Emotional Natives: the role of prey-animal ontologies in Equine-Assisted Personal Development

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Abstract

In the psychological literature on the efficacy of equine-assisted therapies, it is common to read that horses are suitable for such work because of their evolutionary inheritance as “prey-animals”, making them highly attuned to the emotional states of others. Yet this assertion is rarely questioned. This article explores the work that prey-animal ontologies do in an ethnographic study of an Equine Assisted Personal Development (EAPD) centre in England, and how they helped facilitate client interpretations of individual horse behaviours. I argue that in EAPD, prey-animal ontologies constructs horses as highly-skilled “emotional natives” with significant, almost deistic powers. In some ways this was progressively relational. However, in other ways, it inscribed a problematic anthropocentrism, with the horse conceived as almost permanently in response to human agency. Moreover, it was sometimes empirically difficult to sustain. Prey-animality, then, in EAPD, both challenges and reinforces human power relations with horses in complex ways.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociety and Animals
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

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