“Riding up forested mountain sides, in wide open spaces, and with walls”

Developing an Ecology of Horse–Human Relationships


  • Dona Lee Davis
  • Anita Maurstad
  • Sarah Cowles




Multi-species ethnography calls for new ways of engaging the contact zones or areas of entanglements among humans and other species. A number of studies identify and describe the roles of embodiment and bonding in developing a sense of partnership or co-being between horse and rider that challenge hegemonic dualisms of horse-human or nature-culture. Less attention is paid to potential roles that the local physical environment or terrain where riding takes place can play in the development of particular horse-human relationships. Informed by a grounded practice theory approach, analysis of narrative data collected in sixty open-ended interviews with US Midwestern and north Norwegian horse people, who participate in different equestrian sports and ride within a variety of local settings, demonstrates complex ways in which terrains ridden effect a complex series of interwoven constructions of shared ecologies of horse-rider relations, identities, and psyches. Riding venues for this study include walled arenas, open spaces of the Great Plains, and forested mountains of Arctic Norway, wherein riders and horse enact their selves as highly schooled, deep thinkers; fearless, adrenaline junkies; self-pacing, heroic stoics, and/or as connoisseurs of nature’s versatility.


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Author Biographies

Dona Lee Davis

Dona Lee Davis is Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Dakota. Her areas of research, teaching and publication include medical anthropology, gender studies and North Atlantic fishing societies. Her most recent book is Mutuality and Empathy: Self and Other in the Ethnographic Encounter (2010, co-edited with Anna Sigfrid Gronseth). This is her first research project in the field of human-horse relations.

Anita Maurstad

Anita Maurstad, Ph.D., is Associate Professor at Tromsø University Museum, University of Tromsø. Her areas of research include small scale fishing, resource management, materiality and museology. Her most recent book is Museologi på norsk. Universitetsmuseenes gjøren (2012, co-edited with Marit Anne Hauan).

Sarah Cowles

Sarah Cowles is an undergraduate Anthropology major at the University of South Dakota. She received USD  Discover Scholar Program  Summer Grant to do research on endurance and trail riders in 2011.




How to Cite

Davis, Dona Lee, Anita Maurstad, and Sarah Cowles. 2013. “‘Riding up Forested Mountain Sides, in Wide Open Spaces, and With walls’: Developing an Ecology of Horse–Human Relationships”. Humanimalia 4 (2):54-83. https://doi.org/10.52537/humanimalia.9993.