“I’m going to Gotland! They’ve eased the restrictions! I’ve never been there and it’s so exciting!” Marie Svensson, president of the leisure riding committee of the Swedish Icelandic Horse Association (SIF), is thrilled that she is finally about to see the result of almost two years of planning.
Tomorrow, 13 June, Sverigeritten – a 55-day relay ride from the north to the south of Sweden – will begin. To leave no part of Sweden out, the first group will ride across Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, for six days (taking a break to celebrate midsummer) before handing the “baton” over to the next group in Kiruna, in the northernmost part of the country. The baton is a mobile phone and each group will take and share photos of their adventures on social media.
Marie Svensson with her horses. Photo: Johan Svensson.
“I’ve been on trail rides in Iceland for seven years now – and they’re great. But I always think they’re too short so I get angry when they’re over. I figured we must be able to do something like this in Sweden,” Marie says of her motives, laughing excitedly: “So I plan to ride most of the way myself!” She adds: “It’s good for me as president if I come and meet the people in the clubs, show enthusiasm and help them prove that anything is possible. I’m hoping that the leisure riding community will grow and that people will feel welcome.”
The main reason for this major operation is to engage and bring together leisure riders from all over Sweden. When Marie was appointed president in 2018 (since early this year she is also on the FEIF leisure riding committee), she realised that very few leisure riders were active in SIF because many of them feel that it has a bigger focus on competition than leisure riding.
From Gotland. Photos: Ingrid Wahlén.
“I thought about what we could do which would involve everyone in the country, where everyone could do something and join in, and no one could say that there was nothing going on.” Marie stresses that Sverigeritten could never have happened if the Icelandic horse clubs along the route hadn’t helped with the planning.
“I’ve been really obnoxious, giving pep talks and calling people up all the time, asking: ‘Have you done this? Have you taken care of that?’” Marie laughs. “It’s important that the local clubs tailor the ride themselves and plan where to ride, where to sleep, whether to offer food, entertainment, etc.”
Now, everything is coming together and the riders who want to participate in Sverigeritten can check out the map on the event’s Facebook page and sign up for the route(s) that suit them best. The only condition is that the riders are members of SIF – they can ride any horse they like.
Varied landscapes. Photos: Alice Akkermann.
Seventeen local clubs have helped organise the ride. In the north there were too few clubs and too long distances for a continuous ride, so there will be a few days of riding around the towns where each of the clubs are based. Then on 5 July, the riders will set off from Örnsköldsvik and cover 1,067 km all the way to Ystad in the south, where they plan to arrive on 16 August. Including the rides on Gotland and in the northernmost part of Sweden, Sverigeritten will be 1,748 km long in total. The riders will experience starkly different landscapes from mountains and dense woodlands, to beaches and wheat fields.
All riders are invited to participate in a challenge and share a photo of themselves and their horse(s) during a magical moment that reflects the joy of companionship and their passion for the Icelandic horse. Everyone will win an online course and the person who takes the best photo will win a trip to Iceland, sponsored by Horses of Iceland.
Best friends! Photo: Kristin Widmark Engebro.
The Icelandic horse is the ideal breed for trail riding, Marie argues: “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!”
While promoting the Icelandic horse and bringing together leisure riders from all over Sweden, Sverigeritten will also be raising funds for a charity called Min stora dag, which gives children with serious illnesses the opportunity to fulfil their dreams.
The Icelandic horse is immensely popular in Sweden. With 65 Icelandic horse clubs, 7,000 members and 30,000 horses, it’s the third largest Icelandic horse community in the world (after Iceland and Germany). SIF was established in 1975, so Sverigeritten is also a celebration of the association’s 45th anniversary.
Depending on the COVID-19 situation, a special event will be held in Ystad to welcome the riders when they cross the “finish line”. Ironically, the corona virus has helped promote Sverigeritten in a way, Marie reasons: “It’s almost the only thing that’s happening now. All events have been cancelled apart from GaedingaSM, which we hope can take place in September. Sverigeritten is a corona-friendly activity; we’re keeping a social distance, we’re outside and there will never be more than 50 people riding at a time!”
You can follow Sverigeritten’s progress on Facebook and Instagram with the #sverigeritten hashtag.
Text: Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.