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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
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Academic Editors: Jane M. Williams and Gillian Tabor
Animals 2021, 11(5), 1352; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11051352
Received: 5 March 2021 / Revised: 23 April 2021 / Accepted: 1 May 2021 / Published: 10 May 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Equine Training and Rehabilitation )
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.
The horse-rider relationship is fundamental to ethical equestrianism wherein equine health and welfare are prioritized as core dimensions of sporting success. Equestrianism represents a unique and important form of interspecies activity in which relationships are commonly idealized as central to sporting performance but have been largely unexplored in the sport psychology literature. Horse-rider relationships warrant particular consideration in the elite sporting context, given the tension between constructions of “partnership” between horse and rider, and the pragmatic pressures of elite sport on horse and rider and their relationship. The current study examined the link between sporting performance and the horse-rider relationship in an elite equestrian sporting context. Thirty-six international elite riders from eight countries and six equestrian disciplines participated in a single in-depth interview. A social constructionist, grounded theory methodology was used to analyze this data. The horse-rider relationship was positioned in three different ways in relation to elite sporting outcomes: as pivotal to success; non-essential to success; or as antithetical to success. Participants shifted between these positions, expressing nuanced, ambivalent attitudes that reflected their sporting discipline and their personal orientation to equestrianism. Competitive success was also defined in fluid terms, with participants differentiating between intrinsic and extrinsic markers of success. These findings suggest a complex and multifaceted connection between interspecies performance and relationships in elite sport. Where strong horse-rider relationships are antithetical to performance, a threat to the welfare and ethics of equestrian sport exists. Relevant sporting governing bodies must attend to this problem to ensure the centrality of animal welfare, wellbeing, and performance longevity to equestrian sports. View Full-Text
Keywords: equestrian sports; horse-rider relationship; equine welfare and management; elite sport; social constructionism; grounded theory; sporting performance; ethical equestrianism equestrian sports; horse-rider relationship; equine welfare and management; elite sport; social constructionism; grounded theory; sporting performance; ethical equestrianism
MDPI and ACS Style

Hogg, R.C.; Hodgins, G.A. Symbiosis or Sporting Tool? Competition and the Horse-Rider Relationship in Elite Equestrian Sports. Animals 2021, 11, 1352. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11051352

AMA Style

Hogg RC, Hodgins GA. Symbiosis or Sporting Tool? Competition and the Horse-Rider Relationship in Elite Equestrian Sports. Animals. 2021; 11(5):1352. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11051352

Chicago/Turabian Style

Hogg, Rachel C.; Hodgins, Gene A. 2021. "Symbiosis or Sporting Tool? Competition and the Horse-Rider Relationship in Elite Equestrian Sports" Animals 11, no. 5: 1352. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11051352

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