Equestrian sport has a strong cultural background and is deeply shaped by ethical values, including courage. This fact affects the relationship between riders and horses—and thus the well-being of both, as ethnographer Rosalie Jones McPhee recently explained in the journal Animals.
Jones McPhee has followed the daily lives, training and competitions of 35 amateur racers in Great Britain for over a year. In doing so, I’ve found that inheriting the military’s origins of riding, bravery, and willpower still fundamentally shapes our understanding of good riding. This was especially evident in the researcher’s notes when the horses were hesitant. The teachers then asked their students or the knights themselves to be strict rather than succumb to (legitimate) fear or suspicion. The search for alternative explanations for horse behavior was dismissed as evasive action by other people around them.
Behavioral theories in the social sciences also suggest that female jockeys, on the contrary, describe their horses as reluctant to perceive themselves as brave or trustworthy and needy if they see themselves in the role of service providers.
In any case, according to the author, courage makes it difficult to correctly assess the risks and the need for action. “Brave” riders, for example, tend to use harsh training methods towards themselves and their horses, delayed recognition of physical complaints and poor training progress.
What can remedy this is to boost the riders’ self-confidence, but without stirring up the fighting spirit or increasing social pressure. The author concludes that this is likely to have similar positive effects on the health and safety of humans and horses.
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