Hot Docs 2017: Hobbyhorse Revolution Review

Magnificent Obsessions 

“Heta was getting old […] She was worn

and tired. I got Heta as a baby […] [She] made

me cry and laugh, to face my fears. She listened quietly.


She’s in a better place now.”

-Mariam (Aisku)

Heta is a horse, but not just any horse. In fact, let’s be specific, it’s a horse’s head on a stick. I’m sorry – not a real horse’s head, but one artfully created out of pillow stuffing and canvas. However, to the Finnish girls depicted in Selma Vilhunen’s Hobbyhorse Revolution, these horses-on-a-stick might as well be real. 

Mariam, who goes by Aisku, is in and out of foster care since she apparently does not listen to her parents. However, her rebellious streak is not enacted in the stereotypical ways. She loves hobbyhorsing (I guess that’s a verb now). She rides her hobbyhorse like a Quidditch player on a broom, but the horse has reins that cause the head to move, as in a normal horse. In competitions, points are given for style and finesse, as well as harmony between the movements of the human and the movements of the horse. Mariam is a falling star in the hobbyhorse circuit. She was once a top-tier performer, but now finds the competitions to be stressful in light of other life events. The film depicts her budding coaching career, which may allow her to experience her passion in a less stressful way (she just may need to be a bit nicer, but I’m sure she’ll get there).


Another hobbyhorse personality is Mariam’s protégé, Elsa. Elsa is the heart of the film, explaining her fear of being bullied for liking hobbyhorsing. Her anxiety and depression got to such an intensity that she was able to spend time with a real therapy horse. Elsa poignantly says that while the real horses pass away, the hobbyhorse is there to stay.

The film demonstrates that this mostly all-girl fad is a refuge from bullying and is also a celebration of ballet-like movements and harmonization between animals and humans (how the girls speak about their hobbyhorses may surprise you, as it did me). The hobbyhorse is a friend, a friend that the girls can create from scratch. The hobbyhorse is also a stand-in for one’s reputation and skill in the competitive leagues. Hobbyhorsing may be a safe haven, but it is also stressful if one does not perform well, as seen in the case of Mariam, the ill-tempered coach.

The film could have benefitted from a tighter edit, frequent re-labelling of people’s names (you only see names once), and more statistics about hobbyhorsing. However, as it stands, it is a testimony to a group of young girls’ resilience for sticking to a niche, unorthodox, but by no means unnecessary hobby. 



Wed, May 3, 5:30 PM Scotiabank Theatre 4

Thu, May 4, 4:00 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Sat, May 6, 1:15 PM Scotiabank Theatre 3

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