“Both books are welcome in the field of equestrian studies and constitute significant contributions to the field”

Susanna Hedenborg
Dept. of Sport Sciences, Malmö University


Miriam Adelman & Kirrilly Thompson (red)
Equestrian Cultures in Global and Local Contexts
278 pages, hardcover, ill.
Dordrecht: Springer 2017
ISBN 978-3-319-55885-1

Research on equestrianism, horse cultures, and human-animal relationships is still scant, and largely focused on Western Europe or the US. With the edited volume Equestrian Cultures in Global and Local Contexts, Miriam Adelman and Kirrilly Thompson have successfully broken this pattern, gathering several papers covering equestrian cultures from a wider area, including China, Iran, Finland, Spain, France, Poland, Morocco, South Africa, Canada, and Brazil. In addition, the reader encounters different ways of relating to the horse; horse racing, trotting, riding, tourism, stable work, and media are discussed, and horse cultures are explored from analytical perspectives of gender, age, and ethnicity/race.

The study of horses and tourism is an emerging field in tourism and sport tourism studies. So far, research on Iceland has dominated the field, and analyses of other areas are therefore welcome. In Marek Kozak’s chapter “Making Trails: Horses and Equestrian Tourism in Poland”,he argues that horse tourism could be further developed in Poland to strengthen the rural and equestrian sector. The chapter presents the development of horse tourism, and provides statistics and information regarding locations in relation to equestrianism. Kozak shows that the number of horses has drastically decreased in Poland in recent years, and he argues that this pattern may be shifted through development of the tourism sector. However, the reader must keep in mind that statistics on the number of horses in different areas are weak and difficult to compare, as horses are counted in different ways (e.g. estimated in relation to the number of farms, through questionnaires distributed to farmers, rendering it likely that the growing number of horses used for leisure in urban areas is overlooked).[1]

In the Moroccan case study “The Gunpowder Games: Traditional Equestrianism as Moroccan Invented Heritage Tourism”, Gwyneth Talley demonstrates the transformation ofa specific equestrian tradition into a tourism event. She stresses that the commodification of traditional culture has altered the event in order to meet the demands of the contemporary tourist, and that one effect is the entrance of women into the industry.

The question of what constitutes cultural heritage in horse cultures is further explored in the chapter “Globalization and Equestrian Culture: The Case of Equitation in the French Tradition”, by Sylvine Pickel-Chevalier. In 2011, “Equitation in the French tradition” was included in the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of humanity. Pickel-Chevalier underlines the complexity of the social construction of a heritage in the French case, and problematizes which of the equestrian cultures were supposed to be protected. She observes that there are several, and that there have been a considerable number of clashes, meetings, and exchanges between them over time.

In the construction of a tradition (or a memory), selective links are established between the past and present. The commodification of an imagined community is also analyzed in Sandra Swart’s chapter “Race Politics: Horse Racing, Identity and Power in South Africa”. In her discussion, the importance of recognizing race as an analytical framework for understanding horse cultures becomes apparent.

Factors of commodification and the social construction of cultures are also highlighted in the other chapters. Nora Schuurman’s chapter, entitled“The Transnational Image of the Spanish Horse in the Leisure Horse Trade”,includes an interesting media analysis of international horse trade markets. She demonstrates how the presentation of a specific horse – the Spanish horse – is framed by an imagined nationalism in which the horse is seen as symbolic of a specifically Spanish rural culture. The study of blogs shows the “othering” of this specific horse and how it is attached to certain cultural values constructed as nature. The Spanish horse is presented as genuine, and as the product of a natural landscape. Shuurman uses the concept of “eco-nationalism” to uncover this discourse. This is a useful notion for conceptualizing the construction of the discourse around the horse, but in order to understand more fully how trade and economic relations depend on a certain way of presenting and selling a specific product, the analysis would had been aided by the theoretical lenses of “history marketing” and “storytelling”. The connection between the social construction of horses and nationalism is also discussed in the chapter“National Treasure: Nationalistic Representations of the Finnhorse in Trotting Championships”. Riitta-Marja Leinonen andKaren Dalke underline the importance of the Finnish horse in the construction of Finnish identity.[2]The significance of perspectives highlighting the social construction of horses, nations, and nationalism is clear in these two chapters.

Both books are welcome in the field of equestrian studies and constitutes significant contribution to the field. They also point to the fact that there are several areas that have yet to be studied, or of which existing studies have not been broadly accessible.

Several chapters in the volume analyze gender, feminization, social class, age, and ethnicity within equestrian cultures. In “The Aging of Canadian Equestrian Sport”, James Gillet and Darla Gillet underline the importance of studying horse riding in relation to aging. According to the authors, a majority of riders in Canada are 40 years or above, and it would be interesting to know whether this is also a trend in other countries. For instance, a majority of the members of the Swedish Equestrian Federation are young (below the age of 25). However, some riders have chosen not to be members of the federation, although lack of statistics renders it difficult to estimate their number. Gillet and Gillet uncover interesting discourses in relation to age and horse riding, such as “managing risk and ensuring safety”, and “family relations – intergenerational sport”. The importance of injury avoidance, and the fact that a person’s reason for sport participation may shift from competitive to social over time has been indicated by other researchers in relation to old age and sport.[3]The intergenerational discourse is, however, a new finding – possibly overlooked in previous studies, or not part of other sporting cultures? Another significant discourse is the one relating the riders’ and horses’ ages in the discussion of preferred horse activities. Whether these discourses are connected to gender is not discussed, but could be a relevant point of departure for another study, as previous research on the intersection of gender and age has pointed to gendered perceptions of sport, physical activity, and aging.[4]

Several of the other contributions are guided by gender perspectives and theories. In her chapter “Global Equestrian Trends in Local Context: Where Are All the Women in Doma Vaquera Competitions in Southern Spain?”, Kirrilly Thompson emphasizes that several horse cultures may exist parallel to each other, and that gender may be constructed in different ways on a local level. She demonstrates that an increasing number of women compete in the Olympic equestrian events in Spain, whereas men dominate in another competitive horse culture.

In her analysis of horse cultures in China, entitled “The New Equestrian Economy in China”,Susanna Forrest also indicates how different horse cultures may exist side by side. For the Chinese case, she demonstrates how a traditional culture connected to rural areas is very different from the newly imported horse culture, noting that these cultures are connected to different social classes and ways of treating the horse. Forrest’s chapter reminds me of staying with my martial arts instructor in a big city in China in the 1990s. My instructor had a picture of her dog in her living room; a dog which actually lived in the countryside, but whose ownership gave my instructor status. In Forrest’s analysis of the newly imported horse culture, wealthy people view horse riding as a symbol of status and the horse is seen as a luxury commodity.

The important perspectives of gender and social class as analytical frameworks for understanding stable work and equestrianism can also be seen in Adelman’s analysis of stable work, “From Hípica to Cabanha: Brazilian Stable Hands in Different Cultures and Contexts”. She discusses and problematizes the working cultures of children in relation to an elite feminized horse culture and a more traditional masculine culture. In Ladan Rahbari’s chapter on Iran, “Women’s Agency and Corporeality in Equestrian Sports: The Case of Female Leisure Horse-Riders in Tehran”, the intersection of social class and gender explains the new development of leisure riding. Rahbari describes how women are drawn to equestrian activities through family and friends, and view these activities as a break from other daily activities, experiencing freedom and euphoria while riding. This type of activity is, however, clearly restricted to an urban (Tehran) elite.

The social class perspective and the ways in which neoliberalism has come to permeate the Canadian Pony Club culture is analyzed by Michelle Gilbert in the chapter “Sociocultural Changes in Canadian Equestrian Sport”. She demonstrates that the Pony Club has gone through several changes. Previously, people of different social backgrounds met and competed together, thereby generating shared experiences. Today, experiences are much more stratified and diverse. In addition, commodification has increased.

Deborah Butler
Women, Horseracing and Gender: Becoming ‘One of the Lads’
178 pages, hardcover.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2018 (Routledge Studies in Gender and Society)
ISBN 978-1-409-47068-7

Equestrian Cultures in Global and Local Contexts uncovers several cultures that have thus far been under-researched. For this reason, the volume is truly an important contribution to its field. Deborah Butler’s book, Women, Horseracing and Gender, is significant for another reason; she scrutinizes a part of equestrian culture, namely horse racing, in a setting, that is, Britain, which has been the subject of several previous studies. Instead, it is the specific angle of her analysis that is imperative. She describes the hierarchies in the field and the importance of a specific physical capital, and indicates interesting changes over time in how apprentices enter the system. Butler’s study relies on an extensive ethnographic source material as well as statistics, and the format – the monograph – makes it possible for her to conduct a thorough analysis of gender and social class in horse racing.

An important conclusion relates to how the backstretch has changed from a masculine cross-social class area, to an area in which women and people from different ethnic backgrounds are positioned in different roles. An interesting analysis and conclusion (phrased with a question mark) is that women are impelled to acquire masculine traits in order to take part in the field. It is vital to have analyses of specific local cultures in order to understand them as well as others. There are, however, some problems with them too, as other studies, not least international studies, are lacking in the discussion, which would have been aided by engaging with Janet Miller’s analysis of the industrial relationships in horse racing, Carole Case’s study of how people working around a specific horse were given status through that horse, and Mats Greiff’s study of gender, history, and Swedish trotting.

Both books are welcome in the field of equestrian studies and constitute significant contributions to the field. They also point to the fact that there are several areas that have yet to be studied, or of which existing studies have not been broadly accessible. As stressed by the editors of Equestrian Cultures…, further research on Oceania and Australia, the Asian countries, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe is needed. In addition, other studies like Butler’s presenting thorough analysis, digging deep in the sources and discussing the theoretical framework at length are in demand too. These books represent a good start.

Copyright © Susanna Hedenborg 2018


[1] The table on p. 140 presents the number of horses in several countries. The difficulty of using these numbers is clear in the Swedish case, as the figure presented in the table is far below that provided by the The Swedish Horse Industry Foundation.
[2] An historical analysis of the construction of the Finnish horse in relation to the construction of Finnish nationalism is found in Åsa Bonn’s chapter in I sulky och sadel. Trav- och galoppsportens 1900-talshistoriafrom 2007, which, unfortunately, has only been published in Swedish.
[3] E.g.Tulle, Emmanuelle, Phoenix, Cassandra (Eds.), Physical Activity and Sport in Later Life. Critical Perspectives, Palgrave/Macmillan, 2015.
[4] C.f. Eman, Josefin, Growing old and still practising competitive sports: an exploration of acting-space and sense-making processes among old women and men, Department of Sociology, Umeå University, Diss. (sammanfattning) Umeå : Umeå universitet, 2012,Umeå, 2012.

 

Table of Content

  • Introduction to Equestrian Cultures in Global and Local Contexts
    Miriam Adelman and Kirrilly Thompson

Part I Asia and the Middle East

  • Women’s Agency and Corporeality in Equestrian Sports: The Case of Female Leisure Horse-Riders in Tehran
    Ladan Rahbari
  • The New Equestrian Economy in China
    Susanna Forrest

Part II Europe

  • Global Equestrian Trends in Local Context: Where Are All the Women in Doma Vaquera Competitions in Southern Spain?
    Kirrilly Thompson
  • Globalization and Equestrian Culture: The Case of Equitation in the French Tradition
    Sylvine Pickel-Chevalier
  • National Treasure: Nationalistic Representations of the Finnhorse in Trotting Championships
    Riitta-Marja Leinonen and Karen Dalke
  • The Transnational Image of the Spanish Horse in the LeisureHorse Trade
    Nora Schuurman
  • Making Trails: Horses and Equestrian Tourism in Poland
    Marek W. Kozak

Part III North America

  • The Aging of Canadian Equestrian Sport
    James Gillett and Darla Gillett
  • Sociocultural Changes in Canadian Equestrian Sport
    Michelle Gilbert

Part IV South America

  • From Hípica to Cabanha: Brazilian Stable Hands in Different Cultures and Contexts
    Miriam Adelman and Tiemi K. Lobato da Costa

Part V Africa

  • The Gunpowder Games: Traditional Equestrianism as Moroccan Invented Heritage Tourism
    Gwyneth Talley
  • Race Politics: Horse Racing, Identity and Power in South Africa
    Sandra Swart
  • Afterword: Formalising Equestrian Social Science
    Kirrilly Thompson and Miriam Adelman
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.