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In this paper, I explore horse-human interactions as ‘meeting points’, using three points or places at which we come together with horses. These are: in the stable, leading a horse, and riding. Each shapes the interspecies engagement, in a kind of trajectory. Ways of engaging with each other form within the confines of stable or corral, which then continue into other activities. The idea of meeting points serves to emphasise that these are meetings with an other, someone who has agency and who helps to create the patterns of subsequent interactions. These are meetings born out of individual experience, and which help to produce the mindedness of the horse.
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Meeting Points:
Choreographies of Horses and Humans
University of Chester (UK)
In this paper, I explore horse-human interactions as ‘meeting points’, using three
points or places at which we come together with horses. These are: in the stable,
leading a horse, and riding. Each shapes the interspecies engagement, in a kind of
trajectory. Ways of engaging with each other form within the confines of stable or
corral, which then continue into other activities. The idea of meeting points serves
to emphasise that these are meetings with an other, someone who has agency and
who helps to create the patterns of subsequent interactions. These are meetings
born out of individual experience, and which help to produce the mindedness of
the horse.
KEYWORDS: horse; meeting points; human-animal relationship
1 Introduction
We live our lives in spatial relationships with many other animals. I live in an old farm-
house in rural England, along with two dogs. Outside dwell several horses, and a group
of chickens. The house also means home to a colony of long-eared bats, a multitude of
invertebrates, various swallows, martins, barn owls, sparrows, wrens and blue tits – and
no doubt more rats and mice than I care to think about. Human-animal relationships are
thus lived through sharing (or not) of spaces; we cohabit within buildings, within cities,
within parks and woods. Some of those relationships are just that: cohabitation, requir-
ing little direct interaction, although shaped and made possible by the spaces and build-
ings we have constructed. Others, like my relationships with the dogs and horses, seem
to be more mutual, a shared choreography within those spaces. Thus, when a new dog
arrived in the farmhouse from the rescue kennels, it took only a couple of days for dog
and person to learn where the other was and to orient around each other – where are
you? If I move here...? Expectancies develop such that each understands how the other
moves, where they will be.
Such learning to orient around one another requires paying close attention, and
is fundamental to our (sometimes) close relations with companion animals. Wild animals
perhaps know where we are, but it is companion animals who seem to attend closely to
what we do and say. Given our long coexistence with dogs and horses in particular, it
is not surprising that these animals have abilities to recognise and pay attention to our
gestures and emotions (Rochais et al. 2014; Smith et al. 2016; Albuquerque et al. 2016).
If I enter the stable of one of my (familiar) horses, how we interact is shaped partly by
how much we attend to one another in that moment and also by our shared histories.
But it is also likely to be shaped by material things – by the halter I may have in my hand
(or the food), or by the structures around us, the walls, the manger.
In this article, I explore human encounters with horses in terms of such spatial-
ised social relations, using the idea of interspecies ‘meeting points’. This paper is explor-
atory, drawing partly on my own experience of a lifetime of engaging with horses, but
also drawing on previous research studies, which used observation and interviews to
examine horse-human relationships. I use these sources to explore three ways in which
human and equine bodies meet and move around one another: the spatial practices of
meeting in the stable, leading alongside, and riding.
2 Meeting points in shared spaces
Armstrong Oma (2013) invokes the notion of ‘meeting points’ of human and animal.
These are not necessarily synonymous with rooms, but are rather places where human
and animal come together. Whether a horse lives with other horses in a corral or field,
or alone in a stable, interspecies meeting points happen when the human catches the
horse; once outside, horse and human share activities for a time. Boundaried spaces
such as stables mould horses’ experiences of engaging with us, and our experiences of
them. And they provide meeting points – partial and temporary – which flow into how
horses and humans relate to each other.
Our interactions with domestic animals have long flowed through constructions
made by humans. In prehistoric times, people and some animals literally lived alongside
each other within buildings and in pens and fields to produce “particular life-spaces . . .
shared by its members” (Armstrong Oma 2013, 164). Until relatively recently, horses
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lived close to humans, if not within the same building then very close by1: urban life, like
rural agriculture, could not function without horsepower and horses were ubiquitous
(McShane and Tarr 2007; Morris 2008). Although horses have now largely moved out
of cities, and today are predominantly associated with rural life, our encounters with
them are usually constrained by, and shaped within, physical boundaries.
Constructions such as stables or barns are, however, more than merely con-
tainers for specific animals, or social activities. Lefebvre (1991), in his discussion of the
‘construction of space’ notes that when we refer to a space such as a room, or a mar-
ketplace, we generally refer to specific uses of that space – that is, specific social/spatial
practices associated with it. He argues that ‘spaces’ are thus produced from social ac-
tivity, such that ‘space’ is always being made and remade; in similar vein, writing about
animal-human encounters in cities, Holmberg (2015, 30) notes that “place structures
and produces social relations . . . Members are not ‘in’ a place, but produce it through
various bodily adjustments and practices”.
The first meeting point thus centres on the physical spaces in which we initially
approach a horse; here, I focus on the limited space of the stable or small corral in which
so many horses are kept. Although the primary response of a young or a feral horse to
human approach would be to flee, domesticated horses quickly learn how to read and
respond to us, to create moments of meeting. They cannot easily flee far within the
confines of four walls, and the boundaries necessarily force attention, ways of respond-
ing, which then shape further interactions. It is as though in the stable/corral, the walls
direct the dance.
The second meeting point occurs when horse and person move together out-
side the stable. No longer necessarily bounded by walls, their coming-together is typ-
ically mediated by some means of leading the horse, such as a rope. Yet, over time,
human and horse learn how to move together, to focus attention on the other, such
that – at times – the physical connection seems irrelevant, the connection apparently
occurring independently of the rope. The third meeting point is the close bodily con-
nection afforded through riding, as horse and human take part in shared endeavours,
such as trail rides and competitions.
Each of these illustrates points of connection, of meeting between horse and
human. In some ways, they map a trajectory in the relationship: the bodily awareness
that riders so often extol as ‘feel’ is an end-point of a process that perhaps began in the
1 Roman armies occupying Britain, for example, literally lived alongside their horses, in the same
buildings: see
stables [accessed March, 2016]
stable, and develops further through working with each other on the ground. To work
together, what horses and their people must learn is an awareness of where the other
is in space; both must learn how to meet. Out of these – sometimes – we experience
a sense of connection, a relationship. Perhaps they do, too, although we cannot easily
tell. What we can see, however, appears to be mutuality, where human and animal be-
haviour becomes coordinated and interdependent (Brandt 2004; Birke & Hockenhull
3 Meeting Point One: Within four walls
‘Stable’: the word derives originally from the Latin stabilis, meaning a
place to stand. It also connotes unchanging or equilibrium.2
A horse’s stable may mean many things: it may mean stability, even a place to return,
a home for the horse. ‘A place to stand’ may be welcome to a tired horse, but it may
also imply separation from others. From a human perspective, a row of stables permit
regulated access to, and surveillance of, the animals. While it may be preferable for
horses to live at pasture, humans often keep them individually, in smaller spaces; what
is prioritised is our access and ability to control the animal’s immediate environment.
Horses are flight animals, easily spooked, so limiting their possibilities for flight is obvi-
ously useful to humans.
Encounters with individuals kept in these circumstances are thus often rath-
er limited, and usually on our terms. When we enter the stable or other equine living
area, we may be signalling something desirable (food, a grooming) or less desirable
(work, the vet) – though the horse usually has little choice but to pay attention to us3.
Interspecies social engagements are thus structured around human schedules, and the
encounter dictated by the limited physical space.
Individual stables may be in a block, with horses able to look out at a central yard
(a layout typical in the racing industry in Britain, for instance), or, they may be internal
boxes formed by partitioning within a larger barn. My focus here is on these individ-
ual stables as specific structures which shape how we and horses share space, albeit
2 [accessed March, 2016]
3 Not all horses, of course, are housed individually in stables – much depends on human
finances, and attitudes. I focus here on stables, largely because the horses who were the focus of
my research were all housed in stables or small corrals, and that has been the case for the horses I
have encountered personally. However, the point about how husbandry spaces limit and constrain
how we engage with animals is a more general one.
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partially. The historic separation of stable blocks from human habitation (especially in
the case of well-to-do houses) did not necessarily mean that horses were not sharing
space with humans. On the contrary, typical stable blocks in the UK had space above
the horses, which provided an area for hay storage, as well as living accommodation
for grooms (there are two of these large spaces at our farm; today, they house mostly
bats, owls and house martins). Thus,‘stables’, as separate buildings from main houses,
materialised particular kinds of interhuman relations (through social class), but also of
interspecies relations (through the segregation of these animals from some of the hu-
man living accommodation).
Stabling horses means enclosing them within barriers for periods of time. Hu-
mans may, or may not, move in and out of this physical space at different times. How
we keep horses, and make priorities around equine husbandry, depend upon many fac-
tors – economics, the purpose for which the horse is kept, as well as what might be
termed equestrian cultures (Latimer & Birke 2009). What is prioritised in choosing to
house horses in stables is human access and ability to control the animal’s immediate
environment; interspecies social engagements are thus shaped by where they occur.
Figure 1: Stabling in a barn in Sweden (photograph by user Lidingo, shared under Creative Com-
mons licence at
Figure 1 shows stabling inside a barn. Several loose boxes are situated either side of a
central aisle, each with various bits of equestrian paraphernalia – saddles, rugs, buckets,
brushes, identifying labels. The horses themselves are not obviously present; perhaps
they are all out being ridden. Each horse’s stable is separated by a partition, although
these partitions are topped with bars; horses can therefore see and smell each other
even if they are unable to interact directly. They are, however, at the beck and call of
their human guardians, who will determine when and how they will meet, or leave the
stable. The central aisle of the barn, moreover, permits surveillance at a glance, and
channels activity, as horses are led in and out for grooming, riding and other activities.
These structures produce a spatiotemporal ordering of activities and bodies, in
which both humans and horses must learn to navigate. The limited space of the aisled
block means that horses must ‘learn discipline’ (see Latimer & Birke 2009), to learn
to behave spatially around humans. People, too, must learn spatial awareness around
horses in these confined spaces; novice riders are often less able either to predict the
horse’s actions or to prevent the horse from barging into them.
Stables thus provide physical structures which contain and produce horse-hu-
man encounters. If I enter a stable, even that of a horse I do not know, the horse is likely
to pay visual attention to me, perhaps to walk over. In that moment, I must pay atten-
tion to her body language: is she signalling interest, with her ears and eyes forward? Or
do I have to move quickly as she puts her ears back and bares her teeth? There are, to
be sure, opportunities for more intimate social encounters; horses find scratching and
grooming pleasurable, and my time there might be spent doing just that.
Yet these social encounters are at human behest. We decide when and how we
enter the stable, and we keep watch over the horses who live there. While human-horse
meetings in larger areas, such as a field, mean that horses can (and do) choose to walk
away, horses within stables can only choose to ignore us – for a while. We and they
must necessarily pay attention to the other, and (we hope) to move around each other
carefully. Four walls necessarily limit what is possible: you cannot go far circling around
each other in a four meter square box. So, however much horse and human have inter-
acted in the stable, they must also venture outside their enclosure, sometimes around
other horses and people. And, as they walk around alongside each other, perhaps to the
pasture, perhaps to a riding arena, their meeting point depends upon the lead-rope.
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4 Meeting Point Two: At either end of a rope
“. . . it was . . . a cooperation and he was more up at my side and [it] was
like we were going through it together . . . it was more like joint decision
(interview, horse owner: Birke & Hockenhull 2015)
If you observe a busy stable yard, you will see most horses and their people moving
together around the stable yard in apparent acceptance. Occasionally, there is a dis-
turbance – perhaps a horse startles, or misunderstands the humans’ actions, and pulls
away. Familiarity and experience matter, of course. Inexperienced horses, led by rela-
tively novice handlers, often seem distracted, unsure of what is being asked of them.
One handler in our research described the (novice) horse she was leading as “complete-
ly distracted, I’m not sure I would have known he was on the other end of the rope…
he wasn’t engaging with me at all” (see Birke & Hockenhull 2016). The horse repeat-
edly pulled back, resisting her attempts to lead him quietly. In this case, the encounter
seemed conflictual, and the halter and rope offered only partial control.
Yet, for much of the time, horses and humans do work alongside each other;
perhaps halter and rope sometimes signal to the horse that a relationship has been
activated, one with expectations – it is often difficult to lead a horse without it by, say,
holding the horse’s forelock hair. It is as though the halter communicates that the horse
should pay attention (or perhaps simply that horses know that the rope/halter will be
activated if they don’t comply).4 Early training of horses involves, among other things,
persuading the horse to give attention to humans, to become aware of where they are.
One example of this is the training methods advocated by some ‘natural horsemanship
enthusiasts, such as Monty Roberts. For starting a naive horse, Roberts utilises a round
pen, which constrains the horse’s movement; he then shoos the horse away until the
animal begins to approach (Roberts 1997). The horse very quickly attends to human
actions and location.5
4 Birke & Michael (1997) discuss human-animal negotiations around devices such as dogleads.
It is never entirely clear who is in control, and it is the “hybrid of human-doglead-dog who must
negotiate . . . tricky terrain” (ibid., 10). Here, we might talk of the hybridity of human-leadrope-
horse. In making this point, I should emphasise that leads and ropes can also be means of abuse; my
focus here is on relationships where there is some degree of mutuality.
5 Roberts’ own interpretation is that the handler is ‘speaking’ in a language the horse understands,
and that the horse approaches voluntarily. This procedure stages his expertise in particular ways, and the
response of the horse is open to multiple interpretations (see Schuurman & Franklin 2015; Birke 2008).
Horses and humans who know each other well often seem to walk calmly alongside
one another as they move from point to point; their movements appear coordinated,
seemingly in harmony. Such ‘moving together’ is partly a product of familiarisation,
begun in the stable or corral. Over time, both learn how to track where the other is. If
horse and human are familiar to each other, then they begin to coordinate, their moving
together seems to flow; there is ‘joint decision making’, there is coordination. There is
also mutual attention, partly visual (watching the other alongside), but also partly in-
volving a kind of bodily awareness of the other. And this mutuality seems not to depend
significantly upon any device such as a lead rope: indeed, it can seem as though the two
are joined by an invisible thread (see Birke & Hockenhull 2015).
Figure 2 shows an example of such mutuality: here, Bill and his person, R., were
navigating some obstacles in an arena. Bill’s lead-rope was loose. What was connecting
them was not so much the rope, but an intangible connection: they knew how to read
each other, and paid close attention. As a result, they moved harmoniously seemingly
independent of the physical ties. Observers agreed: Bill and R., they said, ‘clearly knew
and trusted each other’, and ‘worked well together’ (Birke & Hockenhull 2015). These
two illustrated how horses and humans (sometimes) work in close cooperation. In the
sequence shown, both look at each other, checking where they are, attuned to one
another. The rope seems irrelevant.
Figure 2: Bill and R, working together, paying
attention to each other
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For Kez (Figure 3), the ‘invisible thread’ to her person remained when she was handled
by someone else. Kez was clearly unhappy to be handled by strangers; what mattered
to her was where her human, L., was. In the first picture, she appears tense – her ears
were back, her tail swished, her head raised. But L., standing behind her, is aware of her
tension (or just wants to see what the handler is doing) and steps slightly to one side;
in so doing, he appears behind Kez in her field of view. She begins to relax and, as he
completes the movement (third picture) she turns her head toward him. Only then did
her tension reduce. Now, her tail is loose, and her ears are pricked forward, toward L.
The rope constrained her, forcing her to put up with the interaction with the unknown
handler, yet the invisible connection with her human remained, as a source of comfort.6
The halter/rope undoubtedly direct movement; rope and human hands offer guidance,
and limit resistance. While Kez was handled by someone she did not know, she was
tense and uncooperative, although the leadrope provided constraint. Yet, with their
6 These stills are taken from footage taken during our study of horse-human relationships
(Birke & Hockenhull 2015). Kez had previously had a surcingle fitted, carrying a heart rate monitor;
here, the researchers are adjusting the monitor before Kez is led away by the unfamiliar handler. She
remained tense throughout her encounter with the new person.
Figure 3: Kez and her human, L., assessing
from moment to moment where the other is
familiar people, both Bill and Kez seemed focused on working alongside their human,
seemingly ignoring the restriction of the rope. In these (apparently) simple tasks of
leading/being led, negotiating space together is crucial; it is part, and constitutive, of
the relationship between the two. Horses, as well as humans, produce this harmony,
and, because both are attentive to one another, they seem to flow together, to produce
a synchrony (see Argent 2012). If human and animal do not know each other, the flow
is interrupted; they are meeting each other at either end of the rope, but do not know
how best to read the other, to make the meeting work.
When human and animal develop mutuality, we might say that the halter/rope
become the meeting point. Just as my connection to my dogs is not simply dog, then
leash, then human, but is perhaps better understood as a kind of temporary hybrid, so
too is the connection between handler and horse (see footnote 4). While the four walls
of the stable necessarily constrain interactions, the rope controls only intermittently;
rather, horse and handler – when cooperating – engage with the other, so that move-
ments of one follow the movements of the other.
The meeting point here is not so much a specific place, but is more a way of
coming together, of being with each other and knowing where both are (which Kez’s
anxiety about her person indicates). As the actual connecting rope comes to matter
less over time, so the ‘invisible thread’ of mutual awareness becomes more crucial. The
movements seem choreographed, and the rope serves merely to channel direction;
horse and human move forward simultaneously and synchronously.7 Both are listening
to one another, at least most of the time.
5 Meeting Point Three: In physical contact – riding
“. . . when the horse listens to you as a rider and wants to do what you
want, like if the horse wants to go in there and get over the jumps, you’re
halfway there”
(show jumping rider, interview: Thompson & Birke 2014)
Riding is a deeply embodied experience, for both horse and rider (Smart 2011; Game,
2001). While it can at times be conflictual, or seem that the horse and rider simply do
not ‘gel’, riders usually aspire to relationships with their mounts that are harmonious;
this is described as ‘feel’ between horse and rider (Smart 2011; Brandt 2004). In this
7 Familiar pairs of horses and humans maintain more constant distance between them than
unfamiliar pairs. Both are adept at reading the other (Birke & Hockenhull 2015).
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situation, the interspecies meeting point is corporeal, in the physical contact of being
on a horse, and in the tactile communication required. Here, horse and human must
pay attention not only to one another’s movements, but also to their shared activities.
That is, they must pay attention through their bodies, to the movements of the other.
But our engagements with them during riding involve moving together, often orient-
ing toward something external and paying shared visual attention to a trail, a jump, a
marker. Tack (bridles, harness, saddles) plays a role in shaping how we move together,
but so too does the external terrain – the open trails, the obstacles to be overcome in
a competition.
In riding, horse and human have to work closely together, to make decisions,
to help each other out. In trail riding, for example, crossing different types of unpre-
dictable terrain together enables a shared sense of identity. The horse contributes by
making choices about route, or how to move, while for the human, suggest Davis et
al. (2013, 74), “The horse becomes a strategy for getting into it, travelling over it, and
letting it come over you”. Negotiating open spaces requires joint decision-making, and
constant revision.
For other equestrian sports, the spaces of riding may be more stage-managed,
made level, and predictable; dressage or show jumping in enclosed arenas are exam-
ples. I will use show jumping – the equestrian pursuit in which I engage – as an example,
to explore the idea of riding as meeting. Both the horses and I have reasonable tech-
nical skills; we know how to jump and to navigate a course. But, like the rider quoted
above, I value horses who know how to help out, to make their own decisions at times,
especially if I make a misjudgement. The competition begins at home, when I ask the
horses to enter the lorry. As with stables, our encounters here are highly constrained,
since the horses must travel in confined spaces, necessarily separated from the humans
who are driving. Only occasionally do humans and horses meet within these spaces.
Once mounted at the competition, that elusive ‘feel’ comes into play, as we pre-
pare. It matters a great deal that I pay close attention to how the horse is feeling and
responding. In the arena, it might appear that the horse is simply following the rider’s
instructions – turn here, jump this, and so on; their movements are constrained by the
available space, and the demands of the task. Yet here too horses’ own agency plays
a significant part. Horses must themselves make different judgements of space and
movement, which can help, or hinder, the joint effort. In riding, horse and rider must
pay close attention to each other, but both must also focus on something external – in
this case, the course of jumps. Horses, as well as riders, need to judge the height and
width of the obstacle, light and shade. Figure 4 illustrates the focus of the horse (and
rider) during approach to a jump; ears and eyes are on the fence, as minor adjustments
to position and speed are made. They must still have considerable awareness of each
other, but also of the task in hand. This kind of obstacle, moreover, creates a bold visual
effect, with the spaces beneath, which some horses dislike; to jump this, horse and rider
must also trust.
Such competitions entail humans and horses negotiating their conjoint movements in
specific ways, as moving over or through obstacles. They require specific skills, not
only in terms of riding techniques, but also of spatial judgements: how many strides do
we fit into that space between jumps? How do we achieve that? How do we make that
turn? How fast can we risk going with that slope? We cannot know how horses direct-
ly experience these endeavours, although horse people commonly speak of particular
horses as ‘loving the buzz’ of competitions. The animals do, however, learn over time
how to participate, and contribute their judgement to the shared activity, to develop
the apparent mutuality so important to horse-riders.
The meeting point of riding entails close, tactile, connection, an understanding
of how the other feels as a bodily being. Yet it also involves mobility, as horse and rider
engage in a mutual practice, and their attention to each other flows outward to include
the task at hand. At its best, this can produce considerable harmony – as is evident
in the performance of Olympic dressage stars such as Valegro and his rider Charlotte
Dujardin; not for nothing did the newspapers describe the dressage as ‘dancing hors-
es’. Horses, of course, take part in these activities at the behest of humans. Perhaps
Valegro would have preferred to be eating grass to dancing in front of huge crowds.
But horses do engage with us in these shared tasks; they contribute their agency and
judgement, and seem, sometimes, to get something out of what they do. Competing is
thus not only a meeting point, but a meeting of minds.
Figure 4:
approaching a
jump; both horse (‘Tiger’)
and rider focus on the fence
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6 Trajectories
Meetings, whether in the stable, on the lead rope, or under saddle, involve learning
to move together and in relation to one another, and form the basis of human-horse
relatings. If the meeting point of the stable focuses their attention on one another by
default, the connection between horse and person can become more focused on each
other once they emerge from within those four walls. Once outside, the connection is
less bounded, and is sometimes apparent without any direct connection. Kez’s human
partner, L., described for example how he would wander around the arena with Kez
loose; yet she would choose to follow him, always being by his side.
My point here is to suggest that the patterns of movement around each other
begun within confined spaces create ways of being with each other, patterns of paying
attention to the other, which continue into other activities. Horses who are being led
from the ground have (usually) learned to adapt their ways of moving to humans, so
that what appears at first sight as humans leading plodding and acquiescent horses
reflects close coordination and mutual awareness. They meet in each other’s space,
rather than in physically boundaried places. Taken further, some horsepeople train their
horses in ‘liberty work’ on the ground, in which horse and person move with each other
but with no form of restraint at all, just as Kez did.
I have focused here on the idea of meeting, a notion which implies agency. When
I watched Kez interacting with her human, for example, her agency seemed apparent.
Yet we often encounter horses within human-made structures, which produce a spa-
tiotemporal ordering of both movements and bodies. Writing about humans sharing
public space in the course of countryside pursuits such as cycling or walking, Brown
(2012, 804) suggests (following Edensor 2010), that such patterns serve as “conduits
through which power is exerted, which can help us understand in more detail how bod-
ies are allowed to move in relation to other bodies”. Movements around stable yards
are not random; bodies of horses and people are monitored, allowed to move in certain
ways, to fit human schedules and what is considered ‘best practice’ (leading the horse
so that the animal’s head is by your shoulder is, for example, taught as optimal practice
in terms of control). In that sense, horses’ agency is curtailed or managed. As Cudworth
(2011) acknowledges, human relations with animals always involve differential power,
and sometimes overt exploitation. But even within that, she argues, there are some
possibilities of affection or agency.
If we acknowledge that horses and people can ‘work together’ with agency
through their various shared activities, then what are the implications? In her study of
people sharing countryside space, Brown (2012, 817) suggests that a challenge is then
“to cultivate sociomaterial spaces and times that engender more attunement, especial-
ly if mere proximity does not equate with meaningful contact”. While recognition of
equine agency is relatively common in equestrian cultures, as noted above, this is not
made explicit in the way that human-equine encounters and performances are staged.
Following Brown’s suggestion into the horsey realm, perhaps we might consider how,
or indeed whether, interspecies encounters in stable yard or competition might be
managed to “cultivate more attunement” of horse and rider.
However and wherever they occur, meetings change participants. Each en-
counter reconstitutes the relationship, so that the movements around each other in
open spaces re-produce and shape those within the stable. Pink (2011) uses the idea
of ‘emplacement’ to discuss performative contexts; in her paper, she uses the example
of bullfighting, to emphasise that the body of the bullfighter is “one that knows and
learns in movement, feeling/sensing her or his way as part of an environment where it
‘becomes’ in relation to other elements of the arena-as-place-event” (ibid., 354). The
movement of human and bull are processes; as such, no one experience of the ring –
nor meeting with bull – is the same as another; there is no going back. So, too, for hors-
es and people: each time they work/move together is a process of becoming, which
produces anew the relationship within its wider environment. That re-enactment may
partly consolidate ‘conduits of power’; but it can also open channels of becoming.
This mutual becoming might also be described as ‘co-being’ in our relationship
with animals (such as horses, see Maurstad et al. 2013; Game 2001; or dogs, Haraway
2008). While moments of co-being may be experienced anywhere (and especially dur-
ing riding), they are born in moment-to-moment interactions, various fleeting meet-
ings. The meeting point here is in their physical connection, a kind of intercorporeality,
which flows into their actions and shapes their joint responses to the world around. In
shared endeavours, there is no longer separated agency of horse and human, but one
of conjoint action.
Yet for all that horse people extol feelings of ‘oneness’ and ‘hybridity’ with the
horse, they – and the horses – can also separate out. Meetings are not always peaceful,
and connections can be partial (see Latimer 2013). Even within the confines of a stable
or a round pen, horses can make it plain that they do not wish to interact (see Schuur-
man & Franklin 2015). Riders often speak of ways in which their animals may express
themselves, perhaps even ‘being cheeky’, not always behaving in as docile a fashion as
riders might like (Birke & Hockenhull 2016; also see Latimer & Birke 2009). As horses
thus ‘push the boundaries’ they remain other, not always at one with their human.
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Connections and disconnections are made and remade within a relationship, within the
daily activities in which human and animal engage as they move through the world.
Meetings are sometimes unions, sometimes fragmented. But whatever their form, the
horse is part of the process, someone who can engage, or choose to ignore: I invoke
the idea of meeting points here because it stresses the horse’s agency, as a contributor
to the mutual adjustments that make up the relationship and determine the choreogra-
phy. This trajectory begins with the initial approach in the stable in the morning – hello,
how are you? It continues with the subtle adjustments made from moment to moment
while walking – where are you? If I move left, will you follow? And it continues with the
bodily connection of riding, in which conjoint actions matter – if we move left, how
will we tackle what is in front of us? The horse participates in, and produces, these en-
counters. To speak of a trajectory is also to acknowledge time and experience. Horses
certainly participate in interactions from moment-to-moment: but they, just as much
as humans, bring to those encounters their own rich histories. These are not casual en-
counters, but meetings, born out of individual histories that produce the mindedness of
the horse. These are meetings, not just with ‘a horse’, but with someone.
I would like to thank Kirrilly Thompson and Jo Hockenhull for discussions and comments
on these ideas at earlier stages, and the two anonymous referees for useful comments.
Some of the paper is based on research done with Jo Hockenhull and Tami Young. Most
of all, I am eternally grateful to the many horses whom I have had the privilege of meet-
ing and knowing. They have taught me to ‘feel’, and they try to get me to understand.
Occasionally I think they have succeeded.
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... Moments of interaction can consist of two individuals or hundreds of individuals at one time. Here, we explore how three species -horses, humans, and cattle -learn to meet (Birke, 2017) and communicate to move together. ...
... Drawing from Birke (2017) and Armstrong Oma's (2013) concepts of "meeting points" and "life-spaces," we develop a nuanced understanding of how specific places and spatial relations shape relations within the triad. We argue that as agentic social actors, all three species learn together how to be in what Lestel (2002) calls a "community of communication." ...
... The space where horses, cattle, and humans meet shapes the systems of communication they develop. To understand the shared social worlds of humans and animals, contextualizing interactions in their specific places and spatial relations, what Birke (2017) and Armstrong Oma (2013) call "meeting points" and "life-spaces," is vital. The "meeting points" (Armstrong Oma, 2013;Birke, 2017) where we engage the triad in this paper are often spaces of minimal structure, characterized by open landscapes, rather than confined industrial spaces. ...
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Herding cattle across the landscape requires three species – horse, cattle, and human – to move together in a goal-orientated, albeit human-centered, activity. In this multispecies activity, they must synchronize through embodied communication and develop a shared understanding of moving conjointly. Together, all three species are socialized, or “zoocialized,” to learn to engage in a shared community of communication where they develop a sense of “timing” and “feel” of the others to enable their directed movement together. While not denying or downplaying the power and pain integral to cattle ranching, we explore and interpret the interspecies, multispecies communication, collaboration, and choreography. Based on a multispecies ethnographic methodology, we draw on experiences from cattle herding in the USA, Canada, and Sweden. What emerges are intricate relations of agency, shaped by meanings of species, where human and nonhuman social actors learn to meet and construct a vibrant multispecies community of communication.
... Similar practices of keeping small herds close to the settlement have been documented in Siberia during the first millennium AD (Anderson et al. 2019). Architectures such as enclosures and fences were meeting points for reindeer and people, points of intimacy and care in the landscape shared by people and domesticated reindeer (Anderson et al. 2017a(Anderson et al. , 2019Birke 2017). Although little can be said about the temporalities of these architectures based on current knowledge, there seem to have been various meeting points such as enclosures, passageways, and fences for the Sámi and domesticated reindeer in the landscape since the Late Iron Age (Jerand and Linderholm 2019; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). ...
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Animal domestication is a profound change for human societies, economies, and worldviews. The shifting definitions of animal domestication reflect its varying and process-like nature. Reindeer is one of the species whose domestication is not easily pinned down using standard definitions and research methodologies of animal domestication. In recent years, advances in archaeological methodology and the conceptual understanding of animal domestication have opened new avenues for research on this topic. This review summarizes recent research on the archaeology of reindeer domestication among the Indigenous Sámi of northern Fennoscandia. It compiles a chronological framework of reindeer domestication with an emphasis on the development of reindeer-herding practices and human–reindeer relationships. I argue that while a major transition to reindeer herding occurred among the Sámi from the 15th century onward, small-scale reindeer herding characterized by interspecies sociality, cooperation, and care developed earlier during the Late Iron Age, with regional variations in the timing and details of the events. By focusing on reindeer-herding practices and the human–reindeer relationships embedded in them, I also argue that reindeer domestication, and animal domestication in general, is a relationship constructed and constantly renegotiated in everyday interactions with the animals.
... The desire for this connection occurs rapidly, and the outcome is an emotional human-horse relationship. Birke (2017) refers to these moments as interspecies "meeting points" to emphasize the agency of the horse who shapes subsequent interactions. Birke offers a way of thinking about how horses and humans learn to work together through "an awareness of where the other is in space; both must learn how to meet. ...
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Evidence suggests equine-assisted activities may provide psychological benefits to young people “at-risk.” Results are presented from an equine program among 14- to 16-year-old children (N = 7), mostly boys (N = 6), attending a non-traditional flexi-school in Australia. Thematic analyses were undertaken on observations by facilitators, researchers, and a school teacher, and interviews with a school teacher. Key themes suggest that program participants benefited from positive engagement, social connectedness, and increased confidence, relationships, and attachment. Mechanisms were identified as a desire and an ability to connect with the horse and a positive environment. The social context of the equine program contrasts with other contexts in these young people’s lives, which allowed them to engage through more positive relational, affectionate behavior. For the boys, positive rather than damaging masculine behavior was displayed. Furthermore, the compatible student-environment interactions provide a backdrop which makes other positive changes possible.
... A teacher who appreciates the uniqueness of each student can provide conditions for certain kinds of learning, but can never be sure what will be learnt (Eisner 2002). The impossibility to know what will be learnt is a consequence of the fact that experiences are born in moment-to-moment interactions (Birke 2017). "Momentary meetings" between a learner and a teacher are decisive for what can happen next (Aspelin 2010). ...
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This article explores experiential learning through a more-than-human perspective. It builds on my earlier study of young children’s experiential learning, which revealed the biological predispositions or”embodied capacities” that young children have to learn from experience. In this current investigation, I identify some characteristics of a horse’s experiential learning and maintain that understanding these experiences is relevant for teaching beyond human perspectives. I also seek to understand how a teacher can motivate experiential learning. The article presents an ethnographic case study of myself and my horse Zvekki. Zvekki’s sophisticated predispositions for experiential learning have become visible over the years I have been pursuing a relationship of mutual trust between us. Daily interactions with Zvekki have challenged my communicative and other skills to the full and facilitated conditions for both her and my own experiential learning. The joint learning has also been a process of gaining more respect for the horse and gradually moving away from the anthropocentric position where, I realise retrospectively, I started from. What my horse taught me is relevant for teaching different subjects within teacher education programmes because every learning process and form of teaching is an experience in itself. The article focuses on the qualities of learning experiences and skills that are required from teachers who genuinely want to understand learning processes of their students and seek to provide conditions for holistic forms of learning.
Horses have had a singular impact on human societies. Beyond increasing interconnectivity and revolutionizing warfare, reconfigurations of human-horse relationships coincide with changes in sociopolitical formations. How this occurs is less well understood. This article proposes that relationships of equestrianism transform people and horses reciprocally, generating new possibilities for both species. Focusing here on human benefits, equestrianism affords differential and increased mobility, access, and experience for people, which translate horse power into human power. This has particular consequences for how political authority is negotiated. I use the tell societies of Bronze Age Hungary (ca. 2300/2200–1600/1500 BC) to model how horses were harnessed in resistance to centralized rule and social inequality as much as they were used to assert power. This interpretation challenges traditional grand narratives for the European Bronze Age, which see male elite warriors driving chariots, desirous of bronze, and instituting hierarchical, complex societies. Rather, ordinary women and men riding horses built these long-lived communities and were variously able to resist chiefly authority because of the power offered by horses. The theory starts disentangling mechanisms between local equestrianism and long-term historical changes.
Reindeer winter feeding is increasingly important to reindeer herders due to the effects of larger reindeer herds, fragmentation of pastures due to other land use, and climate change on the quantity and quality of winter pastures. Feeding also plays an important role in taming individuals selected for draught reindeer training. In traditional reindeer pastoralism, reindeer received supplementary fodder such as tree branches, lichen, grasses, and sedges in difficult winters. This chapter presents the earliest evidence of reindeer feeding, c. 1200 CE, through stable isotope analysis and an examination of feeding behaviour evidenced by physical activity markers in the skeleton. The role of reindeer feeding in today’s reindeer-herding practice, both for taming individuals destined for draught and racing use and for nutritional reasons in the winter, is discussed based on reindeer herders’ traditional and practical knowledge. The implications for the interpretation of the archaeological data are also explored.
Reindeer herding today is under multiple pressures from climate change, competing forms of land use, and socioeconomic change. At the same time, reindeer-herding practices are important bearers of memory and tradition. As memories and traditions are alive and vibrant in today’s reindeer-herding practices and landscapes, those practices and landscapes have the potential to tell stories of past human–reindeer engagements. This volume’s introductory chapter explores the possibilities of narrating stories of the domestication of the reindeer and the development of reindeer herding through a combination of archaeological evidence and reindeer herders’ traditional knowledge. The chapter outlines the historical and archaeological sources of information on the development of reindeer herding among the Sámi of northern Fennoscandia. It also explores the definitions, meanings, and implications of animal domestication, and discusses how traditional knowledge carries the potential to understand past animal management and human–animal relationships. In exploring these themes, the chapter emphasises the importance of archaeological research and reindeer herders’ knowledge in understanding long-term changes and continuities in reindeer-herding practices.KeywordsEthnoarchaeologyTraditional knowledgeAnimal domesticationReindeer herdingHuman–animal relationships
Human-animal relationships have influenced many aspects of human culture and societies, as the lives of humans and animals were intertwined in past societies. Increasing interest in current archaeology towards human-animal relationships calls for a comprehensive consideration of the role of animal movement in these entanglements. This chapter presents different perspectives on the study of animal movement using reindeer as an example. Animal movement – understood as multi-scalar, encompassing everything between long-distance migrations and transhumance-associated mobility patterns to habitual activity associated with specific behaviors and locomotor patterns – is central in many aspects of human lives, ranging from hunter-gatherer societies following the yearly migrations of their prey to agrarian societies where the rhythms of domesticated animals shaped those of human lives. Ultimately, the archaeology of animal movement must examine the kinds of traces animal movement leaves in the archaeological record; what are the implications for the interpretation of archaeological assemblages; and how does the analysis of animal movements help in our understanding of the lives of humans and animals in past societies. In this chapter we discuss reindeer movements, human-reindeer entanglements and meeting points of people and reindeer. Through these examples, we highlight the range of archaeological issues and methods involved in the analysis of animal activity and mobility, and what implications the analysis of animal movement may have for understanding past human-animal relationships and human societies.
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The domestication of the reindeer among the Sámi of Northern Fennoscandia is a pressing question for the archaeology of the area and has wider relevance to animal domestication studies globally. Despite considerable research activity, many details of reindeer domestication and early reindeer management remain unclear. This paper explores the use of draught reindeer in early Sámi reindeer herding and the implications for understanding reindeer domestication and early reindeer herding strategies. Faunal assemblages from three Sámi dwelling sites in Northeastern Fennoscandia (AD 1300-1800) were subjected to radiocarbon dating and analysis of palae-opathological lesions, entheseal changes and osteometric measurements. The results suggest that working reindeer were present in the archaeological assemblages from AD 1300 onwards. This is the earliest direct evidence of draught reindeer use by the Sámi. It predates the earliest unequivocal historical sources on draught reindeer use, and confirms the hypothesis that draught reindeer were important in early reindeer herding. Our results show that that small-scale reindeer herding was integrated into the subsistence strategy of the Sámi of Northeastern Fennoscandia earlier than previously suggested. Furthermore, the results imply that training and working together with reindeer were ways of constructing the domestication relationship between the Sámi and reindeer.
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Could the everyday affective relationships that we share with our animal companions inspire us to think, write and even care ‘differently’ in the field of organisation studies? In this paper, I suggest that organisational scholars have plenty to learn from post-qualitative writing and the posthumanist practice of feminist dog-writing. Drawing from literature on posthumanism, humanimal relations and post-qualitative methodology, I first frame feminist dog-writing as a practice that relies on post-qualitative writing and discuss what this framing potentially involves, in concrete terms. Second, I experiment with ‘writing with the bitches’ to illustrate how this kind of writing ‘differently’ – in ways in which the entangled co-becoming of the humanimal is highlighted in its multiplicity – could contribute to discussions of humanimal relations in the field of organisation studies and more disruptive, post-qualitative forms of writing in our scholarly field. Despite the many challenges of anthropocentric language and representation, I argue that feminist dog-writing has the capability to creatively confuse, disrupt, and transform more ‘conventional’, mechanical, and hu man-centred forms of academic writing. Finally, I suggest that feminist dog-writing invites human animals to engage differently with the sensate, more-than-human life-worlds that human-centred accounts of organisational life have typically sentimentalised, trivialised, or overlooked.
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Empirical social science research is inevitably highly dependent on verbal communication. Observation, ethnographic and visual methods do of course go beyond words (or meanings derived and shared solely through language) but talking (or words)remains central to communicating meaning. In this paper I want to explore ways of knowing that, while not fully independent of talk, discourse and narrative, nonetheless form a bodily way of knowing. Thinking about other ways of knowing is a challenge, but it is important that there is space to appreciate the different ways in which people come to know things. So in this paper I shall give consideration to acquiring knowledge across species boundaries using the example of human interaction with horses. In this realm it is vital to speak through the body and to interpret through parts of the body not usually called upon in the research process. In this way I will also explore knowledge claims which are not usually regarded as legitimate but which may nonetheless offer insights more broadly into ways of knowing.
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Whether non-human animals can recognize human signals, including emotions, has both scientific and applied importance, and is particularly relevant for domesticated species. This study presents the first evidence of horses’ abilities to spontaneously discriminate between positive (happy) and negative (angry) human facial expressions in photographs. Our results showed that the angry faces induced responses indicative of a functional under- standing of the stimuli: horses displayed a left-gaze bias (a lateralization generally associated with stimuli perceived as negative) and a quicker increase in heart rate (HR) towards these photographs. Such lateralized responses towards human emotion have previously only been documented in dogs, and effects of facial expressions on HR have not been shown in any heterospe- cific studies. Alongside the insights that these findings provide into interspecific communication, they raise interesting questions about the generality and adaptiveness of emotional expression and perception across species.
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The perception of emotional expressions allows animals to evaluate the social intentions and motivations of each other. This usually takes place within species; however, in the case of domestic dogs, it might be advantageous to recognize the emotions of humans as well as other dogs. In this sense, the combination of visual and auditory cues to categorize others' emotions facilitates the information processing and indicates highlevel cognitive representations. Using a cross-modal preferential looking paradigm, we presented dogs with either human or dog faces with different emotional valences (happy/playful versus angry/aggressive) paired with a single vocalization from the same individual with either a positive or negative valence or Brownian noise. Dogs looked significantly longer at the face whose expression was congruent to the valence of vocalization, for both conspecifics and heterospecifics, an ability previously known only in humans. These results demonstrate that dogs can extract and integrate bimodal sensory emotional information, and discriminate between positive and negative emotions from both humans and dogs. © 2016 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
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Many living with companion animals hope for “good relationships” based on trust, mutuality, and cooperation. Relationships develop from mutual actions, yet research often overlooks nonhumans as mindful actors within relationships. This is a study of horse/human dyads, using multimethod approaches intended to include horses as participants. We ask: can “good relationships” be observed, especially when the pair know each other well? We studied familiar/unfamiliar pairs, negotiating simple obstacles, to explore qualities of cooperation between pairs. Interviews with human participants elicited perceptions of horses’ “personalities” and reactions. We analyzed video recordings of interactions and also showed them to external observers. We identified differences in attention, tension and coordination: familiar pairs were more coordinated, mutually attentive, and less tense, and they showed less resistance. That is, some relationships displayed discernible qualities of “working together.” We cannot know nonhuman animals’ experiences, but knowing how they behave says something about their agency within interspecies relationships.
A provocative sociological account of human relations with non-human animals, providing an innovative theorization of the social relations of species in terms of complex systemic relations of domination, looking at ways Other animals are constitutive of human social lives at the dinner table, as livestock and as companions in our homes.
The nineteenth century was the golden age of the horse. In urban America, the indispensable horse provided the power for not only vehicles that moved freight, transported passengers, and fought fires but also equipment in breweries, mills, foundries, and machine shops. Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr, prominent scholars of American urban life, here explore the critical role that the horse played in the growing nineteenth-century metropolis. Using such diverse sources as veterinary manuals, stable periodicals, teamster magazines, city newspapers, and agricultural yearbooks, they examine how the horses were housed and fed and how workers bred, trained, marketed, and employed their four-legged assets. Not omitting the problems of waste removal and corpse disposal, they touch on the municipal challenges of maintaining a safe and productive living environment for both horses and people and the rise of organizations like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In addition to providing an insightful account of life and work in nineteenth-century urban America, The Horse in the City brings us to a richer understanding of how the animal fared in this unnatural and presumably uncomfortable setting. © 2007 The Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved.
The city includes opportunities as well as constraints for humans and other animals alike. Urban animals are often subjected to complaints; they transgress geographical, legal as and cultural ordering systems, while roaming the city in what is often perceived as uncontrolled ways. But they are also objects of care, conservation practices and bio-political interventions. What then, are the "more-than-human" experiences of living in a city? What does it mean to consider spatial formations and urban politics from the perspective of human/animal relations? This book draws on a number of case studies to explore urban controversies around human/animal relations, in particular companion animals: free ranging dogs, homeless and feral cats, urban animal hoarding and "crazy cat ladies". The book explores 'zoocities', the theoretical framework in which animal studies meet urban studies, resulting in a reframing of urban relations and space. Through the expansion of urban theories beyond the human, and the resuscitation of sociological theories through animal studies literature, the book seeks to uncover the phenomenon of 'humanimal crowding', both as threats to be policed, and as potentially subversive. In this book, a number of urban controversies and crowding technologies are analysed, finally pointing at alternative modes of trans-species urban politics through the promises of humanimal crowding - of proximity and collective agency. The exclusion of animals may be an urban ideology, aiming at social order, but close attention to the level of practice reveals a much more diverse, disordered, and perhaps disturbing experience.
This paper broadens out existing challenges to the divisions between the human and the animal that keep humans distinct, and apart, from other animals. Much attention to date has focused on how the Euro-American individuation of the human subject intensifies the asymmetries inculcated by these divisions. This paper rehearses some of this literature but goes on to attend to how these divisions undercut understandings of sociality and limit social organization to interaction between persons. Drawing together debates around the human/animal relation, the paper juxtaposes different perspectives of nature-cultures to bring 'worlds' of relations into view. Specifically, I distinguish here between the state of 'being alongside' and the process of 'being-with'. Ranging from approaches that try to settle ideas of difference through appeals to 'ethical health', through to work on identity that 'unconceals' a wealth of connection, this distinction will help to keep apart those situated moments of relations, where the constituent parts are left more provisional and contingent, from more sought-out relationships, where a sense of togetherness purposefully dominates the conjoining of activities. Contrasting hybridity as a totalizing form of 'being-with', with alongsideness, as a form of intermittent and partial connection, the analysis eschews the obfuscation of difference entrenched in contemporary emphasis on connectivity. Proposing instead the importance of creatures as 'division preserving', the paper theorizes ways to sustain regard for division as well as connection as key to understanding the arts of dwelling amidst different kinds.