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"The horse has got to want to help" : human-animal habituses and networks of relationality in amateur show jumping

posted on 2017-12-06, 00:00 authored by Kirrilly ThompsonKirrilly Thompson, L Birke
The body and intercorporeal communication are central to the ways in which horses and riders experience their own lives and one other (Thompson, 2011). Recent research into the social and cultural construction of horses has sought to grasp the tacit knowledge, practices, and dispositions within which equine bodies are experienced. In their consideration of a current trend toward breeding and competing sports ponies, Gilbert and Gillett (2012) use Bourdieu’s concept of “habitus” to explain the construction of the horse as athlete. Bourdieu defines habitus as emerging from the “systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures” (1977: 72). A concept that has been difficult to clearly explain (Inoue, 2006), the term habitus is often translated as “a feel for the game.” It describes the physical, emotional, and embodied dispositions for particular kinds of action and activity, such as ballet (Wainwright, Williams, & Turner, 2006). Habitus is more than “simply a state of mind, it is also a bodily state of being” (Wainwright et al., 2006: 537). Gilbert and Gillett extend the habitus concept to animal bodies by discussing an “equine habitus,” which predisposes some horses to participate and perform well in certain sports. By also borrowing from Bourdieu’s forms of capital (1986), they explore the intersection of an equine habitus with physical capital (equine appearance and abilities) and social/cultural capital (equine temperament and manner of relating to others). In relation to one particular equestrian pursuit, Thompson (2012) identifies a “bullfighting habitus” in the horses selected for specialized training as the mounts of Spanish bullfighters.The application of habitus to the equestrian sport of show jumping is continued in this chapter, in combination with a broad “network” approach. Both authors of this chapter have researched the human-horse relationship from the perspective referred to as actor network studies. They are interested in the discursive and phenomenological intersection of human and horse bodies with a focus on the irreducible human-horse relationship and its indivisibility from a greater network of relations and relatings (Birke, Linda & Michael, 1997; Thompson, 2011; forthcoming 2014). Our approach in this chapter is a further extension of that body of work. Specifically, we consider the human-horse relationship from three cumulative perspectives: (1) the social construction of the show jumping horse, (2) the combination of show jumping riders and horses, and (3) the role of coaches (and other associates of the show jump rider). Together, these perspectives provide an empirical outline of a human-horse network involving horses, riders, and nonriders. These perspectives also articulate in detail a show jumping habitus characterizing riders, horses, and their interrelations.


Category 1 - Australian Competitive Grants (this includes ARC, NHMRC)



Gillett J; Gilbert M

Parent Title

Sport, animals, and society

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Place of Publication

New York

Open Access

  • No

External Author Affiliations

Appleton Institute for Behavioural Sciences; Appleton Institute for Behavioural Sciences; University of Chester;

Era Eligible

  • Yes

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