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Article

An Ethnographic Account of the British Equestrian Virtue of Bravery, and Its Implications for Equine Welfare

Social Anthropology Department, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3RF, UK
Animals 2021, 11(1), 188; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010188
Received: 30 November 2020 / Revised: 12 January 2021 / Accepted: 13 January 2021 / Published: 14 January 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse-Human Interactions and Their Implication for Equine Welfare)
Bravery is an important virtue for British horse riders. This article is based on 14 months of ethnographic research, in which I spent time with horse riders (n = 35), observing their day-to-day lives and recording their riding lessons, competitions and ‘yard chatter’ in field notes and by Dictaphone. I found that when riders were fearful, they were often ridiculed, excluded and belittled. Riders’ capacity to be brave became an issue particularly when horses were thought to be defiant. Riders tried to overcome their ‘confidence issues’ by ‘getting tough’—on both themselves and on their horses—often at the demand of their instructors. When fearful riders sought alternative explanations for problematic equine behaviour (such as a veterinary diagnoses), other riders judged them as avoiding getting to grips with the ‘real issues’ (their horses’ defiance, and their own fear). Programs that aim to help riders to develop confidence without instilling a sense of ‘battle’ with the horse, and without ridiculing the rider, are likely to have positive implications on equine welfare and human safety.
This article describes the virtue of bravery in British equestrian culture and suggests that riders’ tactics for bolstering bravery may have negative implications on equine welfare. These observations are based on 14 months of ethnographic research among amateur riders and the professionals who support them (n = 35), utilising participant observation and Dictaphone recordings. Riders suffering from ‘confidence issues’ could be belittled and excluded. Instructors’ approaches towards bolstering bravery involved encouraging riders to ‘get tough’—on both themselves and on their horses. Narrative theory is employed in this article to show that riders could demonstrate their own bravery through describing the horse as defiant. Alternate narrative possibilities existed, including describing the horse as needy patient and the rider as care provider. Riders were critically aware that veterinary diagnoses could be sought or avoided in line with riders’ own dispositions. ‘Diagnoses-seeking’ behaviours could be judged negatively by others and seen as evidence of unresolved fearfulness. In conclusion, the British equestrian cultural orientation towards bravery can be associated with stressful or painful training techniques, delayed or missed diagnoses of physiological pathologies, and poor training outcomes. Programs that aim to help riders to develop confidence without instilling a sense of ‘battle’ with the horse, and without ridiculing the rider, are likely to have positive implications on equine welfare and human safety. View Full-Text
Keywords: horses; Britain; welfare; bravery; ethics; culture; ethnography; tradition; training; human–horse interaction horses; Britain; welfare; bravery; ethics; culture; ethnography; tradition; training; human–horse interaction
MDPI and ACS Style

Jones McVey, R. An Ethnographic Account of the British Equestrian Virtue of Bravery, and Its Implications for Equine Welfare. Animals 2021, 11, 188. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010188

AMA Style

Jones McVey R. An Ethnographic Account of the British Equestrian Virtue of Bravery, and Its Implications for Equine Welfare. Animals. 2021; 11(1):188. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010188

Chicago/Turabian Style

Jones McVey, Rosalie. 2021. "An Ethnographic Account of the British Equestrian Virtue of Bravery, and Its Implications for Equine Welfare" Animals 11, no. 1: 188. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010188

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