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The Racehorse As Protagonist: Agency, Independence, And Improvisation

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Chapter Summary

This chapter addresses two large questions regarding animals as agents: Are animals capable of acting on choices made independently? If so, how much agency do humans permit them to exercise within performance settings? Writing about unpredictability posed by animal performances, Jane C. Desmond notes that a capacity for improvisation implies agency. The chapter demonstrates how thoroughbreds improvise in human-engineered races, revealing their capacity for agency. It presents examples of horses subverting commands under which they are expected to operate, proving their capability for agency, even beyond what humans intend to allow. Finally, the author prefaces the case study of thoroughbred horses, with its examples of specific individuals, with a broader approach to the question of agency by surveying a debate among performance scholars about whether animals' behavior constitutes performing, in the same way we think of humans performing for an audience.

Keywords: animal performances; human-engineered races; thoroughbred horses



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