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
Received: 30 November 2020
Revised: 12 January 2021
Accepted: 13 January 2021
Published: 14 January 2021
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.