he had entertained himself enough, he calmly went to his stable and allowed all the pre-ride routines to be done.
A few minutes of brushing, saddling, picking hooves and warming bits in our palms made us feel even warmer than it already was, and I almost considered riding without my coat.
At about 1 p.m., we couldn’t wait to finally go on hack and try to catch the last rays of the sun, which was already getting close to the horizon line, but first we had to put on high-visibility vests and self-reflective bracelets on the diagonal pairs of legs of our horses.
Riding with Häståkeriet stables was a very special experience. It felt like over a time period of just two hours, we rode in several completely different places: The park where you ride among joggers, people walking their dogs, and mums with strollers changes to what looks like a countryside, where other horses came to neigh their hello to our small procession. Another change and we cantered along the narrow channel, and a mere 200 meters down the road we found ourselves in the Djurgårdsbrunnsviken sea port. A couple more turns later, and we were welcomed in the woods by a “Ridväg“ sign, and then we cantered under low-hanging branches and jumped over fallen logs.
Both horses were very well behaved and eager to go forward. There was a perfect reason for that. Apart from being rental horses for tourists, they are also used in a rehabilitation program for kids with disabilities.
Two hours flew by unnoticed, and it was time to go back to the stables. We unsaddled Barao and Bellmax in record time, exchanged Facebook accounts with our guide, Amanda, and literally ran to the nearest subway station, as we knew that we might not have enough time to visit one very special museum in the center of Stockholm.
I will skip the nerve-wracking part where we managed to get lost in the narrow streets of Gamla stan. Thrice. And in case you’re interested, yes, we did have a map.
Anyway, eventually we got to the Wooden Horse Museum, though it’s probably an exaggeration to call this place a museum, as it consists of barely three to four shelves jam-packed with various dalahäst in the two-room souvenir shop.
Apart from well-known and widely popularized contemporary tail-less red figurines, there were lots of wooden horses from as early as the 17th century. There were exhibits of any color and pattern you could imagine, and their sizes varied from one meter tall down to tiny ones, one of which was even small enough to fit through a needle’s eye.
Unfortunately, taking pictures there was not allowed, so I guess to experience the history of one of the most well-known symbols of Sweden, you’ll have to visit Stortorget, 14 in Gamla stan, Stockholm on your own :-).
Häståkeriet stables Facebook page: http://hastakeriet.se/
Häståkeriet stables site: https://www.facebook.com/H%C3%A4st%C3%A5keriet-108691099151863/
Wooden Horse museum: http://woodenhorsemuseumsweden.se/