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Reviewed by:
  • Equestrian Culture: Horses, Human Society, and the Discourse of Modernity ed. by Kristen Guest and Monica Mattfeld
  • Katrin Boniface
Guest, Kristen, and Monica Mattfeld, eds. Equestrian Culture: Horses, Human Society, and the Discourse of Modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019. Pp. 288. Twenty halftones, one table, notes, index. $90.00, hb. $30.00, pb. $10.00–$30.00, eb.

Equine history is becoming a field in its own right, and edited collections like Kristen Guest and Monica Mattfeld’s Equestrian Cultures are critical to that process. These works encourage scholars to engage with each other across more traditional disciplinary and geotemporal boundaries. Guest and Mattfeld have been dedicated to this process, with multiple edited collections currently in production. The drastic decline in reliance on live horsepower in much of the world has changed humankind’s relationship with the animals, yet “horses have remained symbolically central to the accelerating culture of modernity” (2). This collection asks how the conception of the horse has changed with, and been shaped by, the development of “modernity.”

Mattfeld opens the collection with a chapter that takes the core concept from her Becoming Centaur (2017) and dives into the long history of the technological lynchpin that allowed the rider to become “centaur”—the increasing variety of mouthpieces available to either control or communicate with the horse. Mattfeld is masterful in translating specialist [End Page 89] equestrian terminology precisely without interrupting the flow of the argument. This is a skill many sport historians can appreciate, making legible the unique rules, traditions, and vocabulary of the sport in order to make research meaningful. Placing this chapter at the beginning of the collection allows Mattfeld to introduce the necessary language as well as give the context for the development of early modern horsemanship.

Only half of the dozen chapters deal directly with sporting endeavors; however, racing, hunting, and the manège (the precursor to dressage) undergird the rest. The production of animals for sport, agriculture, and war was not as divided as it is today, and, as Donna Landry notes, “war could be most readily imagined as a serious version of sport” (30). This volume is primarily focused on early modern Europe and the United States, both heavily influenced by the development of turf and field horses.

Following Mattfeld’s analysis of manège riding practice, Magdalena Bayreuther and Christine Rüppell show how critical the association of manège riding with aristocratic masculinity was by examining the architecture of stables. They outline the stable of Lothar Franz von Schönborn, which was extensive, expensive, and well-staffed despite Lothar Franz being “already in his early sixties and corpulent . . . [and] not intending much riding be done” (73). Tatsuya Mitsuda provides a much-needed map to the development and changes within the Prussian state stud farms, extensions of the earlier elite private stables. These programs not only had lasting effects on European breeding—some of those studs have given their names and bloodlines to breeds now populating the Olympics—they were also the model for the U.S. Cavalry Remount. Mitsuda shows the Prussian government’s attempts to foster both “English style” flat racing and steeplechase racing to encourage public participation in breeding horses suitable for use as military riding animals, as well as the eventual capitulation to agrarian demands for heavy horses for farm work.

Jessica Dallow and Kari Weil examine the ways rhetoric of purity in breeding Thor-oughbreds was mobilized to support human racial hierarchies. Dallow uses antebellum horseracing portraiture to examine the ways enslaved Africans were central to the Southern racing industry, drawing on the work of Katherine C. Mooney and Edward Hotaling. Weil looks at the rise of the circus in France as a shift from riding as participatory sport to spectator sport—and how the training of the body for sport met ideas of the “pure blood” Thoroughbred horse in eugenics literature.

The chapters show a slow shift in importance from the manège to the racecourse; by the middle of the twentieth century, even most military and Olympic horses were Thoroughbreds. Kristen Guest brings the sporting chapters nearly to the present with an analysis of the genre of Thoroughbred biography...


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