In Pursuit of Meaningful Human–Horse Relations: Responsible Horse Ownership in a Leisure Context

N. Schuurman, Alex Franklin

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    The practice of keeping horses is increasingly understood as a leisure activity – but what does it actually mean to think of horses as animals of leisure? In engaging with this question this chapter concentrates on the ownership of horses by non-professionals or ‘amateurs’; that is by those individuals who engage in horse ownership solely as a form of leisure practice, to be undertaken entirely in their free time. It is amongst this category, referred to here as ‘leisure horse owners’, that by far the greatest rise in horse ownership is currently occurring in the western world . The human–horse relationship has always been based on individual encounters and communication between the two, and in contemporary equestrian culture, the affective aspect of the relationship is emphasized and the horse is increasingly perceived as a companion. The expectations of horse-ownership are focused on the emotional and affective qualities of the human–horse relationship and on forming a partnership with the horse, alongside the practical use of the horse for purposes of sport and competition. Understanding the construction of any individual human–animal relationship as never ‘fixed’, always in the becoming, this chapter takes as its focus the construction of a mutually rewarding human–horse relationship, leading to what is often termed as ‘responsible horse ownership’ by animal welfare organizations and educational institutions. The discussion is guided by a conceptual framework of Robert A. Stebbins's (1992; 2001; 2012) Serious Leisure Perspective (SLP). Stebbins’s concept is useful for studying this new wave of leisure horse-ownership as, by encouraging reflection on whether or not it can be understood as 'serious' leisure practice, it supports a review of levels of commitment to the human–horse relationship and equine welfare in contemporary horse keeping culture. We pay particular attention to the ways in which the pursuit of horse keeping as serious leisure can benefit the affective relationship between human and horse by taking into account the horse itself as a sentient being and a subjective actor and agent. To do this, we seek to conceptualize the practice of keeping horses from the emergent relationalist view point in human–animal studies, turning the focus towards the actual relationship between the human and the animal. We begin by asking whether a human–horse relationship, including the idea of responsible horse ownership, can be understood as ‘serious leisure’? Simultaneously, though, we re-evaluate the typology presented by Stebbins in his Serious Leisure Perspective, with the introduction of the animal other, an element that challenges several of Stebbins’s very concrete assumptions of the empirical reality of leisure. This in turn leads us to ask, to what extent might individual horse–human relationships impact upon an individual owner’s commitment to the daily practicing of serious leisure? Central to the analysis is the horse, an active agent in influencing the pursuit of a human–horse relationship as serious leisure, as well as the welfare implications of the above-mentioned practices for the horses.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationAffect, Space and Animals
    EditorsJopi Nyman, Nora Schuurman
    Place of PublicationNew York
    ISBN (Print)9781138920941
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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