Accepted Papers:

Finnish horse culture and the changing human-horse relationship  


Riitta-Marja Leinonen (University of Oulu)

Paper Short Abstract:

The human-horse relationship has changed considerably in Finland since the 1930s as the native horse used for work and military is now used for recreation and sports.

Paper long abstract:

Before the 1960s the Finnish horse culture was based on the use of a single native horse breed in agriculture, forestry, transportation, trotting races and military. Today the number of horses is down to one sixth of the top figures of the 1950s, and they have new roles in recreation, tourism, sports, and therapy. In particular, the popularity of riding has increased in the last two decades, giving women and children more visibility in the present horse culture. In this paper I discuss how these changes have affected the human-horse relationship and how the cultural meanings given to horses have changed from the 1930's to present.

The material used for this study consists of fieldwork, interviews and written narratives from the Finnish Literature Society's Folklore Archives. The interviews have been conducted between 1995 and 2005 and the narratives written in 1975 and 2003. The interviews and narratives are analysed by using narrative approach and methods of cognitive anthropology.

The preliminary results show a rich variety of cultural meanings given to a horse. The horse has been important economically, but the relationship has not been entirely utilitarian, for there are a lot of feelings attached to these animals. Narrators of all ages call the horse a friend, and giving up the horses for the army during the World War Two was very hard for the farmers and their families. Especially the meaning of the native horse, the Finnhorse, is represented through patriotic narratives related to agricultural work and war experiences.

panel P15
Humans and other animals