Accepted Paper:

From servant to therapist: the changing meanings of horses in Finland  
Riitta-Marja Leinonen (University of Oulu)

Paper short abstract:

The roles of horses change across time, and so do the meanings people give them. These culturally and corporally constructed meanings affect the way people interact with horses. The analysis of oral and written histories in my dissertation produced five cultural models for horses and human-horse relationship.

Paper long abstract:

During the last 100 years the use of horses has changed as their roles in agricultural and forestry work and warfare have changed to companion in sport, therapy and recreation. My study explains how the changing roles of the horse are displayed in the perceptions of it, its handling and human-horse relationship in Finland. The main research material consists of interviews and written stories of Finnish people. The theoretical-methodological framework in this study employs cognitive anthropology and narrative research.

As human-horse activities are emplaced spatially and temporally, so are the meanings that people give to horses. In the research material the horses were seen as individuals having their own agency, and depending on the meaning of and the relationship to the horse, its agency was perceived differently. The analysis produced five cultural models of horses and human-horse relationship: servant, machine, hero, performer and therapist.

Servant and machine models were associated with the working horse of the past including opposite ideas of human-horse relationship ranging from trust to domination. The warhorses of WWII were seen as anthropomorphized heroes and part of the national story of Finland. Today sport horses are seen as performers and the human-horse relationship is based on practicality and passion towards the sport and the horse. A leisure horse is often considered a therapist with which the relationship is based on understanding, nurture and trust. The horse appears as a friend and an object of affection in all other models except the machine model.

Panel P093
The meaning of horses: perspectives on intra-species communicative becoming