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"Learning to Speak Horse": The Culture of "Natural Horsemanship"

In: Society & Animals
Author: Lynda Birke1
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  • 1 Department of Biological Sciences, Anthrozoology Unit, University of Chester, Parkgate Road, Chester CH1 4BJ, U.K.
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Abstract

This paper examines the rise of what is popularly called "natural horsemanship" (NH), as a definitive cultural change within the horse industry. Practitioners are often evangelical about their methods, portraying NH as a radical departure from traditional methods. In doing so, they create a clear demarcation from the practices and beliefs of the conventional horse-world. Only NH, advocates argue, properly understands the horse. Dissenters, however, contest the benefits to horses as well as the reliance in NH on disputed concepts of the natural. Advocates, furthermore, sought to rename technologies associated with riding while simultaneously condemning technologies used in conventional training (such as whips). These contested differences create boundaries and enact social inclusion and exclusion, which the paper explores. For horses, the impact of NH is ambiguous: Depending on practitioners, effects could be good or bad. However, for the people involved, NH presents a radical change—which they see as offering markedly better ways of relating to horses and a more inclusive social milieu.

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