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Talking about Horses: Control and Freedom in the World of "Natural Horsemanship"

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This paper explores how horses are represented in the discourses of "natural horsemanship" (NH), an approach to training and handling horses that advocates see as better (kinder, more gentle) than traditional methods. In speaking about their horses, NH enthusiasts move between two registers: On one hand, they use a quasi-scientific narrative, relying on terms and ideas drawn from ethology, to explain the instinctive behavior of horses. Within this mode of narrative, the horse is "other" and must be understood through the human learning to communicate and through appropriate training. On the other hand, NH enthusiasts—like many horse owners—seek to emphasize partnership. In this type of discourse, people portray their horses as almost human. The tensions between these two ways of talking about horses reflect contradictory ideas about control versus freedom in relating to horses, especially as related to emotions expressed by caregivers (owners) about their relationships with horses.

Affiliations: 1: Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Anthrozoology Unit, Department of Biology, University of Chester, Parkgate Road, Chester, UK CH1 4BJ

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