I was excited to see Hobbyhorse Revolution because I’d heard of, and was mystified by, ‘hobbyhorsing’ and needed to know more about it.

Hobbyhorsing is a lot like the horse competitions you’re used to seeing on TV, or in Olympic events.  Dressage, an equestrian sport, is the highest expression of horse training. In the events, you’ll watch horse and rider perform a sequence of events from memory, including piaffe (a special kind of trot), and pirouette (a 360 degree turn). In the obstacle event, the horses will jump over poles. Horse and rider are judged on how smoothly they go through the movements, and how willingly and with minimal cues the horse performs.

In hobbyhorsing, the competitions are similar, except performed with a fake horse. A hobbyhorse: those toys for small children which consist of a horse head on a broomstick.

Hobbyhorse Revolution is a documentary that sheds light on this burgeoning community, and on the people who compete (they’re older than you’d think).

Competitors train extensively, but don’t forget it’s their own two feet doing all the work. The ‘horses’ get off pretty lightly but are still given starring roles. Their ‘riders’ talk about them as though they are real: this one is ‘energetic’, this one ‘well-schooled.’ They are ridden with whips and put away with stable blankets.

The teen-aged girls interviewed for the film are almost all troubled in one way or another and I can’t believe that’s a coincidence. Playing make-believe with toy horses is an extension of childhood. In this light, hobbyhorsing is perhaps not simply a curiosity but a disturbing trend – 10,000 “hobbyhorseists” in Finland and growing. Unfortunately, the filmmaker fails to answer that most obvious of questions: why? What is happening to these girls that they’ve left their peers and retreated to the safe, but immature, world of racing fake horses? Interesting but superficial, Hobbyhorse Revolution is a hollow look at a surprising new safety blanket.

Thursday, May 4, 4:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, May 6, 1:15 PM, Scotiabank

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.