A few days ago, I took a trail I’ve never seen before (it’s spring here in Sweden, and bare trees mean exposed paths). This particular path ended up threading between the local horse track and hockey rink, all part of the sports complex near our apartment.
I should not have been surprised to see a cop car parked outside the building that seemed to house an exercise ring. I surmised that it belonged to one of the cops who ride horses around town. They travel in pairs, and I’ve seen them passing our house heading downtown for their patrols.
But as I headed past the outdoor track, it wasn’t a pair of cops that I saw coming towards me on horseback. Instead, a whole crew of women soldiers in green fatigues, perched atop their steeds, followed slowly behind their bellowing barrel-shaped drill sergeant. The sergeant abruptly spun her horse to face the crew as I drew abreast of them, and all the women reached for their swords. They were practicing drawing the sabers and swinging their right arms across their bodies, I assume in preparation for a military parade or review. I was impressed.
And I started thinking about how much people love horses here. Trails for horses crisscross the national park here in town (the Djurgården), and last year, the city spent what I assume was a bit of change to put up a galloping ring in the park near here (I have yet to see horses galloping there). I see horses passing as I walk in the park, and then this group of soldiers on horseback… .
And then earlier this week, while my mother-in-law and her sister (D&D!) are in town, we’ve been touristing: we stopped to watch a marine corps band at the changing of the guard at the royal palace. They were playing their silver horns while sitting atop horses. The two kettle drummers were guiding their two snow-white Clydesdales with their feet; the horn players all played with one hand, while guiding their chestnut horses with the other.
So, horses remain a part of modern military culture here — I assume they have been for a long time. (Wikipedia assures me that it’s been about 5,000 years for the human-horse partnership in war. We also watched War Horse recently, for the latest in fictionalized WWI war horses… .) But even if they still use them for military parades and other purposes here in Sweden, I have a hard time imagining the Swedish military using horses in modern warfare.
People love their horses here. A good friend told me a story once about a patient she had once who was eating cat food or not eating at all, so that she could afford to feed her horse. Something like 360,000 horses live here, if you believe The Local (which recently reported the disappearance of 9,000 horses a year, presumably into horsemeat). I have yet to check in with my friends here about IKEA’s faux pas about putting horse meat in their beef lasagne. I assume people were deeply offended — but maybe not.
It’s funny to consider: we were just in Zurich, where horse meat is a delicacy. We were only slightly tempted by the dried horse meat alongside the deer on the Zurich deli’s shelves. It’s expensive — people love their horse meat there.