From giving orders to engaging in dialogue: Military norms being challenged at the Swedish riding school (2018) Gabriella Thorell, Susanna Hedenborg, Owe Stråhlman & Karin Morgan. The article refers to past research on riding school activities “[which] has emphasised that young girls develop leadership skills, initiative and a sense of responsibility by being active in the stable environment and taking care of horses”. The role of riding instructors is not researched, even though they are vital in the process and teach practitioners of the animals temperament and behavior. Citing multiple sources the authors underline that “[t]his separates equestrian sports from many other sports; in addition to being knowledgeable about how children and young people learn to ride, the riding instructors must also have knowledge about how to train and care for horses […] Therefore, horse riding can be seen as a complex activity based on interspecies communication. […] The goal of riding is to create a relationship with the horse based on contact and collaboration.”

It was discovered that the riding instructors, due to an economic recession, feel that the institutional arrangements of the riding schools have become governed by the economy. The riding instructors thus feel impelled to change and adapt to new teaching styles – from instruction characterised by giving orders to teaching characterised by dialogue.

Teachers pass on a particular “stable culture” which in Sweden is said to be rooted on military horse handling traditions and animal usage (referencing Riding Instructors, Gender, Militarism, and Stable Culture in Sweden: Continuity and Change in the Twentieth Century, 2015). The authors refer to earlier studies which have argued that military traditions prevail as costs in introducing new models are deemed too high for altering “dominant frameworks”. The international equine industry has become “compartmentalised and entrepreneurial, with a strong focus on competitions”. As riding for leisure has become a notable segment of the industry, teaching practitioners ways to expand their “dyadic relationship” with the horse is expected to become an important part of the equestrian teaching system. This change calls for the development of new pedagogical tools and teaching should possibly rely on a coaching rather then providing “one-way instructions”.

The authors turned to Grounded theory to analyze how ten riding instructors experience these pressures and changes. They offer a detailed description of their interview arrangements and methods, referring to Kathy Charmaz (2009) & Mary O’Connor (2008), among others, as sources for a style of GT which deploys a social constructivist approach.

The constructivist focus of GT is based on the notion that researchers produce knowledge through their interpretations of the informants’ actions and behaviour […] The ambition is to enter the informant’s world and be part of the meaning of the world that is studied through the empirical data collected. Therefore, the result can be seen as an interpreted portrait of the studied world, rather than a precise image of it.

Although their analysis of the interviews feels smart and is very useful for mapping the different pressures which presently effect the equestrian educational culture, I’m not fully convicted by their approach. They’ve interviewed a mass of people in order to formulated a generalized view of their interest. I understand that the volume of interviewees is important for generating an more “objective” view but I think their method produced as much (or more) information on “professionalism” as it does on the subject they are focusing to. I think they were interviewing a professionalism (which in itself is an interesting topic). Learning of the futures, which the present knowledges of the professionals propose, would in my opinion require a durational reading of the professionals work.

They interviewed a teacher called Johanna who underwent her training in the 80ties. Based on the interview the authors explain that “[…] she was initially shaped by her military-style education, but that today she functions more like a coach, being more flexible and expressive in her teaching approach” but I wonder if this change towards coaching is taking place parallel in the military complex too? We are moving from the control of bodies towards the control of desires on all fronts simultaneously. Also the cartoonish top-down sergeant popularized by Apocalypse Now (1979) was never the pinnacle of bodily control techniques the army deployed. In my short experience soldiers are controlled much more efficiently with promises of camaraderie, vague sexual tensions and gossips.

The instructors highlighted parts of the military heritage of horse riding as significant. Punctuality, responsibility and discipline were seen as prerequisite for being able to manage and take care of the horses. Orderliness was also frequently stressed as an important skill, and something the instructors claimed to have learnt themselves during their training at SNECS. In this way, the instructors’ statements indicated that they were ‘affected by strong traditions’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.