Communication, Identity, and Power in the Horse World

  • Pauliina RaentoEmail author
Living reference work entry


This chapter offers an introduction to the Horse language(s) and thereby encourages investigation into nonverbal and interspecies communication, other-than-human agency, and their relationship with social trust and fieldwork in (language) geography. The emphasis is on human Horse, that is, a jargon that varies geographically, socially, and functionally. It is place- and situation-specific but understood worldwide. The numerous (partially overlapping) subcultures have particular socioeconomic and gender profiles with distinctive identities and complex power relations reflected and reproduced in speech and performance. Yet, the equine serves as a common point of reference for this language, cocreates community, and fosters global networks where humans communicate with one another across linguistic and other boundaries. The internal diversity, unity, and places of Horse as constituents of identity and power are discussed. The examination expands scholarly understanding of how sociocultural and professional status is established, tradition maintained, and knowledge transferred without words and through naming. The reader learns how competence in verbal and nonverbal Horse builds cultural capital and social trust and manages boundaries between “us” and “them.” The reader is challenged to think beyond human agency, spoken and written communication, and customary ways of learning, teaching, and doing fieldwork.


Communication Horses Human–animal relationships Identity Jargon 



The chapter is part of the Author’s “The Horse in Finland: Society, Language, and Culture” project, supported by the Kone Foundation (2014–2018), Ypäjä Equine College, and Academy of Finland Center of Excellence in Research RELATE at the Tampere University (# 307348, 2017–2019).

Supplementary material

Video 1

Basic stable manners taught, and tasks given, to a foal include wearing a halter, staying calm when handled alone before weaning, standing still, accepting tying, cross-tying (attachment to a structure on both sides), touching in all parts of the body, and accepting brushing and other forms of grooming and treatment. On the video, students of grooming at Ypäjä Equine College in Finland brush a 6-month-old Finnhorse filly Ypäjä Onerva, whose future work will be in riding, education, and, later, in breeding because of her pedigree. The daily exercises are kept short and encouraging. (Video by the author) (MP4 249576 kb)

Video 2

Chief instructor (now Director) Markus Scharmann of the German Olympic equestrian training center at Warendorf is a requested instructor for show-jumping clinics. On the video, he trains a group of riding majors at Ypäjä Equine College in southwestern Finland. The example shows how feedback from an experienced riding coach gradually improves the student’s and her horse’s performance. (Video by the author) (MP4 402464 kb)

Video 3

A longe/lunge line is a useful piece of equipment in several situations. In addition to a rigorous training exercise of a (riding) horse, it is customarily used in veterinarian examinations of lameness or the symmetry of a horse’s movement. It also is a way to illustrate a horse’s behavior and style of moving in a sales situation. The video from a manége (riding hall) exemplifies two styles of using the longe/lunge line. In the front, a Finnhorse trotter is presented by a groom to a veterinarian who observes the horse’s free movement on a soft surface for insurance and sales purposes. In the background, a riding horse is being longed/lunged in a controlled training exercise, in trot and canter. (Video by the author) (MP4 234111 kb)

Video 4

The level of competence in interspecies communication is measured, and peer respect is earned, in equine sport competitions of various sorts. On the video, a Western rider and her three-year-old (working/reigned) cow horse (a stock horse) perform cow work in a Snaffle Bit Futurity contest by the National Reined Cow Horse Association in Reno, Nevada (southwestern USA). The cow released to the arena is first “boxed” (held) in one end of the arena. The next task is to “fence” the cow: to run the cow on the rail toward the other end of the arena and turn him around without help from a structure (such as a fence). The final step is “circling”: the cow is moved in the center of the arena in tight circles, in two directions. The audience response and the rider’s body language confirm satisfaction with the performance. (Video by the author. For competition rules, vocabulary, and more videos and information, see NRCHA’s official website at (MP4 135887 kb)

Video 5

One illustrative example of a ritualistic place- and role-specific “voice” is the performance of a broker in a horse auction. On the video, a chestnut thoroughbred filly is sold in a Tattersalls yearling auction in Newmarket, England. The sales catalog has details of each foal and their lineage. The prices are still marked in guineas but converted immediately to contemporary pounds and several other currencies on the electronic board behind the broker. Examples of internationally standardized sales catalogs and information on this major European bloodstock auctioneer can be found at (Video by the author) (MP4 337779 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculties of Management and CommunicationTampere UniversityTampereFinland

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