Interaction between rider, horse and equestrian trainer : a challenging puzzle

Sammanfattning: This thesis examines the complex and challenging relationships between rider, horse and equestrian trainer in the context of teaching horse riding. What strategies and methods do equestrian trainers use to support the riders’ understanding of, and performance with, their horses? What role is the horse assigned in this form of interaction? Operating at the intersection between practical knowledge and human-animal studies, the thesis adopts an ethnographic approach, and seeks to develop theories of practical knowledge in the practice of teaching riding.Horse riding relies on embodied and “tacit” knowledge, which is achieved through practical experience, and is personal as well as context dependent. Since this kind of knowledge is (in most cases) difficult to completely express in words, it is also difficult to convey. “Equestrian feel” is a part of tacit knowledge and is considered as the most rewarding aspect of equestrian communication. Although horse riding has been taught for hundreds of years, knowledge about the learning situation during riding lessons, is sorely lacking. The results show that, as a subject and as an active participant in rider-horse communication, the horse is not directly addressed in the current education of rider-horse combinations. It is concluded that new teaching strategies are required, so that greater emphasis is placed on “equestrian feel” and on how riders experience their own as well as their horses’ bodies and minds. Furthermore, equestrian trainers need to improve their skills to make explicit to the rider why they choose to give certain instructions, thus contributing to the further development of a rider’s practical wisdom (phronesis).Equestrian cultures are in transition, and traditional systems of training rider-horse combinations are being challenged. The use of horses for sport raises ethical questions and it may be time for sport riders to seriously re-examine and re-evaluate the relation with their horses and how this affects the horse as a conscious and sensitive animal. This thesis is expected to contribute to improved teaching strategies and methods and thus to promote better welfare for both horse and rider.

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