“Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross to see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes.”
– traditional nursery rhyme

The cock horse, more commonly known as the hobby horse, has been around since at least the 16th century. It’s usually a straight stick with a horse head made of wood or stuffed fabric, sometimes with a wheel on the bottom end. The “rider” holds it between their legs and pretends to be a horse or riding one.

Many — probably most — horse-crazy kids had a hobby horse sometime during their childhood. I fondly remember galloping around my back yard, jumping makeshift obstacles with the wooden hobby horse my dad had made for me. Its name was Tonka and it was my most cherished toy for many years.

The Hot Sport of Hobby Horsing

Over the past decade or so, the traditional hobby horse has been given new life as more than a child’s toy. Its resurrection took place in Finland, where an estimated 10,000 people (mostly teenage girls) participate in heated competitions on their “stick horses,” lovingly made and sporting bits, reins, and braided wool manes.

The sport of “hobby horsing” has been growing in popularity in Europe since its introduction to the mainstream public in the 2017 documentary film, “Hobbyhorse Revolution.” Elsa Salo, one of the stars of the movie, explains the attraction of this activity: “I like making horses and creating the personalities of the horses, sharing the horses with others, and telling other hobbyists about them . . . The community is so tolerating and we accept everyone the way they are.” Fred Sundwall, the Secretary General of the Equestrian Federation of Finland, says, “We think it’s simply wonderful that hobby horsing has become a phenomenon and so popular. It gives a chance to those children and teens who don’t own horses to interact with them also outside stables and riding schools.” Appearances aside, the sport is no joke. It is physically demanding, requiring coordination, poise, and athletic ability as jumps may be as high as a metre or more. (For parents who are looking for something to keep their kids busy, you can order hobby horse kits in Canada here.

Using Your Noodle

Closer to home, younger children are playing and learning about the competition experience with horses made out of swimming pool noodles. “If we were in competition, then we would know what to do because they already taught us with fake horses,” says 7-year-old Madalyn Hanshew, a member of the Sun Basin Pony Club in Moses Lake, Washington, USA. “If we’re on fake horses, then it wouldn’t hurt the horse if we did something wrong.” A noodle pony horseshow is a wonderful idea for any pony club or riding school looking to hold a fun and educational activity. It could even be a unique birthday party theme for horse-crazy kids. (Find out how to make swimming pool noodle horses here.)

If your children and their friends prefer team sports, how about hobby horse polo? This originated in Germany in 1998 as something of a joke, but it has since become a trendy sport with various teams in German cities. It uses basic polo rules as two six-player teams, one hand on their hobby horse and the other on a long-handled croquet mallet, try to send a softball ball into the opposing team’s goal. This can be marked out by cones or jump standards, or a street hockey goal net. To make the game easier (and safer), a soccer ball or beach ball could be used, and lightweight brooms instead of mallets.

JustWorld photo.

A JustWorld Horseless Horse Show. (JustWorld photo)

Another type of horseless competition has recently evolved, with classes popping up in Europe, Australia, Central America, the United States, and Canada. In this type of horseshow, participants don’t ride a hobby horse or even a pool noodle. All they need is their own two legs. Competitors range in age from 3 years old to adult, although the most competitive ages are between 9 and 15.

A major organizer of horseless horse shows is JustWorld International, a non-profit humanitarian organization founded by former international equestrian Jessica Newman, to help fund educational programs for some of the world’s most impoverished children. JustWorld International horseless horseshow classes are run like regular jumper classes, with the fastest clear round coming out the winner. Participants walk a miniature course and compete over three different heights, so kids of all ages can enter. Classes have been held at various A-rated hunter/jumper shows, including the Hampton Classic in Bridgehampton, NY, the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, the Bromont International in Bromont, Quebec, the Thunderbird Horseshow in Langley, B.C., and the National Capital Showjumping Tournament in Nepean, Ontario.

These horseless competitions are typically held as a way to raise funds for charitable organizations, but they could be organized at your local riding school as a fun way to practice dressage tests, or to learn jumping courses or barrel racing patterns. Why not give it a try!

Watch the Hobby Horse Annual Championships in Finland: