All month long we will be featuring speaker’s abstracts for the upcoming Equine History Conference: Why Equine History Matters. Register now!
Breed, Purity, Race, & Class: Modernity’s Interconnections Between Horse & Human
Monica Mattfeld & Kristen Guest, University of Northern British Columbia
Associated with human intervention in natural processes alongside categories of ‘purity’ and ‘impurity,’ breed has been central to the development of the contemporary horse industry via breed associations and lucrative international industries such as Thoroughbred racing. Yet, as the work of Harriet Ritvo (Animal Estate), Donna Landry (Noble Brutes), Richard Nash (‘Honest English Breed’), Sandra Swart (Riding High), and Margaret Derry (Bred for Perfection; Horses in Society)—among many others—variously demonstrates, ‘breed’ is also enmeshed in the history of human identity. Perhaps most importantly, notions of equine breed have evolved alongside core human categories of identity such as nation, race, class and gender. As Karen Raber has shown and as Harriet Ritvo (Humanimalia ‘Roundtable’) argues: there is a clear and worrying ‘analogy between the breed-oriented rhetoric having to do with animals and questions of race having to do with humans. It is always a bit easier to let things slip out, or to say things unintentionally, when you are talking about other animals than when you are directly talking about people.’ To think about animal breed, then, is to think about human society and its structure, its labeling, and its ongoing struggles over identity, class, race and belonging.
Our paper begins to think through some of the interconnections between equine breed and human history, especially notions of ‘purity’, ‘race’, ‘type, and ‘breed’. In doing so, we take seriously Donna Haraway’s argument that to engage with questions about breed is to “be part of the ongoing struggle over who lives and who dies” (‘Roundtable’). The history of human culture and the development of equine breeds is one of shared and highly contested understandings of the biological body, of xenophobia and racism, and of an inseparable drive for purity that brings humans and animals together into a shared world. Who is deemed worthy to live, to propagate, and who is cast aside in the equine world illuminates the shifting class hierarchies and definitions of the elite under threat by modernity’s leveling influence.
Monica Mattfeld & Kristen Guest are the editors of numerous equine history collections, including the forthcoming Equestrian Cultures: Horses, Human Society, and the Discourse of Modernity.