This paper examines hippophagy among Tyvan pastoralists. Horse-meat eating practice is defined by herder-horse relationships, the horse’s not-quite-livestock position and its instrumental and symbolic values. Complexity of influencing factors engenders a ritual which regulates slaughtering and eating meat of the most appreciated horses. As a result of this, ritual transformation of animals into meat does not turn them into the absent referent; rather, as I show in this article, the reference is always present.
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In2012I visited ‘The happy horse’ natural horsemanship study centre in the Montseny mountains of Spain. The centre was opened and is operated by Una McLister. Conversations with Una and observations about her connection to horses have led me to refrain from eating horse meat in Tyva for two years. Every time I saw meat on the plate it was not anonymous. Although I did not know the individual horse that transformed into meat the reference was present—remembrance of Una’s horses. I am a Tyvan person but not a herder therefore my relationships with horses are beyond the regulations mandatory for herders; nevertheless they demonstrate that customs can be interpreted individually and may change over time.