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Humanizing Horses: Transitions in Perception and Perspective

Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, LMU Munich, 80539 Munich, Germany
Religions 2019, 10(6), 375;
Received: 25 April 2019 / Revised: 3 June 2019 / Accepted: 5 June 2019 / Published: 7 June 2019
PDF [1461 KB, uploaded 10 June 2019]


In Tibetan history and culture, horses were among the most important animals, if not the most important of all. Horses were the mounts that provided transport, particularly for the nobility and kings, allowing them to travel more quickly and comfortably. Horses were also used for hunting, postal services, and to build a cavalry for warfare. In addition, they played a role in various entertainments, including horse racing, games, and parades. The unusually large number of manuscripts on horses attests to the value of horses in the Tibetan imaginaire compared to other animals that lived in the company of the people on the High Plateau, in Tibet itself, and in Tibetan cultural areas. This article begins with an outline of the uses and benefits of horses in Tibetan culture. It touches upon the animal’s role as the mount of Tibetan kings and debates regarding horses’ mental faculties. Then it presents a survey of the content of various manuscripts on equine studies based on sources from three stages: (1) the earliest Tibetan sources from Dunhuang; (2) translations from Indian texts; and (3) extensive compendia that merges all of the knowledge on horses available at the time of their composition. It analyzes the style and content of books that indicate the approach of the authors to the topic of “horse” and points to their view of horses in relation to Tibetan culture and Buddhism. Moreover, the books’ content mirrors the various functions and applications of horses in Tibet and India. It reveals the purpose of these books in general and illustrates the relation between textuality and orality. The study demonstrates the link between hippology and hippiatry, and the development of equine studies in Tibet. It shows the influence of humans on horse medicine and, moreover, contributes to an improved understanding of the development of Tibetan medical sciences in general. View Full-Text
Keywords: Buddhism; animals; human–animal relation; traditional veterinary medicine; Tibetan horse medicine; horse books; traditional medical cures; Tibetan manuscripts; oral and written tradition Buddhism; animals; human–animal relation; traditional veterinary medicine; Tibetan horse medicine; horse books; traditional medical cures; Tibetan manuscripts; oral and written tradition

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Maurer, P. Humanizing Horses: Transitions in Perception and Perspective. Religions 2019, 10, 375.

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