My first 7 weeks of studying equine economy

May 2014 was a major turning point in my life: I heard that I had been accepted to study Equine Economy in HAMK University of Applied Sciences in Mustiala, which is about a hundred kilometres from where I live.

The decision to apply to horse related studies was no whim. I had been brooding the idea of a career change for quite a while, at least as long as I had known that academia was not necessarily what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, when my assignment as a senior researcher in Aalto University was approaching the finish line, I had already made up my mind to either become a freelance artist/researcher, a florist, or something that has to do with horses. I decided for horses: If I really wanted them to become an integral part of my life at this age, there was no time to loose.

I arrived to Mustiala in August and settled in. Along with 80 other new students, of whom a handful had been accepted to the (BA) degree program in equine industries and the rest to the agricultural industries (and of whom most were less than half my age!), I was eager to start the studies.

Admittedly I was a little bit disappointed when I realised that the two periods or “modules” that the autumn semester consisted of, were about agriculture and animal husbandry, and that the horse-related studies would not start until the spring term.

Finally, after Christmas holidays, the spring term started and the 7-week long equine economies module began. The following “diary” or “study portfolio” is meant to be a summary of the module. In it I should reflect on the thoughts that came to me during those weeks, while visiting organisations and race tracks, learning about different horse-related professions, enterprises and jobs, listening to lectures, and performing various practical exercises and research tasks our teachers gave us. Based on that reflection I should try to answer the question “What horse-related profession do I find appealing?” I should reflect on things that are close to my heart and, on the other hand, things that don’t interest me at all.

WEEK 1 (Wednesday 7th – Friday 9th of January)

On our first lesson on Wednesday 7th January, after we had all introduced ourselves, Terhi and Sirpa, the main teachers of the module, went through the busy program of the 7-week module ahead of us. After that they gave us a comprehensive introduction to equine economy and what it includes, about the history of the field and some of the current trends, the future prospects and, perhaps most significantly, about some important statistics. “As future agrologist in equine economy you have to master your professional field also in numbers”, Terhi said. They prepared us for our first organisation visit the next day – to the Equestrian Federation of Finland headquarters in Pasila, Helsinki – and highlighted some historical and other facts and problematics of the Finnish harness racing industry for us.

As the Finnhorse breed and its ancestors were the only horses in Finland for centuries, the history of horses in Finland equals their history up to a point. Our native breed was officially recognised in 1907 when the Finnhorse studbook was founded. Before World War II these horses were an essential part of Finnish society in many ways. They worked on the farms and in the forests, and transported people, goods and various items from one place to another in carts or on their backs.

This exerpt from Suomen Kuvalehti (Finland's picture magazine) from July 15th 1933 shows that riding skills were considered important and practised in the Finnish army

This exerpt from Suomen Kuvalehti (Finland’s picture magazine) from July 15th 1933 shows that in those days riding skills were revered and that Finnhorses were important actors in the Finnish army

They were irreplaceable for Finns in the wars between Finland and Soviet Union. The army took approximately 72000 horses, mostly borrowed from farmers, to the Winter War and approximately 60000 horses to the Continuation War. During the two wars over 21000 horses were lost and almost 106000 horses were injured or fell ill. The survivors were returned to their owners after each war, and compensation was paid for those whose horses did not survive. (See e.g. The Significance of the Finnish Horse – World War II Forums)

This is an advertisement and a call to take part in a lottery, the proceeds of which were used to support the families of invalidised war veterans to manage the ir field work.

This is an advertisement and a call from May 1945 to help in a “ploughing bee” by taking part in a lottery. The proceeds were used to support the families of disabled war veterans to manage their field work. (Suomen Kuvalehti, number 20, May 19th 1945)

After the two wars, when the rebuilding of the country increased demand for horsepower, the number of horses grew bigger than ever before. In 1950 there were 410 000 horses – and this was even after Finland had ceded 50 000 horses to Soviet Union as war compensation. Then, due to mechanisation of agriculture and the dismantling of Finnish horse cavalry, the overall number of horses started to drop dramatically and it was 31000 at its lowest in 1971. Since then the overall number of horses has gradually grown and doubled, but the number of Finnhorses dipped as low as 14 100 in 1987. The breed nevertheless survived, owing to its popularity for harness racing and its versatility as a mount, and nowadays there are approximately 20 000 Finnish horses in Finland, which is 25% of the total number of horses here. (See Wikipedia: Finnhorse)

HorseNumbersTable

NUMBER OF HORSES IN FINLAND 1910 – 1913. Source http://www.hippos.fi/files/4481/Hevosmaara_kokon_1910.pdf

As the table above shows, from the 1970’s onwards warm bloods have been entering the Finnish harness racing scene, where Finnhorses ruled until the 1980’s. Then there was a harness racing crisis, as Veikkaus Oy, the Finnish national betting agency, got hold of the harness racing betting games for a while, until the income returned to horse industry. In the 1990’s there was recession. After that remote betting was introduced, then net betting and R-kiosk betting.

“Does harnessing only serve betting or is it a sports event that ought to be experienced where it happens?” Terhi asked. The question is how to attract audience back to Vermo, the main Finnish racetrack, and the 20 other racetracks, not to mention several tracks that only function in the summer. There was a drop in the betting games activity during the recession years, and it still isn’t going too well. The turnover in TOTO is about 250 000 000 €. Most of that comes back to the betters, some go to the agents. One million goes to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and will be granted to the horse breeders as breeder rewards. So all the money that comes from the harness racing business stays within the industry and affects the whole industry, maintaining its prosperity.

Terhi spoke about the shifts in the horse industries in Finland. We, too, had hundreds of thousands of horses once. When mechanisation of agriculture came along, the number of horses dropped radically, but since the 1980’s it has been going upwards despite some little dips and plateaus. “At this rate there could be 90 000 horses in Finland by, lets say, 2030.” There has to be those who keep competition and hobby horses, because the main use of horse is no longer farm work. But horses are still linked to agriculture in another way: we need people that produce fodder and bedding, and most stables are situated in the countryside, outside the capital area.

So, where do these horses come from? The present horse population consist of about 19600 (26%) Finnhorses, 25500 (34%) warm-blooded trotters, 19500 (26%) mounts, and 10400 (14%) ponies. Also the Icelandic horses are registered as ponies, although in Iceland they are considered horses. At the moment the birth rate of Finnhorses has dropped alarmingly low. This year, for the first time, there will be less than 1000 foals born. Why are we bringing horses from abroad in this situation?

On Thursday, the next day, we visited the headquarters of SRL, The Equestrian Federation of Finland. Our hosts at the SRL head office gave us an extensive review of the organisation, its aims, values and operations, and provided us with some of those important numbers (see also FEI database):

– Equestrian Federation of Finland (SRL) was founded in 1920
– Member of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) since 1923
– Focus: to develop equestrianism both as a competition and leisure sport, promote horse welfare and rider safety, provide activities for people at all ages throughout the lifespan.
– approx. 170.000 Finns (out of 5.46 million) have riding as their hobby
– The equestrian sport is one of the 10 biggest sports in Finland.
– 480 riding clubs in Finland that are members of the national federation.
– 50.000 registered members through its clubs and stables
– 94% female and 6% male members.
– 56% are adult riders and 44% are under 19.
– riding is the 2nd biggest female sport in the country.
– 325 riding schools, riding stables and private stables have been accepted as members by the Equestrian Federation of Finland .
– approx. 500 stables providing riding school type of services in Finland.
– approx. 75.000 horses in Finland
– 50% of the horse are used in the equestrian disciplines, 50% are trotters.
– 35.000 horse owners and 16.000 stables in Finland.
– 15.000 people employed in horse industry.
– €830 million annual turnover in horse industry

We were also given a lecture by representatives of Suomen Hippos, the organization that governs horse breeding, national registration of horses, and trotting in Finland (see also video The Versatile Horse). I was left with an impression that in both presentations horses were represented more as vehicles of equestrian sports than anything else.

WEEKS 2 & 3 (Monday 12th – Friday 23rd of January)

Use of horses: riding and harnessing

“At last the equine industries module is on the way and the practical period in Ypäjä equine college has started! I have now been there during three days, and I have had two riding lessons, harnessed a trotter twice and driven a jog cart once. I am really happy about this period. I did worry about proving utterly ignorant next to the young broads, but I found that even I know something, and at least I learn. Besides, there is a lot to learn again, all the time. I am calm when preparing the horse, that is, very slow compared to those all-knowing girls, but the main point is that, despite being me, I get the job done. Today the girls could not wait, but wanted to help, and that was just fine with me.” (Diary notes 14.1.2015)

I With Trulli, a very sweet gelding from the Ypäjä stable. Photo by Aliisa Kairtamo

Me With Trulli, a Finnhorse gelding, one of the very nice “educational” horses from the Ypäjä stables. Photo by Aliisa Kairtamo.

Although this two-week period was fun – important and very satisfactory as such, I was fully enjoying myself and happy to be with the horses and learn new things – I found it falling short as an introduction to what riding and driving a horse can be in practice. As part of our education the two-week period represented a rather narrow view into how horses are and can be used in Finland, let alone elsewhere. Even in Finland horses are also used for trekking, trail riding, gaited riding (Icelandic horses), endurance, carriage driving, western equitation, working, horseback archery and as show and agility horses. And what about such exotic activities as horseback herding, hunting, playing polo, that might function as ways of bringing more male customers to the stables? Instead of the typical riding lessons we could have tried some of the western riding events, the extra gaits of gaited horses, and carriage driving, or we could have gone on a small horse trail.

The last two afternoons were used for assessment. Our riding skills assessment reminded me of my experience in the only riding competitions that I have ever taken part in, at Husö. That is to say we were estimated by a person whom we had not seen during the two weeks, and who did it by watching us five ride around the arena for twenty minutes and then asking why we did it the way we did. I must admit that I was upset about the feedback I was given, and these critical words might reflect that displeasure. Luckily my harnessing performance was judged in a very different manner. Pia, the teacher observed my process of learning very closely and was always available when I needed advice. She clearly had pedagogical aims in her teaching and it showed in her assessment, where she described my progress in learning something that was almost completely new to me, and made an effort to justify her statements. Needless to say, she saved my week.

On Friday we shared the small summaries about new trends and phenomena in horse training that we were supposed to have scouted out from the internet and professional magazines. The idea behind the task was to make us find out what kind of horse related literature and articles there was available. One group talked about the use of the notorious curb bit, another about not using any bit at all, and the third group wanted to discuss critically the trend of everything-to-me-at-once. My presentation was about horse agility as a support in training and tolerisation, and another distant learning student who mainly works individually like me, reviewed the latest hoof boot trends.

WEEK 4 (Monday 26th – Friday 30th of January)

On Monday we were lectured about the characteristics of today’s equine entrepreneurship. Through my customer lenses I had already noted the increasing feminisation of the horsey world a long time ago: there are more and more female entrepreneurs, especially in the newer areas of the industry, like centered riding (CR) and riding therapy. I also know that there are significant qualitative values in the business – both for the entrepreneur and the customer – that aren’t and cannot be measured in money.

Many people have started stable enterprises because they have wanted to turn their hobby into a profession and a source of livelihood. They might offer riding lessons, horse rental or livery services to others while keeping their own hobbyhorses on the side. These people tend to have good equestrian skills, which are useful and required in many areas of equine industry.

However, in order to manage a horse enterprise successfully nowadays, you also need skills in business, economics, customer services, communication and so on. Business is not a business unless it has profitability, liquidity, and solvency. In other words, there must be more return than costs, there should always be money to pay the bills on time, and there should be enough capital and not much debt. There must be capital to invest in various things, and in the case of running an enterprise which offers livery and other stable services, the sums can be very big. A manure storage facility, for instance, could cost 1000 to 100000 € depending on its quality and capacity. Furthermore, maintaining the hobby inside the business, for instance, by keeping some own hobbyhorses, may reduce the profit and even cause loss. In such a case it might be wise to consider reducing or giving up the extra horses.

Often the businesses are so small that they might employ just the entrepreneur and her/his spouse and perhaps a few more. On the other hand, a harness racehorse training stable demands a lot of work and may even employ 10 people. A one-person enterprise can thrive on the good reputation, knowledge and skills of its owner, because customers who appreciate the services, will spread the word and come again. But businesses that rely on one person are also vulnerable in many ways. These are observations that I, too, have made when visiting different stables in Finland.

The core of horse industries is breeding, which is often run by a person whose average age is 52, along with some other business operation, and with the average annual turnover of around 30000€. Other key sectors are various riding services (avg ANN TO 130000€), harness racehorse training (avg ANN TO 127000€), and horse care services such as livery stables. There is also a growing variety of other services including horse tourism, horse welfare, horses used as part of the public health services or as working horses the same way our forefathers did.

Tuesday was completely reserved for interviewing some entrepreneur of our own choice, a self-employed person, or a stable owner running a horse business. We had been given the task well in advance, already on the first lesson of the module. The idea was to write stories that bring out well-done work and good practices, and then publish them in a web magazine (www.hevosyrittäjä.fi). By doing this we would also promote ourselves among the agents in the equine industry.

The interview could have been made by phone, which in afterthought would have been a good option considering the amount of time and effort that I spent for my “little” project. But I decided to do it on the premises of Maastotalli Prerya, the Finnhorse trekking stable that I had chosen. My idea was to go there in the morning and do the interview during the day while helping the owner around at the stable and taking pictures.

Luckily, that plan did not work, and the interviewing time shrank to a couple of hours in the same evening. The material I collected was nevertheless so extensive that it took me ages transcribing it, and I could easily write a detailed multi-page reportage based on it, but ran to enormous difficulties, when I was told that the recommended length was only 1-2 pages!

However, as a learning experience it all paid off as it gave me ideas and revealed aspects that I should consider in case I wanted to start my own business. It also gave me an opportunity to view behind the scenes of a sphere of activity that I had mostly seen from a customer’s point of view so far.

Marjo&george

Marjo, the owner of Maastotalli Prerya, and her dog named George during the interview

Wednesday evening we went to visit Vermo, the major Finnish harness racing track in Helsinki. While the racetrack was gradually becoming alive with anticipation of the evening’s event, we were guided around the key points of the race track: the audience stand with the betting kiosks, bars and restaurants in it, the judges booth and commentary tower above it, the stables, canteens, and the harness racing drivers’ clubroom behind the racing circuit. We learned about the tens of different tasks and the many different kinds of workers that were needed to fulfil them in order to put together the harness racing event each Wednesday, and every now and again on Saturday, too.

When the race event was under way, we had the honour of rewarding Viinun Tuuri and Esa Holopainen, his driver, the winners of the 7th start, which was raced by Finnhorses.

That Wednesday was a very special day for me in many respects, and not least because it was the first time in my entire life that I bet on a horse! I confess that I enjoyed it and got a little bit carried away with it – that is, the following wednesday I opened a betting account for myself on the FinToto web service, deposited 20€ there and bet on one or two horses from nearly each start!

On Friday we discussed our visit to Vermo and shared the interviews that we had made on Tuesday.

This week further reinforced my impression that horses are rarely considered to have other tasks in Finland than school, jumping and harnessing. Could this be one reason for the descending birth rates of Finnish horses? In Iceland the whole equine economy circles around a single breed successfully. There is no reason why our national breed could not function as a key to economical success in much the same manner, be an unbeatable, many faceted tourist attraction that brings fresh currency to Finland.

WEEK 5 (Monday 2nd – Friday 6th of February)

What does it cost to own a horse or a horse business?

The topics of week 5 concerned the economical side of horse business and ownership: buying and owning a horse, livery service and other agreements, and insuring the horse (and the rider). In other words the costs, the paperwork and the bureaucracy involved in horse ownership and buying horses.

On Monday, Antti Linna, an invited layer from Ylikraka Attorneys-at-Law told us about the legal side of making contracts in horse business, when buying a horse, agreeing upon shared ownership, doing horse rental or livery service agreements. Especially making sales agreements or livery service agreements seemed tricky, and the importance of making a detailed agreement was underlined.

After Antti’s presentation we listed and added up prices of services that horse owners need to use. As homework we were given some agreement papers to examine. I reviewed a case study of successful horse sales transactions that were based on oral agreement. The student who had written the study, suggested that there should be written agreement between the two parties for economical safety. To me it seemed to be an example of how the economy of regard (see Rhys Evans on video) works, about how the transactions between the buyer and the seller or a service provider are secured by and built on mutual trust and liaison they have developed over time.

On Tuesday Jukka, the head teacher of Mustiala campus, asked “Can horse business be profitable?” and answered, more or less, that it depends a lot on the qualities of the entrepreneur. Then he instructed us about the mapping of various expenses in equine economy. After Jukka’s lecture we shared our analyses about the agreements with Terhi and Sirpa.

Wednesday was dedicated to the theme of insuring horses: Why and to what extent is insuring a horse is a good idea? After the visitor from the insurance company had finished, we were given another writing task. We had to ask ourselves ”How would I do as a horse owner?” or ”What kind of horse owner am I?” depending on whether we already own horses or not. On Friday we shared the essays we had written about ourselves as horse owners.

WEEK 6 (Monday 9th – Friday 13th of February)

The possibility of working in projects? On Monday Sirpa lectured about projects as a profession. She gave us an introduction to rural development projects and sources of funding, as well as presented some projects in equine industries and outcomes of development work. After her presentation we were given some finished projects to assess: What were the aims? What had been done? What was the outcome? Who did it, how, and for whom? What was the source of funding? Was the project national, regional or local? What was the budget? What was our opinion about the project, its outcome and its reporting? Was the information easy to find? My task was to assess a project called Lappish stables reconditioned (Lapin hevostallit kuntoon) which was aimed at informing Lappish stable owners about the new environmental regulations that came into force on January 1st 2014.

After this exercise Terhi and Sirpa gave us the task of the week: We were to map different horse related services that we could find from the Internet, find their contact information, industrial activity classification, and NACE code in the Finnish business register, and collect all this in an Excel table.

On Tuesday we visited Jokimaa, another harness racing track in Lahti, and a couple of stables and other enterprises next to it, providing horse related services. We were given presentations and shown around the premises.

One of the enterprises we visited was Velj. Wahlsten Oy, a renowned Finnish harness making and riding equipment retail company. The video below is from the horse therapy centre that operates next to Jokimaa premises and offers, among other things, laser therapy, infra red treatment, salt room treatment and a water walking machine to the horse customers.

On Wednesday we speculated on and made more hypothetical calculations of the running costs, overheads, profit margins and turnovers of different types of stable enterprises with Jukka, the head teacher of Mustiala campus. A particularly important concept we were told to learn, was discounting.

On Thursday Monna gave us an excellent lecture about Horse tourism in Finland and elsewhere, which gave me many good ideas and thoughts. We also made an important observation: there is practically nothing about any Finnish trekking or riding stables on different important web portals that share information about horse tourism options around the world, not even on The Official Travel Site of Finland!

WEEK 7 (Monday 16th – Friday 20th of February)

On Monday we tried to draw together the outcomes of our horse related service mapping in order to give another answer to the question, What does equine economy consist of? On Tuesday Terhi lectured about equine economy in other parts of Europe.

Thursday’s themes were Green care options and Money vs. soft values. Typically, the most interesting theme came right in the end when I was already running out of time to include it in this portfolio, which has to be returned by tomorrow!

We watched a youtube video in English about the new equine economy, or “equine economies of regard”, featuring a lecture by Rhys Evans from the Agricultural University of Jaeren, Norway. On the video he talks about rational economy vs. social economy, an economy based on people’s beliefs vs. getting a lot of money. He gives an example of people who have grown flowers for 20 years in their marginal businesses which don’t grow or gain profit, but survive. Why, Evans asks, and answers: Whereas capitalism rationalises our life into just money, they value their trade for other reasons than pure economic gain. They have alternative systems of value, which come from knowledge and passion.

“A social economy of regard can operate when there is respect, personal interactions and unique products of quality. In other words, mutual respect and regard substitute for pure economic rationality and make transactions and businesses which are otherwise not economically viable, sustainable.

Many horse businesses already operate as Economies of Regard. Only a few of them will become very profitable and offer ‘rational’ returns on capital, but they provide many public goods which may not be available otherwise. According to Evans the potential of the new equine economy of the 21st century is in the virtues of equine economies of regard. It promotes the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector, offers farm pluriactivity and provides other public goods like health and wellbeing, retention of younger generations on the land, supporting female entrepreneurism and maintaining landscape and environment. (See Rhys Evans: The new equine economy in the 21st century)

In another little video that inspires me, he talks about native breed horse tourism and about creating new economic imperatives for people to keep breeding native breeds.

So, what horse-related profession do I find appealing?

During our seven-week exploration into the world of equine industries we learned that there is a wide range of horse related services, undertakings, projects, organisations, production lines, and enterprises that could provide us possible jobs or give us models of what kind of businesses we could establish.

But what were the things that came close to my heart and what didn’t touch me at all? There is only one thing I already know for sure: I want to dedicate a major part of my professional skills and intellectual efforts as a student of equine industries to our native breed, Finnhorse. I want to work out ways to bring our versatile breed back as part of what Finland is, an important part of our uniqueness. I want to promote it as a special brand that will attract people from around the world to this corner of Europe just to experience what it is to ride a Finnhorse. To reach this aim, I think I need to seriously reconsider the meaning of horses in our culture besides dressage and harness racing. I need to look for other horse cultures that have already managed to achieve this position for their native horses, like Iceland, and those that are still working on it.

The truth of the matter is that somewhere deep inside me resides a cultural researcher to whom learning about horses as part of the “social economy” or “third sector” is far more interesting and important than learning how to use them as part of a profitable business. But this need not narrow my career options or contradict the aims of my present educational institution, because horse culture does not exist primarily in books and theories, but pertains to the practices of those keepers and owners of horses, riders, breeders, trainers, drivers, riding instructors and farriers, whose work, life and stories interest me. In this respect our seven week exploration of the horse industries has been a most rewarding learning experience.

Based on these ideas, what kind of horse related job could a person like me thrive in? Could it be something to do with research, development and consulting in regional projects aimed at promoting breeding of Finnish horses and native breed horse tourism in Finland? Or maybe working in non-profit, third sector organisations, making use of my previous education and profession as an art pedagogue?

However, for now, while I still feel reasonably young despite being a middle aged woman, I will be happiest doing anything practical that keeps me close to the heart of all this, the actual horses.

(All photos and videos ©Tarja Kankkunen unless otherwise mentioned)

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