Man and Horse in Harmony

  • Elisabeth LeGuin
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


It is only within the last century—very suddenly and very recently, given their long career—that horses are no longer intrinsic to the basic operations of Western society; few of us any longer rely on them for anything we consider indispensable. Horsemanship is still tightly woven into our speaking and our thinking, however, in countless figures that make up a kind of thoroughgoing metaphorical fabric. We speak of being back (or tall) in the saddle, being spurred to do something, reining in someone or something. We transpose equine experience into human terms with concepts such as “keeping pace,” “hitting one’s stride,” “getting off on the wrong foot,” “kicking up one’s heels,” “feeling one’s oats.” Such metaphors are used regularly by people who have never come near a horse to address matters of intention, control, and enactment, and they show remarkably few signs of being supplanted by automotive imagery. Given the readiness with which language adapts to social and technological change, it seems unlikely that the persistence of horsemanship metaphors in modern English is merely an odd pocket of resistance. I would instead suggest that it has to do with the intricate and as yet irreplaceable ways in which horses have represented human embodiment in Western culture.


Physical Discipline Private Level Animal Training Human Embodiment Primary Impulse 
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© Karen Raber and Treva J. Tucker 2005

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  • Elisabeth LeGuin

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