Straight from the Horse’s Body: Reimagining Training through Classical Dressage



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In this thesis, I critique the concept of training as it is conventionally defined and then expand the potential for training by reimagining it through using concepts found in classical dressage. Dressage, an ancient art in which a horse and rider work together to execute a series of dance-like movements, is at its core a practice of training. I put dressage concepts in conversation with works of feminist, queer, and affect theory in order to consider the question, how is our understanding of training limited by normative conceptions of power, authority, and methods of knowledge production? Through reworking these dressage ideas I reimagine training as a practice that is embodied, affective, intimate, complex, and connective. I start by acknowledging the harmful role of vision in the rising popularity of competitive dressage but also note the benefits of embodied, situated vision. I then argue that, as an affective and embodied art, classical dressage values bodily knowledge and requires the concept of “feel,” a rider’s ability to feel a horse’s movement and affect. In the following chapter, I discuss position as a principle that organizes bodies and hierarchies of authority, and through examining the concept of submission as defined by dressage trainers and as it is used in human butch/femme relationships, I open up the concept of training to more nuanced understandings of how power hierarchies are constructed. Finally, I consider the riders’ common desire to connect deeply with their horses and, through exploring the various strategies dressage riders use to transcend a mind/body, horse/human split, I reimagine training as an Apollonian, affective process of becoming with.



Training, Dressage