On becoming horse; on becoming human


A study published in the journal Social Anthropology suggests that riders and horses can together enter into a unique state of interspecies “co-being”, where human and horse evolves to “fit” better with each other, both physically and mentally.

Anita Maurstad, PhD, a professor at Norway’s University of Tromsø and Dona Davis, PhD and Sarah Cowles BA of the University of South Dakota conducted open-ended interviews with 60 riders in a variety of disciplines in Norway and the mid-west USA to explore their relationship with their horses – why they ride and how this influenced their identity and their family life.  They identified three major themes: embodied moments of mutuality, engagements of two agentive individuals, and mutual domestication through being together.  Through a process conceptualised as co-being, horse and human meet, attune and change as a result of their meeting, existing as one unique, combined notion within the nature-culture of the equestrian world.  Rather than experiencing their horse as a reflection of themselves, riders understood their horse as a personality unique from other horses and different from themselves as humans.  Physically and mentally, each species learned to adapt to the other in unique ways for the specific riding partnership, which became a collaborative practice through embodied interaction.  Crucially, this relationship could only develop over time.

Riders experienced beneficial physical and therapeutic qualities as a result of their connection with their horse.  Horses, whether they are owned for leisure, sport or therapeutic activities, exist partly with humans and partly with other horses, and it is argued that they learn as individuals within a horse-rider pair partnership to relate in ways that bring them benefits.  It’s further suggested that this is beneficial for equids as a natural-cultural species; however questions of choice and control within the horse-human relationship, and wider issues of anthropocentrism, must be considered.