Veikka and Mika Haapakangas
I moved from Finland with my family in 2020 to Bergsåker, Sundsvall in Sweden. Bergsåker’s racetrack is out home track, which is the fourth largest racetrack in Sweden.
It’s now almost 30 years now since I started working with horses. I’ve focused on breeding and coaching, while the younger generation holds the reins. My son Veikko Haapakangas, born in 2000, and Magnus Djuse who is of the same age, drives our horses in Sundsvall. It’s always nice to help young people move forward in their careers. Young people also have a good boost to getting things done, a young mindset, and most importantly ‒ they’re hungry for success.
In my time, I’ve also trained reining to Santtu Raitala. He was just awarded best equestrian athlete of 2020 in Finland. He did great already at a young age on a few of our horses.
Mika Haapakangas and Santtu Raitala
Sweden is Europe’s leading trotting country after France. There are a lot of competitors and horses, which takes the prize level to second best in Europe. On V75 days, the prizes are between 12 000 ‒ 13 000 euros, while in Finland for example, they are only around 3 000 euros. In Finland, the folk game is Lotto, whilst here in Sweden, they rather bet on trotting races. In Finland, about 20 starts are run on average per year, whilst in Sweden they only do 10-15 starts a year. Here horses are spared for the horse’s mental and physical recovery. Attitudes towards professional trainers and horse caretakers are also different ‒ they’re more respected professions in Sweden compared to Finland.
Equestrian sports are also significantly higher in Saudi Arabia, USA, Canada and in many more warm countries. There, the horses are not raised in a so-called snowdrift, which means that the growth and development conditions are completely different. In northern European countries, growth stops when it hits 20 degrees Celsius. Muscles grow much slower during the winter.
Back in the day, in Finland and Sweden the horses used to get out for grazing during midsummer and taken back in by September. The horses were raised in a herd, and ate all the hay they wanted, but nothing else. Fortunately, people are more educated on that today. The summer pasture is still understandable for foals, but racehorses should already be fit by the time they leave the pasture. 2-year-old horses should be under close supervision and diet. Feeding, and especially having an individual diet is paramount! In the states they’re already racing a lot at 2-3 years old. In Finland and Sweden, they start when they’re 3 years old.
We got rid of oats already 20 years ago. The grains do not melt that well in the body and comes back out with the feces. Complete feed simply melts better
A horse will eat hay up to 18 hours a day in the wild. So, a good quality, well studied hay is the most important thing, which then is supplemented with additives that lacks from the hay. We mix all the necessary minerals, proteins, vitamins, and other necessary complementary feeds for the horse with the evening porridge.
Horse maintenance at Stable Haapakangas
Unfortunately, people often say that the horse has a bad stomach when they bring them to me for coaching. In most cases the problem lies in the diet. Sometimes the horses are so skinny and weak, but the owners’ expectations are high. At this point, the priority is diet. Gastric PH values should also be supervised. The feed should not be too strong, which oats usually are. Stomach problems are reflected throughout the whole horse, all that way to the head. Performance improves along with the stomach.
Having a strong immune system is also paramount. When traveling around competitions you end up staying in other stables, where the bacteria is different. You can’t just wash a horse with hand sanitizer, so we make sure to keep a strong immune system through quality complementary feeds. It keeps epidemics, flues, and viruses at bay. A horse with a healthy stomach also has a stronger immune system!
We’ve used Hoof’s different products since the end of 2020, and we can definitely recommend it!
In Sweden, there have been more cases in 2020 of rain scald (Dermatophilus congolensis) on horses than usual.
The coat on clipped horses hasn’t grow back properly either. Rain scald is common among horses that have been a lot outdoors in rainy weather or have been standing on muddy pasture. The bacteria thrives especially under a wet blanket. Rain scald appears as large scabs and tangled tufts of hair, usually on the back and on the sides. The skin is also usually pink.
Our horses also had rain scald the same year. It improved a bit during the summer, but it was so tenacious that it stuck on to a few horses. When the horses started shedding their winter coat in spring 2021, the general appearance was a bit withered and on some of the horses the marks from the rain scald were visible. Some of the horses were quite stressed as well, which certainly didn’t help the skin- and coat problems.
We’ve given Hoof’s Biotin for coat- and skin problems, to some combined with their complementary feed. It was nice to notice that already after one week of use the skin had healed significantly. Last year the skin was in a bad condition, but now the coat has stayed healthy looking as well. One of the horse’s coats was in really bad condition, and this worked wonders ‒ it really helped!
We have been feeding five horses Hoof’s Vizyme supplement for the stomach and managing stress. After one week of feeding, we could see a difference! The gut calmed down, and you could see it from the horse’s general appearance. One horse has a very sensitive gut, and its stomach gets soft very easily. It is also picky about new flavours and smells, but this it has eaten very well. We need to get more of this. Even our children got curious about the smell of chocolate ‒ but we haven’t given them any!
We’ve supplemented the evening porridge with for example Vimix Plus, when a little refreshment it needed. We’ve given it to boost tired horses. We like it a lot! It smells delicious and the horses have gladly eaten it. We’ve given it to four mares and one gelding. We’ve also fed Hoof’s vitamin E (Vime E SE) to one of our horses, because it got muscle cramps. It takes small steps with the front legs when it walks. Somehow it seems to have weak biceps. Now it has clearly improved. A dosing spoon would be a good addition to the stable environment, but yes, we definitely recommend Hoof!
The aim is to keep the horse’s lactic acid threshold high, as well as the oxygen uptake capacity, and the expanding of the lungs.
We can now go on a nine kilometer loop from our own yard, with an ascent of 155 meters. We start with a 5-6 kilometer warm-up, followed by a total of 3,5 km interval training in hilly terrain. We’ve kept the interval distance at around 2,5 – 3,5 km.
The aim is to keep the heart rate at around 200 beats per minute, which is monitored throughout the workout. We go a bit harder on the hills, causing the heart rate to go up 30-40 beats denser. The idea is to keep the heart rate at the same level as it would during a competition ‒ slower in the beginning and rapid at the end.
Our horses have gotten used to the idea that they get away with trotting competitions easier if they’ve trained hard enough at home. In trotting they do three laps with the same heart rate level, but instead of hilly terrain, the track is flat. The horses feel like they are set free on the track. It has to feel fun for the horse. The tail needs to be up in order to get results.
The amount of recovery time has of course a huge effect on the development and success. We usually give around two days of rest in-between training. Horses’ large musculature also needs longer recovery. Strained muscles will not develop before recovering. Otherwise our horses get to be in the shelter, on a walking machine or on the pasture during their days off.
We train hard for the first three months at the beginning of the year and take it a bit slower after that. From the beginning of April, you can put your ear against the door and listen to their fitness growing. It sounds like ocean waves crashing against the shore!
Breeding, technique and manners have developed a lot. The horse’s organs, like the lungs, are a lot stronger now. Before, a good horse won at a time of 1,18, nowadays 1,10 is a good winning time.
You need to be able to read a horse. Sometimes a horse needs six months more time, and then you have to give it to them. Coaching and upbringing requires patience, hard work and trusting the process. You also have to be self-critical and grow along the way. I’m used to analysing the previous year during Christmas holiday. I then try to make a development plan for the next year in the areas that need work.
Chancy Roberto in the front
I gained faith in succeeding in Sweden after nine V86-trotting race wins in Boden, in the north of Sweden in 2019. Boden is one of Sweden’s most known racetracks. The key to success was my self-bred, owned, and trained stallion, the warm-blooded Special Promise, who is now 12 years old.
The first more successful horse in our stable was Chancy Roberto. The stallion was 3-years old when it won the Breeder’s Crown final on Jyväskylä’s track in Finland in 2007. The horse barely got to the final from the qualifiers, which was run with shoes on and caused constant strain on the legs. On the day of the final, the track was in great condition, but there was 10 cm of snow on the ground. Others had winter gear and hockey shoes, but I decided to go completely without shoes.
The decision not to wear shoes was widely criticized, but by daring to take risks you also get results. And it wasn’t even such a big risk ‒ the ground was solid and left the other ones over ten meters behind. It’s a natural way to run for a horse. A horse runs a lot more freely when they hit the ground with bare hoofs ‒ it’s like they are set free. I left that day 20 000 euros richer.
Chancy Roberto records: 11,9aly – 16,9ke
Marianne and Mika Haapakangas