Symbiosis or Sporting Tool? Competition and the Horse-Rider Relationship in Elite Equestrian Sports
School of Psychology, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2678, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Jane M. Williams and Gillian Tabor
Received: 5 March 2021 / Revised: 23 April 2021 / Accepted: 1 May 2021 / Published: 10 May 2021
Forming relationships with horses is commonly understood as an important part of amateur and elite equestrian sports. Horse-human relationships have historically been romanticized and the success of sporting horse-human combinations has been attributed to a close relationship between horse and rider. Elite equestrian sports differ from amateur equestrian sports, especially where an elite rider earns their primary income from riding and competing horses, and third-party sponsors and owners are financially invested in a horse-rider combination. In this study, 36 elite equestrian athletes were interviewed about their interspecies relationships. Results indicated that a strong horse-rider relationship could, in some instances, inhibit a rider’s ability to compete successfully and engage in a commercialized sporting context, due to tensions between an instrumental approach to animals and meaningful horse-rider interaction. Results also suggested that horse-rider relationships may be peripheral to performance outcomes, or conversely, essential to performance success. The relationship between sporting outcomes and the horse-rider relationship in an elite setting is clearly complex and multifaceted. An increase in transient, instrumental horse-rider relationships may be resulting in a shift towards a commercial, detached model of relating to horses, raising ethical questions around the professionalization of equestrianism and the management of competition horses.