Global equestrian cultures in change: New gendered human-horse relations emerging from Western riding?

Moving beyond the binary approach to gendered human-animal relations, this project engages the Multispeceis Triad of human-horse-cattle relations as they interact in cattle ranching as well as Western style equestrian sports and tourism centering the cattle in both Sweden and Colorado.

Horse and cows
Photo: Andrea Petitt

Through a one year ethnographic field study on a working cattle ranch run by two women in Colorado and a seven months multi-sited ethnography of various ranches, sport and tourist activities all around Sweden, I investigate how gendered human-horse-cattle relations in Sweden are renegotiated through drawing on, or challenging, ideas of what is seen as the ‘authentic’ practices of the American West. I also investigate how gender-species intersectionalities are negotiated at contemporary working cattle ranches, sport and tourism in Colorado and how this relate to the ideas of authenticity that inspire Swedish practices.

Gendered associations of Western riding diverge from those of classic ‘English’ horse riding and with the dramatic growth of Western riding in Sweden recently – not the least among men - there is a potential for a renegotiation of gender relations in horse activities. Western riding is also emerging in Swedish agricultural practices of cattle production. What is more, an increased interest around the USA – from where Swedish Western riding originates -  in ‘Natural Horsemanship’ that promotes ‘gentler’ approaches than the ‘older’ Western practices has led to the renegotiation of masculinities by Western riding icons of the American west. What kind of gendered expressions of Western riding that the Western boom in Sweden embody is still to be investigated.

In order to understand how contemporary gender relations in a globalized equine culture have local implications, there is a need to explore how they are negotiated through human-horse relations at their origin, the USA and how they are reproduced or challenged in Sweden. Through ethnographic field studies in Sweden and in the USA, including both sport and agricultural activities, this research will show how dynamic human-horse relations in Western riding in Sweden shape and are shaped by gender and interactions with cattle as well as how these reproduce or challenge contemporary expressions of gendered human-horse relations in the USA.

Gendered human-horse relations in Sweden and the USA

The purpose of this project is to understand how changes in the global equestrian culture of Western riding have local effects on gendered human-horse relations in Sweden and how these relate to those of its culture of origin in the USA. The aim is to explore how dynamic human-horse relations in Western riding in Sweden shape and are shaped by gender and interactions with cattle as well as how these reproduce or challenge contemporary expressions of gendered human-horse relations in the USA. 

About the project

Horse in snow
Photo: Andrea Petitt

Research questions

  • What implication does the influence of NH in Western riding in the USA have for local gender and human-horse-cattle relations? 
  • In what ways do gendered expressions of human-horse relations in Sweden draw on, or challenge, horse and cattle practices of the American West? 
  • What do Western riders in Sweden think of American practices and vice versa? 
  • In what ways are gender relations renegotiated in equine cultures in Sweden today? 

Publications from this project

  • Petitt, A. (forthcoming) Conceptualising the Multispecies Triad: Towards a Multispecies Intersectionality. Feminist Anthropology.
  • Petitt, A. and Brandt, K. (2022) Zoocialization: learning together, becoming together in a multi-species triad, Society & Animals
  • Petitt, A. and Eriksson, C. (2022). Breeding Beyond Bodies: making and “doing” cattle. Society and Animals, 30 Pp. 108-126.
  • Petitt, A. (2021) 'Cow paths and Horse trails: in Academia and around the world', in Birke, L. and Wels, H. Dreaming of Pegasus: Equine imaginings, Victoria Press Ltd
  • Petitt, A. (2019). 'Working cowhorses in multispecies encounters', in Bornebark, J., Ekström von Essen, U. and Anderson P. (Eds.) Equine Cultures in Transition: Ethical Questions, Routledge
Senast uppdaterad: 2022-05-03