My horse is *not* my therapist: embodied communicative practices and the construction of meaning in dressage
Susan M. DiGiacomo
(Universitat Rovira i Virgili / University of Massachusetts at Amherst)
Paper short abstract:
An autoethnographic analysis of the role of dressage following the author’s illness takes a phenomenological approach to classical horsemanship as a somatic mode of attention in both horse and rider, materialized in embodied communicative practices leading to the mutual creation of experience.
Paper long abstract:
Phenomenology has given us a new vision of the human body not as intentionless matter but as an agent. Anthropological studies of relationships between humans and other animal species suggest that we should extend this capacity for intention and agency to other animal bodies as well. This paper examines one such relationship: that of horse and human in dressage, or classical horsemanship. Dressage is at the same time a sport and a performing art, both highly aestheticized and firmly grounded in the horse's natural gaits and movements, a fully naturalcultural practice. In this paper I use my own experience over time as a dressage rider to explore dressage as a somatic mode of attention in both horse and rider. Somatic modes of attention are ways of attending to our own bodies, and attending with our bodies to the bodies of others; in dressage horses and riders do both. What happens when serious illness shatters the body's intentional arc? The interpenetration of intention and agency in the embodied communicative practices of dressage restored the use of my body to me after treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma in my 30s, to the extent that riding became the practical affirmation of life over death, a meaning it retains for me three decades later. I avoid treating this reductionistically as "therapy", either physical or emotional. It is a way of being in the world as a body completely alive to another body.
The meaning of horses: perspectives on intra-species communicative becoming