Accepted paper:

"The horses, they just know": the sensory correspondence of horses and humans in equine therapy practice


Roslyn Malcolm (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the correspondence of horses and humans across moments of movement and repose in the context of horseback therapy for autism in the UK. The phenomenon suggests a highly embodied form of sociality enacted in temporal engagements across humans and horses.

Paper long abstract:

People on the autism spectrum are often negatively characterized, not only by limited social and communicative abilities, but also inflexibility and a tendency for becoming 'stuck'. Intense interests are referred to as 'fixed', and idiosyncratic behaviours pathologized as restricted and having no aim or goal (APA 2013). However, my interlocutors defined these practices actively, as a route to soothing pervasive sensory hypersensitivities and helping them to engage with others. Struggling to maintain control of shifting sensorial worlds make routine and repetitive behaviours a route to much needed stability. Indeed, the central role of nonhumans - objects and animals - in these practices is indicative of the ways the mind becomes enacted in practice and in relation to more-than-human others. Throughout 16 months of fieldwork with the people on the spectrum receiving horseback therapy I was told "the horses just know". Horses and humans entered mutually constituting bodily attunements, corresponding (Despret 2013) creatively in the co-production of social behaviours. The phenomenon thus suggests a form of sociality enacted in temporal engagements between autistic and non-autistic people that is not only highly embodied, but distributed across humans and horses. Central to this "just knowing" was a shared sensory hypersensitivity of horses and people on the spectrum. By carefully choreographing sensory inputs via horseback movement, the practice aimed to soothe 'sensory overload', inculcating a state of 'sensory integration' and stillness. This paper explores these multispecies relations across moments of movement and repose in the context of horseback therapy in the UK and USA.

panel Cog02
Creative environments, social minds