I’ve just spent a fantastic weekend in Sweden not only setting up our new Swedish Horse Agility Club but meeting with Exmoor pony owners over there. The weather ranged from hot sunshine to gale force winds and driving rain – so, much the same as here at home really!
I flew out on Thursday so had a busman’s holiday on Friday morning visiting Flyinge Equestrian centre. Flyinge is home to the largest and best-known Swedish Warmblood stud in Sweden having been established in 1661 as a Royal stud by King Carl Gustaf to breed top quality horses for the military.
Now run by a trust, to protect its magnificent buildings, it is not only a stud but home to a variety of equestrian sports, has a veterinary centre and hosts large and prestigious events.
Late last year funding to continue the breeding programme to produce top-quality Swedish Warmbloods began to run out. It was Paul Schockemohle who saw the great loss this would be for the dressage and showjumping world and placed five of his stallions at Flynge to support the programme.
It is an outstandingly beautiful place, with old buildings mixed in with the new, five ‘riding’ halls ranging from traditional old high-walled chandeliered beauties to modern but large and airy arenas which suit the larger events. There is even an indoor race track! It seems a common occurrence in Sweden for the roofs of indoor arenas to collapse under the weight of snow, so the newest building is of a rather startling A-frame design but provides a large airy space inside for all-year-round riding. The whole facility is freely open to the public with friendly grooms busy in every yard, and it was a treat to meet the stallions and see the young horses starting in training.
The beautiful sunny weather of Friday turned to stormy wind and rain for Saturday, but luckily my host had hired an indoor arena and we were able to run our competitions indoors. Horse Agility is relatively new in Sweden but quickly increasing in popularity. We had a most generous sponsor who supplied a lot of tools and hardware as prizes so that people could build their own obstacles.
The horses ranged from Shetland ponies right through to Warmbloods coming off box rest and needing a job to do before they went back into work. We had visitors from the Swedish Shetland Pony Association and the Exmoor pony group who could all see the possibilities of Horse Agility as a sport that fitted in with their particular breed of pony.
One Swedish magazine was writing an article about the weekend and commented, “Horse agility! At long last!”
It was interesting hearing about the equine welfare standards enforced in Sweden. Horses must go out for a set time every day and must have a proper man-made shelter available to them at all times. Hence, the Exmoor ponies could not free range over large wild areas, such as we have them here, because ponies must have a barn to shelter in. Dogs and cats were not allowed to be neutered up until 20 years ago, but the law was changed so that it is possible now. However the ethics of shoeing horses is now under discussion. Yes, you haven’t read that wrong! There is serious discussion on whether the nailing of shoes on to a horse’s foot will remain legal. Now that will be one to watch!