Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
A horse trainer seeking less coercive, more collaborative ways of working with horses likens interacting with horses to tango, arguing that we must invite the horse to dance, not force him to work. More than a beautiful metaphor, this trainer and others like her are developing techniques intended to interpret the bodily cues horses send that reveal their moods, their curiosity, their willingness to engage in dances with humans. According to these trainers, sensitizing humans to their own bodies and to those of horses improves the relationships and well-being of both parties. Many words exist for the type of connection these trainers are trying to build: energy, resonance, feel. Some techniques utilize a sensory-social-affective mode of relating known as “isopraxis,” meaning “same behavior.” The term comes from neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean, who argued that isopraxis is a phenomenon emanating from the most primitive parts of the brain and is found in species from mammals to reptiles and beyond. Others describe sensory connections in words that are very far indeed from scientific languages. This paper builds on ethnographic work with trainers, riders, and horses to show the subtleties of human-animal communication and how those communications exist outside the rational-centric boundaries of the sciences. My goal is to interrogate the sensory relations of humans and animals within human and horse worlds to consider what can be articulated within the framework of the natural sciences and what calls into question the limits of scientific knowing.