On Equine Language: Jordanus Rufus and Thirteenth-Century Communicative Horsemanship
In his popular thirteenth-century equine training and veterinary manual, La Marechaucie des chevaux, Jordanus Rufus demands that horse trainers modify their own speech to communicate effectively with horses, thus overturning assumptions of human dominance over horses in medieval chivalric partnerships. The resultant tactile, nonverbal equine language becomes constitutive of all training and encourages the horse’s willing participation. In addition, Rufus prohibits the violent use of whips, spurs, and harsh bits—tools that intimidate horses and are therefore incompatible with Rufus’s desire to honor equine emotional sensitivity. When a trainer adopts equine language and avoids coercion, he places the horse’s needs and preferences above his own, becoming a steward and protector of the animals Rufus identified as the most noble of beasts.