EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


The meaning of horses: perspectives on intra-species communicative becoming

Location T-409
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Anita Maurstad (Tromsø University Museum) email
Dona Davis (University of South Dakota) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Studies of horse-human relationships recognize the complex entanglements constituting humans and horses as individuals and as pairs. Varying perspectives on horse-human encounters explore the meaning of horses as perceived by their human partners.

Long Abstract

Recent studies of the relationships between humans and other animals have contributed to a revolutionary change in our perspectives about anthropos' place in the world. Multispecies ethnographic studies show that, rather than humans being fixed in cultural dominance structures and animals being subjugated to nature, humans and animals instead become with each other, in interspecies communications that ontologically inform the personalities and identities of both.

By conceptualizing this panel session under the term 'the meaning of horses,' we explore relationships between horses and humans as unique communicative practices offering lessons about being human and animal in the contemporary world. Horse-human relationships evolve in complex mental and material processes that co-shape and regulate collaborative practices. Central questions pertain to what humans see as horses' encounter value, as social and cultural capital. What do horses do for humans, how are they situated in these naturalcultural bonds, and what are the sensuous mental and material effects and affects of horse-human communication and collaboration? How is horse agency perceived and what communicative practices accommodate horse agency? Human-horse activities are emplaced, temporally and spatially; how does the meaning of horses unfold or change along these dimensions? What are the emplaced inter-sensuous connections between horses and humans, and naturalcultural transformations thereof? Finally, what new venues for dissemination of knowledge about intra-species communication and meaning-making can be used, and what constitutes new methodologies for production of such knowledge? The panel welcomes ethnographic studies that explore the meaning of horses along the suggested perspectives.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


From servant to therapist: the changing meanings of horses in Finland

Author: Riitta-Marja Leinonen (University of Oulu)  email

Short Abstract

The roles of horses change across time, and so do the meanings people give them. These culturally and corporally constructed meanings affect the way people interact with horses. The analysis of oral and written histories in my dissertation produced five cultural models for horses and human-horse relationship.

Long Abstract

During the last 100 years the use of horses has changed as their roles in agricultural and forestry work and warfare have changed to companion in sport, therapy and recreation. My study explains how the changing roles of the horse are displayed in the perceptions of it, its handling and human-horse relationship in Finland. The main research material consists of interviews and written stories of Finnish people. The theoretical-methodological framework in this study employs cognitive anthropology and narrative research.

As human-horse activities are emplaced spatially and temporally, so are the meanings that people give to horses. In the research material the horses were seen as individuals having their own agency, and depending on the meaning of and the relationship to the horse, its agency was perceived differently. The analysis produced five cultural models of horses and human-horse relationship: servant, machine, hero, performer and therapist.

Servant and machine models were associated with the working horse of the past including opposite ideas of human-horse relationship ranging from trust to domination. The warhorses of WWII were seen as anthropomorphized heroes and part of the national story of Finland. Today sport horses are seen as performers and the human-horse relationship is based on practicality and passion towards the sport and the horse. A leisure horse is often considered a therapist with which the relationship is based on understanding, nurture and trust. The horse appears as a friend and an object of affection in all other models except the machine model.

Straight Egyptians, desert-bred and Asil Arabians: purity, nobility, beauty and performance. The world of contemporary purebred Arabian horse breeders in Egypt

Author: Christoph Lange (University of Cologne)  email

Short Abstract

The paper follows the path into the transnational scene of Arabian horse breeders, whose members form a global gift exchange community where at its constitutional centre the Arabian horse is both beloved object of desire & embodied inscription of the breeders' (aesthetic) ideals.

Long Abstract

Through industrial and technological advancement, horses have largely lost their economic importance, they were replaced by motorized means of transport long ago. However unbowed seems the symbolic dimension: In the West as well as in the Arab region the horse as a symbol for gracefulness, strength, power and sovereignty hasn't lost any of its brilliance. On the contrary, in the new world of global leisure and entertainment industry, it has maintained its traditional status and furthermore found new roles as acrobat, artist, athlete and beloved object of desire. The fascination for these animals is still extremely vital.

The paper based on my current ethnological PhD research project of the purebred breeding of asil (Arab. noble, authentic, genuine) Arabian horses and aims to investigate the interactional field of horses and humans. The research is conceived as an ethnographic study and attempts on the one hand to reconstruct the unique places, stages and processes of negotiation, which are significant for the social construction and performative staging of the asil Arabian as a living sculpture. On the other hand, it tries to focus on the community of breeders, traders, trainers and horse lovers as a unique global acting culture of transnational gift exchange, whose constitutive element is the corporate work on and with the horse. Starting point for this endeavor will be the local setting of Egypt's Arabian horse breeders and their connections into the global world of Arabian horse breeding industry.

My horse is *not* my therapist: embodied communicative practices and the construction of meaning in dressage

Author: Susan M. DiGiacomo (Universitat Rovira i Virgili / University of Massachusetts at Amherst)  email

Short Abstract

An autoethnographic analysis of the role of dressage following the author’s illness takes a phenomenological approach to classical horsemanship as a somatic mode of attention in both horse and rider, materialized in embodied communicative practices leading to the mutual creation of experience.

Long Abstract

Phenomenology has given us a new vision of the human body not as intentionless matter but as an agent. Anthropological studies of relationships between humans and other animal species suggest that we should extend this capacity for intention and agency to other animal bodies as well. This paper examines one such relationship: that of horse and human in dressage, or classical horsemanship. Dressage is at the same time a sport and a performing art, both highly aestheticized and firmly grounded in the horse's natural gaits and movements, a fully naturalcultural practice.

In this paper I use my own experience over time as a dressage rider to explore dressage as a somatic mode of attention in both horse and rider. Somatic modes of attention are ways of attending to our own bodies, and attending with our bodies to the bodies of others; in dressage horses and riders do both. What happens when serious illness shatters the body's intentional arc? The interpenetration of intention and agency in the embodied communicative practices of dressage restored the use of my body to me after treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma in my 30s, to the extent that riding became the practical affirmation of life over death, a meaning it retains for me three decades later. I avoid treating this reductionistically as "therapy", either physical or emotional. It is a way of being in the world as a body completely alive to another body.

The human-horse relationship and pregnancy in conflict

Authors: Nora Schuurman (University of Eastern Finland)  email
Maarit Sireni (University of Eastern Finland)  email

Short Abstract

In this presentation, we ask how the human–horse relationship and pregnancy affect each other while experienced simultaneously. The data used consists of a blog kept by a Finnish mother and horse owner about her pregnancy. According to the analysis, the two bodily states are incompatible.

Long Abstract

Emotions, embodiment, and a sharing of the everyday life with the horse are considered central to the human-horse relationship. Transformations in the roles and situations in life of the owner of the horse have consequences on the relationship, an example of which is pregnancy. The contemporary performance of pregnancy concentrates on a celebration of being pregnant within a culture of consumption. This performance is easily disrupted by controversial aspects of identity, such as an active, embodied relationship to an animal other.

In this presentation, we ask how two bodily states, the human-horse relationship and pregnancy, affect each other while experienced simultaneously and performed in the virtual space of the blogosphere. The study derives from recent discussions within human-animal and feminist studies about embodiment, performativity and relationality, as well as from existing literature on the production of gender in the context of equestrianism, pregnancy as a performative process, and the status of animals as family members.

The data used consists of a blog kept by a Finnish mother and horse owner, in which pregnancy reformulates the blogger's embodied relationship to her horse and vice versa. In the blog, motherhood structures the blogger's relationship to her horse in a significant way, while the human-horse relationship is an integral part of her emerging identity as a mother. According to the analysis, the two bodily states are incompatible and lead to a crisis in the human-animal relationship, and to a performative instability regarding both performances.

Learning to communicate: the triad of (mis)communication in horse-riding lessons

Author: Katherine Dashper (Leeds Metropolitan University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic study of horse-rider training, I consider how meaning is co-constructed, lost, negotiated and embodied through formal horse-riding lessons via three beings – horse, rider, trainer. Efforts to reach collective understanding operate at verbal, physical and emotional levels.

Long Abstract

Relationships between horses and humans are complex and multi-faceted, incorporating a wide variety of practices and purposes. In this presentation I consider the systematic training of horse-rider partnerships through formal horse-riding lessons in order to begin to consider how communication and meaning are transmitted, negotiated, understood and misunderstood across species, temporal and spatial boundaries. The horse-riding lesson is a complicated field of communication between trainer, rider and horse, and encompasses a variety of verbal, physical and emotional cues. Based on hours of observation, observant participation, interviews and reflection, I consider various ways in which species boundaries are negotiated and sometimes broken down, and how the riding lesson is a sensory experience for all three partners in the process.

The horse-riding lesson is an interesting context in which to consider questions of inter- and intra-species communication, as all three partners are continually communicating and receiving a variety of messages, instructions, responses and feelings. The presence of the trainer complicates the usually didactic relationship between horse and rider, and is intended to facilitate horse-rider communication and improved performance, via the 'expertise' of the trainer. However, this process is a complex interplay between verbal language, bodily cues (conscious and sub-conscious) and wider environmental cues and can lead to misunderstanding as often as to improved outcomes. In this presentation I consider how rider, trainer and horse attempt to reach some sort of consensus in relation to this complex communicative process and the implications this has for our understanding of inter and intra-species communicative becoming.

'What does horse know': an anthropological study on the human-animal relationship in therapeutic riding

Author: Luna Pavao (Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar- Brazil))  email

Short Abstract

From an anthropological perspective, this research aims to understand the human-animal relationship within 'therapeutic riding sessions', a health treatment developed for people with special needs (physical and/or mental disorders) by the presence of horses.

Long Abstract

Different degrees of humanity and animality are being displayed by actors in the riding therapy sessions observed in an Equine Center (São Carlos, São Paulo-Brazil). Riders, therapists, auxiliaries-guide and parents of the riders are entangled in different ways with horses, where fleshly intimacies tie humans and nonhumans in embodied experiences. A chain of desired actions among beings points to the shaping of their subjectivities, within a process of constitution of human and nonhuman selves in this therapeutic set.

Riders are mostly people with physical and/or mental disorder, placing a certain otherness in themselves towards the more vast community of humans, being part (or apart) of it as 'special humans'. For therapists, the benefit of this treatment is an improvement on the corporeal stability, balance, quietness, and "centeredness" of riders. Auxiliaries guide the movement of the horse by holding the strap. Horses, by their part, having a person sitting or lying in their back, have to follow the pace and speed given by auxiliaries. According to therapists and parents, the horses' sizes offer a new perspective to riders, whom are able, during the riding, to give away their wheelchair.

How can such a plurality of subjectivities get attached in this shared activity? What happen when a horse improve 'social skills' to 'special humans', in terms of continuities and discontinuities among humans and nonhumans? These questions could point to the way human-animal bond and the very conditions of humanity are both addressed in the Equine Center.

Download PDF of paper

Catching animals: a complex form of collaboration between the "lasso-pole horse" (uurgach mor') and its rider among the Mongolian herders

Author: Charlotte Marchina (INALCO)  email

Short Abstract

Mongolian herders usually catch their horses with a lasso-pole (a wooden pole ending in a leather loop). Using the lasso-pole while riding requires the use of an other horse, specially trained to assist its rider. This case-study highlights a form of complex collaboration between human and horse.

Long Abstract

In an almost fenceless environment, Mongolian herders often catch their animals with a lasso or, more frequently, with a lasso-pole. The lasso-pole ("uurga" in Mongolian) is a three to seven metre-long wooden pole with a leather noose at the end. In theory, the lasso-pole can be used to catch all kinds of domestic animals (horses, camels, cattle, sheep an goats) but in practice it is especially used to catch horses. The catcher can use the lasso-pole on foot or on horseback. Catching a horse while riding requires the use of another horse that is specially trained to assist its rider. While the rider concentrates on holding the lasso-pole and inserting the loop over the horse's head, his "lasso-pole horse" ("uurgach mor'" in Mongolian) follows the horse his rider is trying to catch and "makes a sitting" as soon as the rider starts to pull on the lasso-pole in order to stop the captured horse. In their herding practices Mongols give their animals, especially horses, a high degree of autonomy. When riding, herders encourage the horse to take initiatives and they rely on the horse's agency. A study of the coordination of a rider and his "lasso-pole horse" highlights a form of complex collaboration between human and horse.

Horse things: objects, practices and meanings on display

Authors: Anita Maurstad (Tromsø University Museum)  email
Dona Davis (University of South Dakota)  email
Sarah Dean  email

Short Abstract

Integrating the perspectives of museum studies and multispecies ethnography this paper discusses how traditional museum instruments - material objects - may be used to capture the less objective, less palpable subjectively felt meanings that develop in the practice of horse-human relationships.

Long Abstract

Studies of horse-human relationships offer lessons about being human and nonhuman animals in the contemporary world. Disseminating knowledge from such studies, museums are venues that reach multiple audiences. Integrating perspectives of museum studies and multispecies ethnography, we explore how museum objects can come to express more subjective and experiential relations among humans and horses. Over 60 US Midwestern and north Norwegian horse people were asked to identify and describe objects that illustrate their relationships to horses. Objects identified are polysemic and multifaceted. They both resonate with typical notions of the materiality of museum collections, but are also associated with less material attributes, meanings and functions. As meaning is created through horse peoples' narratives, objects come to embody communicative practices, both typical and idiosyncratic. To be exhibited as collections in museums, objects chosen indicate how non-experts identify and characterize museum objects but also challenge experts to rethink and resituate boundaries that tend to separate objects and animals in classical expert-based displays. Analysis shows that among informants while picking objects are not easy, their narrated reflexions provide objects with positioned and personalized significances. The subject-object boundaries between horse, human and artifact are blurred. It is in the practice that identities are defined.

This museological exploration of horse, human and artefact as relational materialities suggests new ways of representing human-animal relations in the museum. This takes form as new naturalcultural becomings sections, where the focus is on agentive mutuality and the interconnectedness of things, horses and humans.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.