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Published on May 6, 2017
(1 May 2017) THIS IS NOT YOUR ORDINARY EQUESTRIAN SHOW. HERE - IT'S THE RIDERS WHO DO ALL THE HARD WORK. AND THE HORSE? IT'S A STUFFED TOY ON A WOODEN STICK. IN FINLAND THEY CALL IT HOBBY HORSE, AND IT'S PLAYED BY MORE THAN TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE . THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP DREW AN ESTIMATED ONE THOUSAND SPECTATORS FROM ALL OVER FINLAND. IN THIS ALMOST ENTIRELY FEMALE SANCTUARY GIRLS FEEL FREE FROM BULLYING AND SEXISM. SOUNDBITE Alisa Aarniomaki, 20, Hobby horse activist (ENGLISH): "I think this is a girl thing mostly, because this is where girls can be kind of free. There are no boys coming and saying what we need to do, or bossing around." TEENS IN VARIOUS AGE CATEGORIES COMPETE IN EQUESTRIAN-INSPIRED EVENTS LIKE DRESSAGE AND SHOW JUMPING. BUT SOME ACTUAL HORSE RIDERS MAY LOOK DOWN ON HOBBY HORSING AS A CHILDLIKE PAST-TIME. SOUNDBITE Taija Turkki,18, Hobby horse coach (ENGLISH): "It's very bizarre for other people to see, for the first time especially, to see this kind of stuff. Because they think we think the horse is alive, which we do not. We understand that it's 'dead', made of fabric and all that. Just be open-minded." THE GIRLS TAKE PRIDE IN THE SPORT'S DO-IT-YOURSELF ATTITUDE: MOST HOBBY HORSES ARE HOME-MADE - SPLENDIDLY PIMPED UP, COLOURFUL CREATURES COMPLETE WITH NAMES LIKE CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO AND PANDA. THESE HORSES THEN SELL IN MARKETS OR ONLINE FOR UP TO TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS. VITNIJA SALDAVA, FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, IN VANTAA, FINLAND.