City has largest Dala Horse in the United States

Mora is home to the largest Dala Horse in the United States. It’s 25 feet high and weighs 3,000 pounds. Photo by Cathy Nelson

Mora is home to the largest Dala Horse in the United States. It’s 25 feet high and weighs 3,000 pounds. Photo by Cathy Nelson

Travelers who drive north of the Twin Cities to east central Minnesota notice birch trees, fields, small towns, farms. If they happen to come across an enormous, shimmering, orange-red horse towering over a town, they’ll know they are in Mora.

Mora is known for being the home of the largest Dala Horse in the United States.  It’s hard to drive past this impressive Minnesota landmark without stopping for a better look and a few photographs. The brightly painted orange-red horse with its beautiful decorative patterns stands 25 feet tall, is 17 feet long and is 6 feet wide. The Dala Horse, made of fiberglass and weighing 3,000 pounds, is a replica of a Dalecarlian horse, the traditional symbol of Dalarna, Sweden. It stands in Lions Park near the Aquatic Center on the southern edge of town and is near the entrance to the Kanabec County Fairgrounds.

Swedish immigrants arrived in Minnesota in the mid 1800s. In 1882, the town of Mora was named after Mora, Dalarna, Sweden, original home of some of the town’s settlers. Dalarna is a province in central Sweden where Dala Horses originated. The Mora Jaycees began construction of the Dala Horse in the summer of 1971. Their intent was to recognize Mora’s strong Swedish heritage and to also attract visitors to the area. Final construction, painting the horse in authentic colors and landscaping the area were completed the following spring, and the Dala Horse was presented to the community at a dedication ceremony June 24, 1972.  Mora (Minnesota)and Mora (Sweden) became sister cities that same year.

The story goes that hundreds of years ago, in the area  of Dalarna, men would use a knife to carve horses by firelight during long, winter evenings when they had little work to do. The horses were given to the children as toys. The original horses were simply made with scraps of wood and were not painted. The horse was a popular toy because horses were so invaluable to the family, for their fieldwork, for pulling loads of lumber from the forest and for providing transportation. The horse was also a loyal friend and companion, and children would ride bareback to entertain themselves.

Ledgyn, right, made his Dala Horse in third-grade at Trailview Elementary. Photo by Cathy Nelson

Ledgyn, right, made his Dala Horse in third-grade at Trailview Elementary. Photo by Cathy Nelson

Some of Mora’s third-grade students at Trailview Elementary paint and design their own Dala Horse in class. One of the students, Ledgyn, made a Dala Horse last year. “When I got the wooden horse, it was plain,” he said, “so I painted it orange the first day. Then, the next day, I painted the designs, but it didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted it.” He pointed out that the eyes on a Dala Horse don’t look like real eyes. “They are just three lines.”

Mora’s famous Dala Horse got a new coat of paint a couple of years ago. “They did a fantastic job,” said Karen Amundson, director of Mora’s Chamber of Commerce. “They used automotive paint to do the work, and they did it all working under a tarp. It’s holding up well. There has been talk about moving it closer to Highway 65 so it could be more visible, but it’s unclear if that will happen.” Further discussion and opportunities for community input would be needed before there could be any change of location.

“The world’s largest Dala horse is 42 feet high, almost twice as high as ours,” Amundson said. The huge landmark is made of concrete and is located in Avesta, Sweden, 100 miles southeast of Mora, Sweden. It’s not in tip-top shape like the one in Mora, though, according to some visitors, who report that the concrete has some cracks, and it needs new paint.

The sister cities of Mora, Minn., and Mora, Sweden, have more in common than Dala Horses. They both have long-distance cross-country ski races each winter. For nearly 100 years, Sweden has held an annual cross-country ski race, known as the Vasaloppet, to commemorate their independence from Denmark. The longest cross-country ski race in the world, 90 kilometers, or 56 miles, begins in Salen, Sweden and ends in Mora, Sweden.

The skijor race in Mora includes dogs. Photo by Photo by Trevor Cokley

The skijor race in Mora includes dogs. Photo by Photo by Trevor Cokley

Sweden gave permission for Mora to use the Vasaloppet name in 1972, and, since then, the community has held cross country ski races each February.  Vasaloppet USA is the annual event which features 58k, 42k, 35k and 13k ski races.  Amundson is the Vasaloppet coordinator. “We can have a maximum of 3,000 skiers,” she explained. “But we have had some bad snow years when the numbers have decreased.” Last winter, for instance, the races began and ended in downtown Mora because of poor snow conditions. “But now we have snowmaking equipment, and we will never not have snow for this event.” The future is bright for the annual ski race.

Snowmaking has already begun for the Vasaloppet  in 2017. The races begin at Warman, north of Mora, and end in downtown Mora. For more information on the events, visit www.vasaloppet.us.

The international cross-country ski race is a huge event for Mora, requiring hundreds of volunteers to ensure a successful weekend of racing and other activities. They prepare and groom trails, serve hot blueberry soup at “soup stops” along the course and welcome skiers and visitors from around the world, among other things. “I’m so proud to be a part of this community with its culture and all of the support,” Amundson said.