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Six decades on, horses return to Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium

The first equestrian event at the Olympic Stadium since 1952 gets underway on Saturday morning – featuring a re-staging of the Olympic final from that year.

More than 100 riders are converging on the 75-year-old Olympic Stadium for this weekend's two-day “Horses at the Stadium” event. Featured will be about 150 horses and ponies – some of them taking part in various show programmes and an adjoining agricultural fair.

On Thursday, construction of 75 temporary stables began under the bleachers, where some of the horses will stay all weekend. This is one difference from the last horsey event at the venue, the 1952 Summer Olympics, when the horses were not housed on site. The stadium celebrates its 75 anniversary this year.

“The surface is being prepared by bringing in and packing down 42,000 kilos of sand by Friday afternoon. The sand hardens the surface of the lawn enough that the horses’ hooves won’t go through it,” explains Immi Lätti, a riding track expert at the Equestrian Federation of Finland, which is sponsoring the event.

Show jumpers and hobby horses

Organisers hope to attract more than 10,000 spectators on each day with a mix of serious show jumping competition and lighter events such as a carriage race featuring Members of Parliament, an appearance by London Paralympics rider Jaana Kivimäki, a musical event starring soprano Mari Palo, and even a gathering of hobby horses – who are enjoying a new surge of popularity among Finnish girls.

The final event will be a partial re-enactment of the Olympic show jumping final held at the Stadium in 1952. It will feature a reconstruction of the original course, albeit with a few changes to suit contemporary riding standards.

The Olympic Stadium was built in 1938 as a venue for the 1940 Summer Games, which were cancelled due to the Second World War. Helsinki had to wait a dozen more years to host the Olympics. It has since become a favourite concert venue, for instance, hosting five concerts by the Rolling Stones and four by Bruce Springsteen.

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