Chapter 2 Can You Hear Me (Yet)?—Rhetorical Horses, Trans-species Communication, and Interpersonal Attunement

In: The Relational Horse
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Gala Argent
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Abstract

Despite ongoing interdisciplinary calls to level the playing field toward a more symmetrical view of human-nonhuman animal relationships, frameworks and formats that serve to border human and animal lifeworlds into separate categories of experience and study continue to stymie such efforts. This interdisciplinary focuses on several aspects of language and communication concerning horse-human interactions. These include the limits and possibilities of the theory and methods through which scholars frame and describe such communication, and the means by which horses attempt to communicate rhetorically with humans. I review recent applied ethology studies concerning equine communicative abilities, and relationships. Then, using models and theory from the fields of communication studies and psychology, I consider the implications of these findings for interspecies power dynamics, specifically in instances where humans do not allow for the types of communication and levels of interpersonal attunement of which horses are capable. Pulling from interdisciplinary theory and method, this case study introduces a model for “trans-species communication” that provides a means for studying and speaking about human-equine relationships.

The ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self. The ultimate touchstone of friendship is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone, and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another. …

david whyte

I shall begin with an oft-told story. I approached my oldest son’s first grade class field trip to our ranch to meet and visit with the horses on “farm day” with no little trepidation. It had seemed like a good idea when I had volunteered, but the morning they were to arrive the logistics of keeping track of 30 wiggly, distractible six-year-olds amidst the barns and paddocks that held 12 horses of various ages and temperaments started to seem a bit overwhelming. Could I keep them interested in the mini-lecture their teacher had requested of me? The horses were all used to my sons running around and under them, so I knew none of the horses would intentionally harm a little human. But would one of the children slip out of sight and through a fence, to be inadvertently stepped on?

I should not have worried about trying to keep order; that was not to happen. As the children descended the school bus steps my stallion, Clipper, stuck his head out of his paddock stall window to see what was going on. My son, Nick, noticed this and ran over to say hello to his equine friend, and the children all excitedly followed. In what resulted, I was able to witness and photograph an astonishing example of trans-species communication—a call and response of intentionality, a collaboration of meaning initiated and enacted by the various parties involved. It went simply like this: The children wanted to pet Clipper, but they could not reach him because he was tall and they were small. He lowered his head for the children so they could pet him. (Figure 2.1)

Figure 2.1
Figure 2.1

Sunspot’s Eclipse (Clipper) and the first graders. Photo by author.

In what follows I would like to unpack this interaction, not as an anecdote that proves something on its face, but rather as an encounter that caused me to dig deeper into its explaining. I seek here to query how this sharing of meanings was possible. To do this prompts other questions: What are the communicative proficiencies of horses, and how might they use these abilities to attempt to communicate with humans? What might horses think of humans? What are the implications of interspecies communication for power relations between members of the two species? What might the answers to these questions signify for human-horse relationships, more broadly?

To answer these questions requires navigating crisscrossed trails through quite a few disciplinary informational ecosystems. This is because equine scholars as yet have no single, solidifying theory or method to apply to interspecies communication. Therefore, I have two goals with this project: first, to provide some suggested theory and method through which to explore this and other instances of trans-species communication and, second, to consider the outcomes for horses of such communication through a case study focusing on the concept of interpersonal attunement.

1 How Might We Study Trans-species Communication?

Scholars have devoted a great deal of social scientific attention to the human-horse interface over the last decade, applying various theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary protocols to their endeavors. My concern here is specifically with those who have discussed the act of human-equine communication (e.g., Argent, 2012; Blokhuis & Lundgren, 2017; Brandt, 2004; Dashper, 2016, 2017; Evans & Franklin, 2010; Ford, 2019; Game, 2001; Maurstad, Davis & Cowles 2013; Savvides, 2012). As a result of the anthropocentric beginnings of the social sciences, a still-lingering tradition, some of these studies have focused primarily upon how humans perceive horses, and valuably highlight those human perspectives. Other studies have approached the topic from the perspective of embodiment. Of course, the focus on materiality and embodiment—on understanding the horse within the context of the bodily exchange of knowledge—is one realm through which human-horse relationships can be fruitfully explored. However, this approach sometimes is justified by contentions that we should not attempt to access the equine mind because “experiencing the world from someone else’s perspective might be unachievable (if not misguided or even arrogant)” (Birke and Thompson, 2019, p. 31). Unfortunately, accepting this assertion has the outcome of releasing researchers from the duty to endeavor to question horses’ subjective experience and interests from the standpoint of the horse. This has the result of marginalizing those experiences and interests. It also functionally reinforces the hoary Cartesian notion that horses/other animals do not have minds or intelligence, even if that is not the intention.

We need not be thus limited in our subject matter. It is only in divesting from the “we cannot know” narrative that we might turn toward queries that concern what we can know, and how we can know it. In this regard, I here take up cognitive ethologist Marc Bekoff’s challenge to ask “what is it like to be another animal?” (2004: 489), and extend it to “what is it like to communicate like another animal.” As Dominique Lestel, Florence Brunois, and Florence Gaunet, 2006, p. 158) put it:

It is important to acquire a better understanding of how agents from different species, having cognitive and, particularly, communicational skills that are in the main far from being superimposable, can cooperate with each other [and] also determine the modalities to use. The question of interspecific communication thus turns out to be crucial. …

Toward these ends, I step outside of disciplinary frameworks and formats that serve to border human and animal lifeworlds into separate categories of experience and study. Using a hermeneutic method that begins with questions about the nature and outcomes of interspecies communication not merely for the humans, but also for the animals on the other side of the dialogue, I pull from several academic foundations. In this I extend earlier work in which I have used study results from the field of applied ethology to spotlight equine abilities and ontologies, and theories and models from the fields of (human) psychology and communication studies—the latter here expanded to including rhetoric—to explore and interpret the horse’s side of human-equine relationships (Argent, 2012, 2013, 2016a, 2016b). Brief descriptions of these disciplines and their principles follow.

The active field of applied ethology, often termed “vetmed” studies because many take place within schools of veterinary medicine, studies the behavior of domesticated horses, rather than assessing the behavior of wild or feral horses as do conventional equine ethologists. Applied ethologists often rely on training horses through classical conditioning (now reframed as “learning theory”) in order to test their capacities, and the quantitative analysis of such data. These studies provide a great deal of information about equine cognitive abilities, and social and communicative behaviors. However, the requirements of scientific methodology preclude researchers from exceeding the findings of their studies to consider the implications of their results, something I shall endeavor here.

The field of (human) communication studies focuses on all aspects of language. Within the discipline, communication is understood as fundamentally transactional, a process that is dynamic, circular, unrepeatable, irreversible and complex. It is jointly structured between the participants and is influenced by the presumed knowledge and beliefs of the communicative partners and the context of the situation. Communication is identified not by the production of messages, but rather by the production of shared meaning, which is its purpose:

Shared meaning is not the property of individuals, nor is it transmitted from one to the other; rather, it is pooled between them. The center of two separate beings, the link, becomes their communication. Are they two beings any more? Yes and no. Yes, they remain separate and unique. No, their communication has, in a sense, made them one functioning unit, a system of interdependencies.

anderson & ross, 2001, p. 56

Another important principle, here of dyadic, interpersonal communication, is that such communicative acts include both “content” and “relational” elements. Here, “the content dimension of a message involves the expected response, and the relationship dimension … reveals what one party to the interaction thinks of the other” (Gamble & Gamble, 2013, p. 21).

Communication is rhetorical when the message sender has the goal of realizing purposes through creating shared meanings. Rhetoric is studied as its own field, and within the fields of communications studies, comparative literature, and English. It is at once the technique, art, and study of communicating persuasively to convince or influence. Within communication, a rhetorical act is understood as “an intentional, created, polished attempt to overcome the obstacles in a given situation with a specific audience on a given issue to achieve a particular end” (Campbell, 1982, p. 7).

Language is the means through which communication, and thus meanings, are transmitted, and ends are attempted to be achieved. Key to our purposes here, language includes both verbal and nonverbal elements. We could as easily arrive at the same result, for instance, if I asked you to come sit beside me as we would by me catching your eye, patting the sofa beside where I sit, turning my palm upwards, and curling my index finger. Either would be a rhetorical act—a point in time where communication occurred in which meanings and persuasive intent were shared. Our linguicentric bias wrongly assumes that nonverbal communication is a lesser form of communication. It is not.

Long studied as a solely human endeavor, rhetorician George Kennedy (1992) opened discourse regarding comparative rhetorical studies that included animal communication. As posed by Kennedy “the rhetorical study of animal communication primarily seeks to identify basic principles and formal aspects of communication that are fundamental to all rhetorical structures and used by both human and nonhuman animals” (1998, p. 12). In arguing for a universal rhetoric, Kennedy notes as one example a dog’s understanding of metonymy, as when a leash denotes a walk, and usage of metonymy rhetorically, when bringing a leash to their human companions serves as a suggestion for a walk (Kennedy, 1998, p. 16). More recently, a new generation of rhetoricians have picked up this task, to good measure (e.g., Bjørkdahl & Parrish, 2017; Hawhee, 2020; Parrish, 2018; Seegert, 2016), and Emily Plec (2014) has proposed extending the field of rhetoric to encompass such “internatural” communication.

By offering a look at how we might begin to apply a trans-species communication approach to expand possibilities for human-equine studies, I follow here Plec’s conception of internatural communication. I am further guided by Gail Bradshaw’s (2009, 2010) work at developing a trans-species psychology using human psychological models to explore continuities in how social animals process psychological harm such as grief and trauma (Bradshaw 2009, 2010; Muller-Paisner and Bradshaw, 2010; also Argent, 2016a, 2016b). I also reference Debra Merskin’s (2011) important approach combining the trans-species psychological framework with participatory action research as an ethics-based method to consider marginalized animals’ voices.

2 Abilities That Allow Horses to Communicate

I turn now to summarizing recent research in applied ethological studies addressing horses’ communicative abilities, which allow us to bring horses’ species-level ways of being in the world into the picture. My purpose is not to critique these studies, to detail the methods used, or to consider the research designs, which are highly creative and worthy of appreciation. For that, I refer readers to the studies themselves. Rather, it is to use these studies as a springboard to informed speculation as to their implications for human-horse relationships.

What allows for the possibility of trans-species communication is that both humans and horses are social animals, animals whose survival and psychological wellbeing are promoted through relationships and bonds within complex social matrices. Where humans and horses share worlds, these matrices can include each other at various levels of scale, from the interpersonal to the social. Like humans, horses can and do bond deeply and reciprocally with members of other species.

Communication is what facilitates the crucial, intraspecific bonds between social animals. Although human and equine communication capabilities vary by the species, personalities, physiologies, cognitive abilities, biographies, beliefs, and willingness of the individuals involved, neurobiologically the systems are analogous and function in similar ways—to build and maintain individual and group relationships that provide for the physical and psychological safety necessary for survival. From a cognitive ethological perspective, these continuities stem from similar neuroevolutionary paths and allow for similar mental and affective processes that can be understood across species.

A further continuity we share with horses deals with faces. Our faces are maps through which we project our own and read others’ emotions. The study of the nonverbal communication associated with facial movements is known within human communication studies as small-scale kinesics, and is associated with conveying emotional information (for more on equine nonverbal communication, see, Argent 2012). Taking the notion of human faces as emotional maps into the equine realm, horses have been shown to recognize positive (happy) and negative (angry) emotions that human faces express (Trösch, et al., 2019; Smith, et al. 2016). Horses are also able to remember happy and angry human emotional expressions later, including both the person and the person’s emotional state, and also their own emotional experience that human state evoked (Proops, et al., 2018). These studies show that domestic horses are highly curious about our emotional states, and display an acute degree of emotional awareness and intelligence.

3 What Horses Ask of Us—Trans-species Rhetorical Communication

Horses are not just passive observers of our communications. They also reach out to humans for help when they need assistance. In a study by Malavasi and Huber (2016), experimenters showed horses buckets with treats in them. The handler stood with the horses, and performed one of four actions: Faced toward; faced away; had helpers by the buckets; or walked away from the horse but then returned. The horses had to work through how to communicate to the handler to get the bucket. The researchers found that the horses would use “gaze alteration,” alternating looking at the bucket and then at the handler. If that didn’t work, they became more creative, nodding their heads and “pointing” toward the bucket with them. Furthermore, the horses only performed these actions when the handler was looking at them; they searched for eye contact. If the handler was not looking at the horse they would walk back to the handler and touch her. In other words, horses were aware of, responding to, and changing their strategies based upon whether or not they had the handler’s attention. The horses’ rhetorical communication was keyed to the human’s attentiveness.

In a similar study, Ringhofer and Yamamoto (2016) investigated domestic horses’ social cognitive skills with humans in a problem-solving situation where food was hidden in a place accessible only to humans. The research design tested horses who watched as a research assistant put a carrot in a food bucket that they could reach, but that was not accessible to the horses. They then tested several conditions. In one instance, the horse witnessed a human caretaker watching the food going into the bucket (the “knowledge state,” in which the horse knows the caretaker knows). In a second condition, the horses witnessed the caretaker not watching as the carrot was placed into the bucket (the “uninformed state,” in which the horse knows the caretaker does not know). The researchers videotaped the horses and compared the responses between the two conditions. In both situations, the horses used visual and tactile signals—looking at, touching, or lightly pushing the caretaker. However, with the uninformed caretaker, the horses used more of these signals to make their request. That is, compared to the caretaker in the know, the horses increased how much they looked at, touched and/or lightly pushed the ignorant caretaker to get them to realize where food was hidden. This suggests that the horses not only attended to humans’ attentional state, they also surmised what humans did or did not see and, moreover, altered their behavior appropriately in order to forward their aim.

In the final study I shall discuss (Trösch et al., 2020) the researchers explored horses’ ability to interpret and infer human intentions, using an “unwilling versus unable” paradigm. Experimenters performed two “unable” actions in attempting to get a carrot to the horse; presenting as inept by either dropping the carrots or appearing unable to overcome a barrier between the two, but with the intention of trying to help the horse. They also presented one “unwilling” action, moving the carrot out of reach when the horse attempted to eat it, where the intention was to not allow the horse the treat. Remarkably, the horses reacted differently based on the experimenters’ goals, seeming to surmise their intentions. In the “unable” scenarios, the horses kept trying to communicate with the experimenters. Important for what follows, in the “unwilling” situation, the horses simply gave up; they spent more time looking, and even turning, away from the humans.

These studies show that when faced with unsolvable tasks, horses attempt to request their keepers’ assistance, nonverbally. These actions are clearly rhetorical acts, as were—in the other direction—those of the first-graders’ request of Clipper and his affirmative response.

Many often assume that horses’ cognitive and emotional worlds are cogged with fairly simple machinery, and interact with them based upon this faulty belief. To dispel this assumption, I would like to flag some implications of the studies I have presented:

  1. Horses communicate nonverbally in similar ways to us, and through this attend to our emotions;
  2. Horses reach out and offer to communicate and engage with us;
  3. Horses attempt to compel us, rhetorically;
  4. Horses watch us, and through their actions show that they understand what we know and what our intentions are; and
  5. Horses perceive us as relevant beings, capable of noticing them, helping them, harming them, or ignoring them.

These instances point to the fallacy of assuming that because nonhumans lack verbal language, they also lack the cognitive ability or communicative means to share meanings or behave in thoughtful, agential, rhetorical ways. Significantly, they also counter the notion that we lack the ability to access nonhuman minds.

4 Trans-species Attunement and Influence

To bring this around to the issue of power and influence within human-horse relations, philosopher Vinciane Despret has said of human-nonhuman communication: “Meanings are constructed in a constant movement of attunement, which makes them emerge,” and this in itself “redistributes control.” (Despret, 2008, p. 12, emphasis in original). Attunement transpires when one offers awareness, attention, receptivity, and responsiveness to another’s emotional state or needs—when we listen. Here I would like to think about how such human attunement, or lack thereof, might be seen to redistribute power, and the effects that might have on horses.

Psychologists John and Julie Gottman call offers to communicate “bids” (Gottman, 2004). “A bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. Bids show up in simple ways, a smile or wink, and more complex ways, like a request for advice or help” (Brittle, 2015). When a bid is offered, the other partner has a choice to connect with their partner’s bid, or not. Bids may be responded to in three ways: Partners can “turn toward” (engage and positively respond), “turn away” (ignore the bid), or “turn against” (engage and respond negatively). Julie Gottman describes the “turning toward” response as the nuts and bolts that hold relationships together (2004, p. 3). It should be intuitively evident that turning toward facilitates relational satisfaction, but the Gottmans took this further and quantified their results. They found the number of various bid responses predict with good accuracy whether a couple will stay together (more turning toward) or divorce (more turning away or against). In other words, the degree of attunement to one another within a relationship is so important that it in itself can predict whether married couples stay together or not.

This is because bids go beyond the pragmatics of, say, the content of the question, “Will you help me with this?” They include also relational elements that query listenership, attentiveness, and care. That is, the same bid, at the same time, asks relational questions such as: “Are you listening?” “Can I trust you to be there for me?” “Do I matter to you?” These complex nuances lie at the center of most conversations and relationships, and are so powerful that when enough bids for connection have failed, “couples no longer trust each other even enough to attempt another bid” (Gottman, 2004, p. 4). How available, responsive, and engaged—how attuned—partners are influences how secure the bid-offering partner feels within the relationship. The attentional and emotional availability shown through turning toward fosters attachment, connection, and trust which allow both partners to feel calm and safe. This is a goal we certainly hold for any of our important relationships, whether with members of our own or other species.

As the three studies discussed above show, horses, too, offer bids to humans. In day-to-day interactions, these bids extend beyond asking for carrots, and also can be answered by turning toward, away, or against. For example, we might turn away from the horse’s request, “Please scratch me here” because we are unable to notice the bid. We might notice, but misinterpret, the query, “I’m afraid right now and need your assurance,” turning against the bid by punishing the horse for her fear. We might notice, but be unwilling to answer, the horse’s bid, “My back hurts so I don’t want to be ridden,” and turn against the bid by pushing him to work despite his pain. These hypothetical requests and responses highlight several explanations for why we do not listen and respond to equine requests: Some may believe horses’ have neither inner worlds nor communicative abilities, points I hope I have dispelled here. Some may be willing to listen, but unskilled at reading the nonverbal messages horses send and thus miss, or misinterpret, their meaning. In the most sinister explanation, some may well recognize horses’ bids but simply view their own human agenda as overriding the horse’s desires or needs.

Anyone who has watched groups of horses together will recognize they listen to one another and do so as if their lives depend on it, because they do. Social beings’ very survival hinges upon how attuned others are to them; we, and horses, are mindful of who others are to us and who we are to them. The applied ethological studies summarized above tell us the social equine brain is programmed to see us, and that they eagerly, acutely, and intensely observe us, keying in to our emotions and even intentions. In interactions with humans, horses interpret our behaviors, gauging whether we can help them or, as with Clipper and the children, whether we need help they can provide. If, as I have shown, communication serves similar purposes for social animals, then might horses’ interpretations of our responses to their bids move beyond the pragmatics of the content dimension of message such that they also consider its relational meaning? Might a part of horses’ interpretations of us include the appraisal of whether or not we have the ability to see who they are?

5 Can You Hear Me (Yet)?

The studies discussed above show that horses have a concept of what it is to be a capable being—a being capable of, for instance, understanding where the carrots are and getting them—and that they perceive us as quite competent in the worlds we share. How, then, might they decipher our turning away or against their outreaches to us? Might they be troubled, in their own equine cognitive ways, with interpretations that go something like this: “Humans are competent and communicatively capable; I am communicating capably, yet they seem not to hear me. Why keep trying? I give up.” The result of the “unwilling versus unable” study (Trösch et al., 2020) in which the horses simply (literally) “turned away” from the unwilling carrot providers, ceasing to continue with their bids, would argue that something similar is in action.

Regardless of what they might make of our shutting down their bids, it must be beyond frustrating for them. Old-time horse trainer Ray Hunt—who often ends up sounding more like a Buddhist philosopher than a crusty old cowboy—noted:

The horse knows. He knows the human twenty to one. It’s amazing how much he’ll get out of things, how he’ll fill in for as little as the human knows about him. How that horse can handle it has always been a mystery to me. Put yourself in his shoes to live your whole life where no one knows who you really are. … A human couldn’t take it”.

ehrlich, 1998, n.p., my emphasis

One of the most compelling human needs is the desire to be seen and heard, to be known by another. When we are not included we feel outcast, distanced. For humans in prison, the social isolation of solitary confinement causes inmates to become restless, angry, violent, and even suicidal (Gamble and Gamble, 2013, p. 14). Horses kept isolated in stalls respond similarly, developing repetitive stereotypies such as weaving back and forth to attempt to cope with the stress caused by a lack of engagement. I have watched mares ignore unruly foals until they behaved better, operating from a framework similar to human civilizations through history which have shunned those who transgress, understanding that the denial of connection is a potent punishment. Yet unlike those chastised foals, the horses I speak of have not transgressed. Might we now consider the results of our lack of attunement to these cooperative, emotionally intelligent creatures whose hard-wirings flick sparks of connection outward but find no tinder?

A lack of human attunement to equine requests has significant consequences for human-horse relationships. The most common means of communicating with a horse is to unilaterally request—or demand—they accomplish something for us. We expect them to learn our language (nonverbal and verbal), our verbs, our commands, our timetables, and they do their best to oblige us. Whether through ignorance or intent, when we do not acknowledge horses’ efforts to point out a carrot in a bucket we are certainly denying them the carrot and much more. We also are denying them—and ourselves—the relational aspects inherent within communication, the elements of connection and trust that come with having our bids answered affirmatively. All involved lose out on the bonded relationships we could have through more-mutual interactions. “Listening is an investment in the relationship that develops a sense of ‘we-ness’” (Verderber and MacGeorge, 2015, p. 65). The type of communication that develops such we-ness and binds relationships consists not merely of requesting, but rather of asking and receiving, listening and answering. We would do well to consider that awarding horses the type of attunement the studies reported here show they attempt to bestow upon us allows them to see us as the effective communicators they seem to think we are.

Let us return once more to Clipper and the first-graders. Our shared social world consisted of our two families, his and mine, all members known to one other, all with mutually meaningful histories and memories of those histories. Within this interspecies affective community, all persons, human and horse, had their needs considered and bids attuned to. Clipper’s response was not intentionally trained. It was not, as “learning theory” (e.g., McGreevy, 2007) tells us we must do, rewarded with treats when it did, or punished when it did not, occur. It was not coerced. Horses raised and treated in ways that acknowledge with respect and sensitivity their communicative, emotional, and cognitive capabilities, moods, individual natures, and desires do not need to be “trained” to pro-socially answer our bids.

Horses are collectivists, predisposed to be cooperative citizens. Horses already know how to behave interdependently and communally, both within and across species lines. Unless sullied by human actions—unless their own bids have been consistently ignored or acted against—they bring these ways of being to their interactions with humans. I suggest that Clipper responded to the children’s bid to lower his head because his bids were regularly answered, where this attunement he received did not train him, but rather allowed him to respond in the spontaneous, reciprocal, pro-social, interdependent manner in which horses answer bids from their own kin and kind.

It has bearing on the matter at hand that this is how friends respond to friends: we listen for their bids and respond affirmatively when they ask something of us. When we rely, as learning theory does, on the presupposition that scientific methodology is the only lens through which to view equine behavior and its shaping, when we consider horses as capable of only directly responding to stimuli, we miss more subtle, and certainly more consequential, understandings. Had I not been open to the possibility of Clipper’s spontaneous, affirmative, agential response to the children’s request for connection, I would have missed it, and its importance, entirely. Because I listened, I was able to view an incredible trans-species communicative encounter. Over our time together I was also able to grant Clipper—as he granted me—the privilege of witness, of knowing and having been known. I have no doubt he discerned this connection we shared as well. And this, as Whyte notes in this chapter’s epigraph, is the ultimate touchstone of friendship.

6 Conclusion and Implications—Trans-species Communication and Human-Equine Studies

In this project, I focused on several aspects of language and communication within horse-human relationships. These include the limits of the theory, methods, and assumptions through which scholars frame and describe—or avoid framing and describing—such communication. I proposed a suggested means to fill this gap through an interdisciplinary study of trans-species communication by which we might better understand and describe how meanings are shared interspecifically. My proposed model used theory from the fields of rhetoric, communication studies, and psychology to interpret results from applied ethological studies and extend their implications, but these are not the only fields that might be brought to bear on this enterprise.

I applied this approach to a case study analyzing a single instance of trans-species rhetorical communication, considering the characteristics of horses that made the encounter possible. This showed horses as capable, active, engaged trans-species communicators. I also considered the notional negative psychological effects on horses of the lack response to such rhetorical queries. But again, this is merely an example of the type of data that might be analyzed moving forward.

Exploring trans-species communication cannot be accomplished without allowing both sides of the communicative endeavor to be equitably present. I have attempted to take and present the horses’ perspective—I hope persuasively, if speculatively—by correlating similarities in communicative motives and psychological processes between humans and horses as social animals. My desire here was to “take the animal’s viewpoint, rather than confer a human one” (Mitchell, 2008. p. 377) based upon my critical observations over a lifetime of living with horses. This is neither to discount the discontinuities between human and horse capabilities and ontologies, nor to say that the impacts on horses I have suggested flow from a lack of human attunement are absolutely correct. It is rather to attempt a common language through which to enlighten trans-species communicative and rhetorical spaces in ways that better include nonhuman voices, as a necessary and achievable way forward for both human-equine and human-animal studies.

This is to say that we must now move beyond the notion that equine—and more broadly, animal—minds are inaccessible to us, even if we might stumble in doing so. To do this we must cease merely asking, telling and demanding. Rather, we must listen, with all of our senses, with openness, with care, and with humility.

Notes on Contributor

Gala Argent is an interdisciplinary scholar whose work concerns human-nonhuman animal intersections. She holds ba and ma degrees in communication studies, a Ph.D. in archaeology, and teaches or has taught in departments of animal studies, psychology, communication studies, anthropology, and art. Her published work concerns the relationships between humans and other animals and how these might be seen to co-create and replicate mutually interdependent selves, identities, and aspects of culture within various scenarios, past and present.

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The Relational Horse

How Frameworks of Communication, Care, Politics and Power Reveal and Conceal Equine Selves

Series:  Human-Animal Studies, Volume: 24