The unforgettable story of an honest man’s endless struggle against an unjust system.
It was a paver in the small city of Vetlanda, who tipped me off about The Horseman. I had stopped to take photos of him at work for a photo agency. He recounted to me how he had some years earlier seen a remarkable man with a big beard, who worked with Ardennes draft-horses up in the highlands of Småland. The paver just couldn’t forget the man and his big horses.
A few months later I’m driving around in the hilly parts of Småland and with a little luck I manage to spot Stig-Anders Svensson far out in the woods. I find a cheerful man in his prime, the very image of a sunny disposition, standing in the middle of his flock, “the girlies” as he lovingly calls them.
Here is how I write about it in the book “The Horseman”:
Stig-Anders and I are sitting here together for the first time, next to a greyish old meadow barn. His backpack is lying on a small pile of stones overgrown by lichens and mosses. Stig-Anders seems enlivened by my sudden appearance; he has many questions about my profession as a photographer. He talks with passion about his work here on the meadow in the forest. The horses are respectfully presented to me; they have names like Dolly and Parella. There’s a sparkle in Stig-Anders’ eyes when he talks about the benefits of working with them.
- They are so calm, my "girlies". See how peacefully they are standing over there. They understand much more then anyone can imagine. They work so well because in some way they understand that this is their winter feed! Ardennes horses aren’t stupid, oh no they aren’t!
My eyes are drawn to the shiny, black work-shoes that Stig-Anders is wearing. I offer my compliments.
- Yes, they are brand new; my old shoes weren’t possible to mend any longer. In early summer I took the horses and a carriage and went into town to by me a new pair. As it happened, I took a chance and drove into the main street. Can you imagine, just outside the shoe store there were two parking spaces available - perfectly suited for horse and carriage.
- But are you really allowed to park like that? What does the ticket machine say about it? Can you park horses for free?
- I jumped down from the box, went up to the door and shouted into the shoe store: “I want to buy shoes! Can the horses stand outside?”
- You can quite calmly stand there. There is no problem, they said. - Stay in the cart; we will come with shoes for you. What kind of shoes do you like?
- Sturdy! Black or brown, I answered. - But not too expensive! They came out with this pair and they have been with me since!
- Oh, oh, I replied. - So you didn’t even go into the store, you just tried on shoes sitting in the cart?
- Yes, everything was unbelievably smooth!
- If I had been the king, driving up in my Porsche, I am sure they wouldn’t have come out with shoes for me! Not bad to be treated better than a king, Stig-Anders.
- Nah, replies Stig-Anders. - I think the city people like me, because every time I'm in town with the horses to shop, there’s a little piece in the newspaper about it. What did you say the King was driving? Porch-something?
I explain that a Porsche is an expensive sports car, and that there is a convertible model without a roof.
- Well, says Stig-Anders, then he can drive like me, without a roof, but it probably costs a lot more; and it’s certainly very dangerous!
This was my first meeting with Stig-Anders Svensson and I already had a story I could never forget. This encounter held a great promise and I knew immediately that I would like to document his life, his way of experiencing the world as an inheritance of accumulated knowledge from his ancestors. Stig-Anders’ profound proximity to nature and the animal world is something most of us modern and urbanized people have lost. I wanted others to experience this way of living, where certain values have other specific weights than in our standardized modern world.
This was the start of a project that would continue for nearly two decades. Little did I know the joys we would experience together and little could I even imagine the grief that would finally strike Stig-Anders and his horse-driven farm. To me this was the work of a state acting without reason, “the state as an outlaw” to put it bluntly. Sixteen years after we first met, the blind whim of bureaucracy brought an end to the “girlies” and Stig-Anders’ old-fashioned ways. This story is told in The Horseman’s Last Stand.