Uuras the horse stands still between the shafts soon to be mounted on its sides, as Tarja Lundsten brushes the gelding’s back.
Horse enthusiasts like Lundsten are continuing the tradition of festive sleigh rides enjoyed by generations of countryside Finns on Boxing Day.
Lundsten is a member of the work horse association, which carries on the traditions of the Finnish draft horse. Farmers employed animals like Uuras in countryside labour before the advent of tractors and other farm machinery.
Lundsten fits the old-fashioned shafts and harness onto the horse with an ease born of experience. A sleigh bell is also part of the fittings.
Work horse revival
Four types of Finnish horses are bred to this day: so-called small horses, runners, mounts and work horses. About 1,000 Finnish horses are born every year, most of them runners. The number of work horses has plummeted since these were replaced by modern machines on farms.
However, interest in draft horses and associated traditions has been growing steadily in Finland in recent years, with eager participants flocking to courses and competitions in work horse skills.
Holding the reins in her hands, and tucked into the sleigh steadily fastened to Uuras, Tarja Lundsten is ready to set off on her annual Boxing Day ride.
“What I love the most is the silence of the forest and the jingle of the sleigh bell,” Lundsten reveals, before taking off with a big smile on her face.