It’s 16 August, a sunny summer’s day in southern Sweden. In the town of Ystad, people stop and watch in admiration as a pretty parade makes its way through the centre of town: 29 Icelandic horses and almost as many riders – with one person driving a horse-drawn carriage – waving Icelandic and Swedish flags. They are accompanied by two riding police officers and musicians playing Swedish folk songs; two children even play the fiddle from horseback!
The parade in Ystad. These riders carry the flag of Icelandic horse club Ófeigur in southern Sweden. Photo: Eva Larsson.
It was a particularly happy day for Marie Svensson, president of the leisure riding committee of the Swedish Icelandic Horse Association (SIF). “It was very emotional! I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. It was a mixed emotion of extreme pride and relief,” she says when we catch up with her a couple of weeks after the big event. This was the last leg of the 1,748-km long Sverigeritten, a 55-day relay ride from the north to the south of Sweden.
“It was very festive! People had gathered along the riding path on both sides of the road. I felt a little bit like royalty, riding while waving to the spectators. When we rode through the old town of Ystad with narrow cobblestone alleyways the acoustics were fantastic! Very majestic and powerful!” Marie rode bareback; “I wanted the blue of my saddle rug to show; the colour of the Swedish flag.”
Jenny André, who drove the carriage, had painted the Icelandic flag on her white Icelandic horse Gloi. “I wanted to demonstrate that Icelandic horses are versatile; most of them don’t pull carriages,” she told Ystad Allehanda newspaper. But they certainly can, and they’re the perfect breed for trail riding, as confirmed during Sverigeritten. “The Icelandic horse is in my opinion happy, easy-going, willing to work, social, friendly, uncomplaining, uncomplicated – the best and most friendly ‘off-road vehicle’ there is!” Marie told us in June.
Marie expresses her gratitude, thanking all participants. Photo: Eva Larsson.
The relay ride began on Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, on 13 June. Then the “baton” (a mobile phone) was handed to the next group in Kiruna in the north. After a few intermittent rides around Sweden’s northernmost territories, the journey progressed more or less continuously from Sundsvall to Ystad.
Marie organised the ride along with 17 Icelandic horse clubs from different parts of the country. One of her personal highlights was meeting all the people she had communicated with for over a year. With a total of 363 riders, seven riders covered each leg of the journey on average. Sometimes there were fewer riders and at other times many more, and on all rides the atmosphere was “fantastic”, as Marie describes it.
Marie herself rode for 33 days and covered more than 900 km on horseback – partly because she never thought the trail rides she’d been on in Iceland were long enough. “A ride is never long enough if you ask me!” And indeed, as many other people are keen to repeat the relay ride or were sorry that they missed it this year, another Sverigeritten is being planned for 2022 with the goal for it to become a biennial event. “But next year I will sleep!” Marie laughs.
However, her biggest motive for organising Sverigeritten was to bring together and mobilise leisure riders from all over Sweden. Those who were unable to participate in the relay ride could join the Sverigerittutmaningen challenge. Open to all club members, people could organise rides on their own and together cover the equivalence of the distance from Kiruna to Ystad, or 1,748 km. The challenge proved very successful with 34 clubs and 105 riders taking part. “I’m thinking of planning this activity in 2021, too, so that the local clubs must collect 2,021 km during the year 2021,” Marie explains.
Crossing the bridges of Umeå. Photo: Linn Johansson – @ewalinn.
During Sverigeritten, participants raised funds for Min stora dag, a charity for children with long-term illnesses. The final sum amounted to approximately SEK 40,000 (EUR 3,900), more than double the original goal. Participants could also participate in a photo contest and 200 entries were made! The winners will be announced at the SIF fall conference in November; there are lots of great prizes, including a trip to Iceland sponsored by Horses of Iceland. (Check out the entries on Instragram, under #siftävling.)
The Icelandic horse got a lot of media attention along the way; the relay ride was covered in 15 newspaper articles, 11 radio shows and one television programme. Participants also blasted social media with photos and updates from the relay ride; a picture of the riders crossing the bridges of Umeå even won the city’s June photo competition on Instagram!
Marie “fell off a horse”. Photo: Frida Lindström.
Fortunately, there were no serious incidents, only a few funny mishaps. “I fell off a horse and of course had to buy a cake and offer everyone on the ride the next day,” reveals Marie. “Since we forgot to take a photo ‘in the moment’ we staged one afterwards!” Also, “The head of one of the local clubs’ board got an involuntary dip. After we finished that day’s ride, we went to a lake to let the horses drink and walk in the water. The horse decided to roll in the water and the rider got soaking wet!”
Now that she’s had some time to rest and process it all, what stands out to Marie? “Meeting the members while riding with them and talking to them; Seeing, hearing and smelling great parts of Sweden from horseback; Seeing the fresh print of a bear paw on the same gravel road as we rode on, plus finding a moose antler,” she mentions. “The finale in Ystad was amazing! And to show everyone what is actually possible if there is a will and we work together.”
Text: Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos: Marie Svensson, Eva Larsson, Linn Johansson (the first five photos in the gallery) and Frida Lindström.