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Title: Reasonable creates : British equestrianism and epistemological responsibility in late modernity
Author: Jones McVey, Rosie
ISNI:       0000 0004 7651 4745
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis investigates the ethical work British horse riders conduct in order to know their horses well. This ethical imperative emerges out of a changing equestrian context. A broadening socio-economic demographic of equestrian participants, with an increasingly female population, moves equestrianism further away from its military and elitist heritage, and towards more 'one-horse owners' who nurture the ideal of close, companionable, 'partnerships' with their horses. At the same time, an increasing number of options for horse care and riding style instil the owner with responsibility to act as their horse's agent in choosing well. One of the things that they must choose, from a commercialist sphere of options, is how to educate themselves and their horses in order to achieve true partnership. This market is fraught with critique and debunking, reform and invention. I describe how this relates to a broader neoliberal context in which the idea of 'real connection' is highly valued and nostalgically missed. Through this ethnography, I aim to bring the anthropology of ethics and the 'animal turn' in anthropology into productive dialogue with one another. This is no easy task, since the former is concerned with the human sphere of moral conduct, while the latter has implemented a substantial challenge to anthropocentric study and advocated a recognition of life 'beyond the human'. However, I find grounds for mutual engagement in investigating the role that reflective thought plays within intersubjective equestrian dynamics. Many authors within the 'animal turn' critique the Cartesian distinctions between mind and body, self and other, human and non-human, and advocate that we should be cautious of the forms of detachment they invoke. In contrast, I argue that the 'epistemological responsibility' involved in knowing the horse well requires a complex and highly particular mastery of the dualistic distinctions, rather than a negation of them. In making this argument, I also contribute to the anthropology of ethics an example of nuanced relatedness between embodied intersubjectivity, self-critique, and knowledge evaluation. I demonstrate ethnographically that horse riders critique and cultivate a number of ethical, epistemological skills: open-mindedness, management of real and non-real registers of speech, self-awareness and self-comportment, narrative competence, accurate sensitive perception and good 'feel' for the horse. I demonstrate that highly valorised experiences of 'true connection' comprise of moments where horse and human move in such harmony that a third-person reflective stance is redundant; no interpretative work, communicative repair, or self-assessment is necessary. However these moments are rare and fleeting, because in this context, relational skill is (self)critical skill, riders continually learn to 'feel' more detail, to evaluate more critically, and to better recognise subtle signs of disengagement and miscommunication. In sum, this thesis demonstrates that 'true relatedness' is performed as precarious within this particular classed, gendered and epistemological context, and mobilises this finding to contribute to debates in the anthropology of ethics and the 'animal turn'.
Supervisor: Candea, Matei Sponsor: Intelligent Horsemanship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: anthropology ; multispecies ; biritsh ; horsemanship ; horse ; partnership ; ethics ; empathy ; epistemology ; britain ; women ; gender ; class ; trust ; objectivity ; attunement ; critique ; doubt ; pet ; expertise ; authority ; embodiment