ASA11: Vital powers and politics: human interactions with living things

University of Wales Trinity Saint David, 13/09/2011 – 16/09/2011

(P14)

Understanding humans understanding horses: constructed and co-created cultures

Location Room 2
Date and Start Time 14 Sep, 2011 at 09:00

Convenor

Gala Argent (University of Leicester)  email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores whether and to what degree human-horse relationships challenge prevailing narratives about domination, agency, culture and nature—and what those narratives are. The interest is also in whether and how horses might be seen to contribute to human meanings, cultures or sub-cultures.

Long Abstract

The human-horse intersection is varied and multifaceted. Among other human-delineated uses and roles, horses can function as food sources and conscripted workers, where they are objectified as resources; as recreational facilitators or identity markers, where they serve as nodes of contact for human political and cultural hierarchies; as subjectified, impactful others with whom humans develop deep and ongoing connections; and/or as various of these examples simultaneously or consecutively during their lifespans. Horses exist within these complex matrices of interaction as powerful and potentially dangerous beings to whom humans often entrust their lives. With these variabilities in mind, the prevailing academic paradigm of human domination/equine submission might within some contexts be expanded to include more nuanced potentials of the relationship, including such aspects as mutual cooperation, care and agency.

In the broadest sense, this panel explores whether and to what degree human-horse relationships challenge prevailing narratives about domination, agency, culture and nature—and what those narratives are. The interest is also in whether and how horses might be seen to contribute to human meanings, cultures or sub-cultures. Defining how to include animals as subjects in anthropological studies remains methodologically and theoretically difficult, not for the least reason that anthropological research which takes non-human agency as a starting point is still rare. Because of this, interdisciplinary contributions are welcomed, particularly where they address approaches to nonhuman animal agency, as are those which address human-horse relationships by including horses as more than absent referents.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Social organization in horses, and its implications for the horse-human relationship

Author: Lucy Rees email
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Short Abstract

An adaptive view of social organization in horses reveals it to be collective, not a dominance hierarchy structure. The implications are considered.

Long Abstract

Horses are prey animals whose physical adaptations, behaviour and social organisation reflect their vulnerability to predators. Survival depends on vigilance, communication, and massed flight. The factors that govern successful flight - cohesion, collision avoidance and synchrony of direction and movement- are also evident in feral band maintenance activities, where strong selection for peaceful in-band relations and stability is shown. Aggression, low in frequency and intensity, is mainly directed from older to younger band members; the response is avoidance, ensuring respect for individual space (collision avoidance). Proximate causes of aggression are examined. In natural conditions, resource competition is so rare that no behavioural mechanism, such as a dominance hierarchy or the use of submissive gestures, exists to control aggression during competition.

Examination of the concept of social dominance reveals confusion about the implication of dominance, the function of dominance hierarchies, and methods of data collection, especially in ungulates. This has allowed the winner-loser avoidance order seen in domestic horses in forced focal feeding competition to be misidentified as a functional dominance hierarchy, to which it does not correspond. Stress, competition and learning increase aggression rates and severity, changing social structure so that no parallel can be drawn between feral horses and domestic ones, or even between domestic ones in different situations.

Horse-human relations, and horse welfare, have been adversely affected by the popularisation of the dominance hierarchy paradigm, which appears to justify the use of force and punishment in cases of "disobedience". A new paradigm is proposed.

Soci

Horses as healers: shifting paradigms in equine assisted therapies

Author: Arieahn Matamonasa-Bennett (DePaul University) email
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Short Abstract

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is a rapidly growing field around the world. However, utilizing horses as ‘partners’ in the therapeutic process requires major paradigm shifts regarding animal intelligence and emotion and open discourse on the ethical implications for care and agency.

Long Abstract

The notion of using horses in physical therapy and for those suffering from chronic illnesses can be traced back to ancient Greece where ancient texts speak of the life-affirming relationship between humans and equines. Many cultures, including the American Indian plains cultures like the Lakota, incorporated the horse into spiritual and social life in ways that continue today. Over the last decade, Animal-Assisted Therapies including Equine Assisted Psychotherapy have gained attention and momentum with the formation of a number of associations for teaching and training people to do this work. Currently, this is a field of pioneer practitioners and what is needed are theoretical models for research, as well as, a serious ongoing dialogue or discourse about the ways in which contemporary paradigms about animal emotion and intelligence are challenged when we begin to view them as partners in the therapeutic process.

A difference in kind: horses as animate culture

Author: Katherine Kanne (Northwestern University) email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines horses as animate, in contrast to material, culture in order to develop more useful anthropological theory. It explores the discursive nature of horse/human interactions to highlight the mutual constitution of humans, animals, and plants through time and cross-culturally.

Long Abstract

Utilizing a rigorous cross-cultural ethnographic and archaeological study, this paper asserts that horses are more than subjects or objects. Horses are animate (/ˈænəmɪt/) culture - living organisms that are affected by and actively affect human behaviors, social relations, and practice. Thus, the horse/human relationship is discursive, even when people (and scholars) resist such notions. Horses are agentive social beings with lives of their own. People engage with horses by learning their language or in spite of it. Horses, in a species and individually specific manner, shape humans and their actions. Humans in turn are hobbled to the nature of horses and their physical needs if they wish to employ or exploit them. Given these parameters, people are still able to transform horses in various ways in pursuit of their goals. Animate culture is as intimately linked to what people need materially and how horses enable this as it is to human social, political, economic relationships. Horses then animate (/ˈanəˌmāt/) culture - vivify human ways of thinking about and living in the world. With these concepts, horses are explored as animate culture to develop anthropological and archaeological theory useful for the study of the past and modern entanglements of humans, animals, and plants.

Guardians of the brave: horses in the Han imaginary

Author: Katheryn Linduff (University of Pittsburgh) email
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Short Abstract

The second century BCE granite statue of a horse standing over a barbarian stands at the grave of a brilliant Chinese General. This paper argues that it represents the protective instincts and cooperative relationship that develops between horses and riders, especially when trained for battle, and not triumph over the Xiongnu outsiders as is most often suggested.

Long Abstract

In 1914, Victor Segalen introduced a group of large granite sculptures located outside of present-day Xi'an and scattered below the peak of a burial mound of the brilliant young Han General Huo Baojing who died in 117 BCE. He wrote: "They look like a herd of stone animals, dead. There is really no knowing what to think of them." Among the pieces is a sculpted figure of a horse standing over the supine body of a bearded and trouser-wearing warrior carrying a recurved bow and pike. He represents a member of the Xiongnu, the enemy of the Han Chinese.

Most often explained as a representation of a fallen barbarian and symbol of triumph of the great Chinese general, that explains neither the prominence of the statue in its setting nor the image itself. When one considers this horse and its human companion in historical context, the function of sculptures in mortuary settings at the time, the role of the horse in the lifeways of the military patron and that of the conquered Xiongnu represented, the depiction gives agency to that relationship.

Corroborated through study of Chinese textual accounts about horses and their significance to Han imperial power and of recent archaeological discoveries that give prominence to horses in burial, this paper will make a case that it is the protective instincts and relationship that develop between horses and riders, especially when trained for battle, that is articulated here.

Human-horse apprenticeship, interpersonality and bonding: tattoos as narratives of belonging in the Pazyryk world

Author: Gala Argent (University of Leicester) email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores the Iron Age South Siberian co-burial of humans and horses by the people of the Pazyryk archaeological culture as a rich case study through which to examine the impacts of the intersubjectivity and interpersonality reported between the rider and the ridden horse on issues of identity and narratives of belonging.

Long Abstract

The historical record and epic poetry passed down orally from the mid-first millennium BCE Eurasian steppes include the exploits of not only human heroes, but also of their named equine companions. Throughout these narratives, horses emerge as sentient partners who perform thoughtful actions for the better of the pair. They are memorialized as heroes in their own right.

Further east during the same timeframe, the Pazyryk archaeological culture of Iron Age Southern Siberia left no such written or oral records. However, excavations of Pazyryk burials have yielded not only a wealth of artifacts but also, due to preservation in permafrost, the bodies and clothing of co-interred humans and their caparisoned riding horses. Where the human skin is preserved, many Pazyryk bodies show tattoos representing an extensive bestiary of real and imaginary animals, previously interpreted as representing entirely abstract human cosmological concerns.

Using a relational, phenomenological and inside auto-ethnographical approach to human-horse interactions, this paper examines the apprenticeship process through which humans and horses each learn the practice of "riding." Here, the human-ridden horse intersection can be viewed as one of bi-directional learning, interpersonality, and reciprocal empathy. In light of these aspects of human-horse relations, I argue that some of the tattoos found on these human bodies have been misidentified as theriomorphs, and instead represent actual, biographical horses. I conclude that the Pazyryk horse tattoos represent compelling narratives of belonging through which biographical horses were honored, and identities of humans and horses within the community were blended and fused.

Who's buried with who? The horse in human burials in Northwest Europe - status symbol, companion, transport or divinity?

Author: Pamela Cross (University of Bradford) email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores the representation of horses in a cemetery site in Southeast England which suggest a deep-rooted, multifaceted relationship between humans and horses spanning a millennium. The site shows indications of various horse oriented ritual, including feasting, sacrifice and veneration.

Long Abstract

In history and zooarchaeology, animals are often mentioned simply in terms of their utility; as food sources, secondary products (such as hair, hide and bone), or as engines of transport. While the horse has at different periods of its relationship with humans occupied all of these roles, for the primary period of its domestication, zooarchaeological analysis suggests that horses functioned in only in a very limited way as food or secondary products. Instead, the horse occupied a special role. This role, as typically represented, was primarily as an engine of war. This is a role supported to some extant by the bioarchaeological evidence. The bodily evidence of horses from the Iron Age to the Early Medieval period appears to be primarily associated with burials or other seemingly ritual contexts. In Northwest Europe, horses associated with human burials predominantly involved men and stallions(probable) and have been interpreted as part of the Germanic Warrior burial tradition, so reflecting the view of horses as aspects of war and symbols of warrior status. While this may be true, it may only express a small part of the meaning of horse burials and what they indicate about human-horse relationships during this period. This presentation investigates an Anglo-Saxon site from the perspective of the horse depositions, considering their relationships with the humans both dead and living of the culture. The site suggests horses played complex, interactive roles in this society which may challenge our ideas of Anglo-Saxon ritual and religion.

Anthrozoological ethnography of human-horse agency

Author: Marion Mangelsdorf (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg) email
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Short Abstract

Following my oberservations of horses, both in interaction with their fellow species and with humans, I present my anthrozoological ethnography of cross-species-interaction. Thereby I examine the role of kinesthetic empathy in creating a 'third language' and in bridging different types of agency.

Long Abstract

Since 2007, I have been following the daily life of an human-equine sociality in the Black Forest in Germany. In this contribution, I discuss the first results of my empirical equestrian studies, whereby my focus is on the cross-species-interaction between humans and horses.

Aided by findings in (cognitive) ethology, the significance of kinesthetic empathy is emphasized for the process of interaction. This empathy seems to be a fundamental base for any rapprochement: for my participant observation, for the processes observed, and for ethnography as a scientific technique of writing.

I question the potential of this ability at a methodological and phenomenological level: What differences in behaviour do I perceive (in exchange with cognitive and behavioural science) if horses interact with fellow species or with humans? What sensations and emotions do people report when observing or experiencing horse interaction? How do humans (direct-line thinkers) communicate with horses (lateral thinkers) to create a mutually third language, where every breath, movement, gesture and activity of the other becomes 'readable'?

I aim to document my ethnographic studies by means of photo spread, video recordings and written texts. I will examine different types of agency and question the possibilities and boundaries of rapprochement, in a methodological and phenomenological context.

Finally, I explore the implications of kinesthetic empathy for the human relationship to nonhumans in daily life, training and scientific praxis; I will discuss the question of autonomy and dependency of humans and nonhumans in newly formed 'Umwelten'.

Horses, landscapes and hunting: an ethnographic analysis of the collaboration of horse and rider in foxhunting culture.

Author: Alison Acton (Open University) email
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Short Abstract

'Made hunter' is a term used to refer to a horse proficient in foxhunting, but these animals are not passive constructed entities, nor are they regarded as such within this culture. This paper explores the active engagement of the horse, from the perspective of a rider/ethnographer in foxhound packs.

Long Abstract

For around three centuries, modern foxhunting has existed as a culture occupying a rhizomic presence within the English landscape. This paper presents an analysis of the quadripartite synthesis of foxhunting culture, rider, horse and landscape and involves a corporeal and sensory exploration the human/non-human temporal-spatial dynamic. It argues that the horse plays an active role in this nexus.

My fieldwork was unique in that no other overt, in-depth, long-term participant observation has been conducted from the position of a rider within mounted foxhound packs in Britain. The equine focus emerged unexpectedly as I originally participated as a rider/ethnographer in order to understand the nexus between foxhunting culture and the landscape. However, my fieldwork drew me into a collaboration with an unanticipated character in this network; the "made hunter," a horse seasoned for hunting. These animals acted as my equine gatekeepers literally incorporating me into this hunting world.

While many aspects of our lives are characterised by an increasingly alienating 'sequestration of experience'(Giddens, 2006:119) non-human elements still occupy centre stage in the temporal-spatial narrative of foxhunting. As William Cronon (1992:1349) observes, 'human and non-human entities become co-actors and codeterminants…not just of a people, but of the earth itself.' This study examines one aspect of the venatical nexus; that of the timeless collaboration between horse and rider.

Beyond the pleasure principle: rollkur versus the resurgence of classical principles in contemporary dressage

Author: Angela Hofstetter (Butler University) email
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Short Abstract

This presentation uses the problematic increase of rollkur, also known as “low, deep and round,” in FEI Dressage circles to consider the possibility of an ethical submission resulting in pleasure for both horse and rider.

Long Abstract

That the United States Dressage Federation grants submission a privileged status among its collective marks seems at odds with contemporary animal rights discourse which seeks to dismantle hierarchical relationships between horses and humans in order to promote animal welfare. The USDF's definition, however, challenges the simplistic equation of submission with oppression. By emphasizing "attention and confidence, harmony, lightness and ease of movements, acceptance of the bridle, and lightness of the forehand," their understanding reflects classical traditions which emphasize beauty, harmony, and partnership. Is this merely semantics which conceals a more problematic imbalance of power in the horse and rider relationship? Furthermore, do contemporary debates in FEI circles over rollkur (riding "low, deep, and round") allow dressage riders and trainers to differentiate between ethical and oppressive forms of submission?

As Paul Patton provocatively argues, disciplines such as dressage can teach "that hierarchical forms of society between unequals are by no means incompatible with ethical relations and obligations toward other beings." In fact, ignoring the dominance hierarchy that structures equine society and substituting "progressive" concepts of power in the interspecies dynamic may rob the horse and rider relationship of its own sense of justice. Debates over how to define submission in light of the current popularity of rollkur highlight the progressive impact of the increased attention to the importance of the emotional welfare of animals—including the right to pleasure in their work—by respecting the horse's subjectivity in direct defiance of the Cartesian legacy as well as rote behaviorism.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.