The whole world can be perceived through the Horse.

The whole world can be perceived as the Horse.

The whole world can be perceived as a Horse.

There is no wholeness.

There are only horses.

To perceive, is to read.

I learn to read with the horses.

The sound of, horses:

Running, chewing, moving, stillness, motion, breathing, neeeeeigh.








hästarnafilm - YouTube

Also: The Text is a Horse

(is the Horse a Text?)

& I wrote and I talked:

(Norwich, 2016)

A reflection on girls and horses

This is a paper based on my artistic and academic interest in the relationship between girls, horses and literature as well as my own experience as a horse girl. I have tried to structure it in some understandable way but I’m afraid I failed. I want to fit in too much, and I probably can’t keep a proper distance to the subject. But I do it anyway.

In 2013 I suddenly started to get flashbacks from different kinds of horse environments, like horse shows and stables. These bodies, the bodies of humans and horses, connected so much to different parts of society and history, sort of blended and mixed and made up its own world. I remembered being in this world – though I had never really been. I remembered the horses. How the horses used to organize my whole life, my love and my relationship to the world and its inhabitants. I wanted to remember more.

I have a picture of me and Bonzo. Bonzo was my best friend’s horse. He was really old, but he was hers. I didn’t have a horse, even though I wished for a horse for years, I could never have one, and I knew that – owning a horse was definitely impossible for me – possible for my friend, but not for me.

I will start here, with this thing of owning. It points at a few structures that run through the girl-horse-relationship. It has to do with class and family. Horse riding, in a western context and in the way it is usually described in relation to girls riding, exists almost exclusively in a middle or upper class context, and also, a very white one. In Sweden, there has been a change in the ways humans relate to horses during the 20th century. There has been a change from a view of the horse as part of the military, and part of an agricultural context – and with that a connection to a tradition of work, war, and men – to a view of horses as leisure – and not only a leisure for the upper class, but something more democratic. Susanna Hedenborg, from the perspective of history of economics and sports history, writes about this – for example in her project ”The horse in Sweden : workmate and leisure pursuit”. There has also been, parallel to this shift, a feminization of horses and horse cultures. Horses are now something girls do. And so, the value of the horse and the culture around it has changed, like everything that in a patriarchal context shifts from a boy’s thing to a girl’s thing, a devaluation, it has not the same status, for example in relation to the sports columns, or other sports related contexts. Petra Andersson, a practical philosopher specialized in human-horse relations, describes the attitude to horse riding as a sceptical “not a real sport”. And even though it is certainly possible to criticize the view of the horse-human relationship as only a sport, it shows clearly the context of girls and values today.

This devaluation-democratization opens up possibilities for those who never could be with horses before. Still, the horse world is pretty exclusive. It takes money to have a horse, to go to a riding school. And I wonder: What does it do to the girl-horse-relation when a parent says: We can’t afford this. We can’t afford this relation, this love. The girl’s love for horses and horse girls depends on the parents’ economic capacities.

The owning thing shows the inequalities between horse and human. It is a relationship where one part could, legally, own the other. Think about the free horses: horses running wild, horses as symbols for freedom. Remember you can own them. Remember most (western) horses are definitely not free. Like most young girls: they are not free either, dependent on families and schools and everything else. To be a girl and own a horse could be a stage where you get rid of all the girlishness. Where for once you can be the owner, you can control and master, you can take care of, be responsible for, instead of being taken care of.

The owning thing shows the inequalities between horse and human. It is a relationship where one part could, legally, own the other. Think about the free horses: horses running wild, horses as symbols for freedom. Remember you can own them. Remember most (western) horses are definitely not free. Like most young girls: they are not free either, dependent on families and schools and everything else. To be a girl and own a horse could be a stage where you get rid of all the girlishness. Where for once you can be the owner, you can control and master, you can take care of, be responsible for, instead of being taken care of.

As a child, I loved horses. I loved them and I was extremely afraid of them. As a result I read horse-books. During periods of my childhood I read one or two of them a day. What appealed to me in the genre were, I think, the very strong feelings described. The extreme anger, the undeniable love, the jealousy, the sorrow. The texts put into words those feelings that I did not dare to feel myself. The girls in the books (they were almost always girls) had no one to trust but the horse, and I felt the same, I had no one to trust but the horse, but in my case, it was quite often a fictive horse. So they, the girls, and I, the fictive characters and the readers, built alliances, not with other human beings but with horses and with literature.

When I started to remember the horses it was like that moment became a gap in time, dragging me back through the years, ending up in my eleven years old body lying on my bed reading a horse magazine for girls called Min Häst, My Horse. Next to the bed are piles of horse books. I burry myself in these books.

And now, I am a grown up student of literature and I wonder: What did these books do with me? How did they shape my literary taste? my view of the world? of horses and humans? What are these books? And how come I never read any one of them in an academic context – are they just invisible, ignored or just too bad to fit into the literary canon?

I was about to start writing my master thesis and I decided to do something about it. So I wrote my thesis on a cartoon series called Stallgänget på Tuva by Lena Furberg, published in Min Häst between 1996 and 2008. I think that was one of the most important literary and artistic influences in my life between the age of seven and eleven. I LOVE Lena Furberg. And I am not alone. She is an icon when it comes to horse cartoons. I learned to draw horses from watching her pictures. I Stallgänget she makes the stables romantic, but not too romantic, just ordinary romantic, capturing the feeling of kindness and welcoming and collectivity, she herself describes the series as based on a true story, but also a dream, like this is how she wishes all stables could be. There are difficulties in the cartoons; death, loss, injuries, money trouble and fears. But the girls (almost exclusively girls) are always kind to each other, there are no strict hierarchies, but a collective – which is a difference compared to a lot of other horse books or horse narratives. I would say Stallgänget på Tuva is an example of girl separatism at its best, showing the potentially subversive situation that the horse girl environment offer. Reading the cartoon also open up for existential questions concerning living as a human together with non-humans. That became focus of my thesis: the horse-girlrelationship portrayed in Furberg’s work. It touches theories of post humanism and ecocritiscism, but also intersects gender and critical race theories.

When writing my thesis I noticed the low status of horse books in academia. I am not the first to notice this. The horse book has a history of having low literary status and fighting for it, in a context of gender and quality. Two of the most prominent Swedish horse book writers, Lisbeth Pankhe and Nan Inger Östman, who started to write horse books in the 60s reacted to what they thought of as the low quality in the, mostly translated, books that were available. Like the broader trend in Swedish literature at the moment, they wrote social realism, and wanted to distance their books from more adventure-like horse books. So, the writers themselves often have an ambiguous attitude to the genre, an attitude of wanting to write a horse book that is not a horse book or at least not a usual horse book. Also within an academic context has this been noticed – but there still isn’t mush written about the genre. There are several articles but at the moment I know of no longer project about horse books – though research has been done on horse girls.

At the literature department I often got the impression that nobody really understood what I wanted to do or write, or why I wanted to do it. Often my project was understood as not really “serious”, and more “fun” and “unusual”. But people often started to talk about horses they knew as children – as fascinating creatures or real personalities, almost human. I was sometimes annoyed, sometimes amused by this. The theme of horses seems to make people recall things, memories and histories, and perhaps recalling their humanness, and the fact that there are creatures who are not human. The theme of horse books on the other hand has other connotations: girl’s books, mass produced, probably badly written, often gender conservative, genre books, sometimes almost not even literature.

I also realized I was not able to make what I felt and thought understandable in an academic context. I had too many memories and feelings, and some of them did not really make sense in an academic context. I wanted to do other things. I started to write a screenplay, I only wrote half of it, but it was one of the best halves I’ve written. I made two short films set in stable environment and I started to write short stories and make pictures of horses.

In a way I think of it as a failure. I could not understand myself or what I wanted, and I could not communicate it. I felt like a failed academic, just like I once felt like a failed horse girl, when I was better with books than with horses.

I thought about the space between language and body. Maybe part of the reason why the academic context wasn’t enough is the fact that the horse-human-relationship, is based on non-verbal communication. You cannot talk with a horse like you talk with a human. There need to be something else. So. To be a horse girl is to be in a body, to very much be a body. In her article ”The Body We Care For: Figures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis” (2004) Vinciane Despret writes about the relation between horse and human:

Unintentional movements of the rider occur […] when the rider thinks about the movements the horse should perform. The horse feels them and, simultaneously, reproduces them. A careful analysis of these unintentional movements made by the human body has shown that these movements, in fact, are exactly the same as the ones the horse performs. […] Human bodies have been transformed by and into a horse’s body. Who influences and who is influenced, in this story, are questions that can no longer receive a clear answer. Both, human and horse, are cause and effect of each other’s movements. Both induce and are induced, affect and are affected. Both embody each other’s mind. (Despret, 2004, s. 115)

This: the embodying of the other’s mind, is, I guess, what a lot of horse girl wish for. To get out of one’s own body, to become something more, to connect with another body. To change, to be more a horse then a girl.

The girl body in a horse context is both a work tool and something more. It’s not always a physical body, it could also be something in a dream – just like the horse you dream about owning, but can only have in your dreams, you can dream about your own body and what it can do together with the horse. But this also opens up for conflicts. For failure. When the physical girl body fails. When it’s not strong enough, when it gets hurt, and the worst: when the girl body fails to feel the horse body, fails to merge, when the distance is kept. When your body is too human to become a horse. When you become afraid of the horse, but can’t stop loving it.

Girls’ interest in horses has often been understood as a sort of practice for womanhood, for caretaking. Or, been sexualized, a girl riding a horse like a woman riding a man. One part of me thinks this is bullshit. The other part thinks that even if it is, the mere fact that this view of the relationship exist do something with the relationship, structures it in some or several ways. But what if we instead focus on the stable as a separatist place. And the love for the horse as a real love, another kind of love, not a practice for loving other humans, but a love of its own, with its own value:

What kind of love is that? It’s a love for an individual, a person, a world, a specific world, it’s the love for a species. Is it a love? To fill your girl room with pictures of horses and horse toys and stuff, is this love or something else? WHAT IS IT?

Reading Furberg’s work I find this episode: When the horse Jasmin dies the girl Petra, who owns Jasmin, first becomes extremely sad and she do not want to be in the stables and be reminded of Jasmin. Jasmin has her own special place in Petra’s heart – but she has also made Petra love all horses, and after a while Petra changes her mind concerning being in the stables. She says:

‘But then I thought of the wonderful years Jasmin gave me... How she made me love not only her, but all horses!’ ‘And of course I couldn’t throw away Jasmin’s gift to me!’

I read this as two different kinds of love, the personal and the extended, that even though they could be separated are also part of each other. The human’s emotion towards the horse is at the same time exclusive and personal, between one horse and one human, and very broad – between one human and all horses (physical and fictive). Thus the personal love is a way to an extended love and solidarity with another species.

Being a horse girl could be an experience of resistance. At the age of ten I make my first animal rights act. Together with my best friend I sign a petition against violent and painful horse transportations. Then we sign the petition with the names of all our classmates. With shaking hands we write the names of the boys who, when in the queue in the canteen sneak up behind us, and when we are about to take meatballs they whisper in our ears: you know its horse meat, and even if my mum tells me a hundred times that the meat balls are not made from horse meat , I’m not eating Jackie or Star, I still lose my appetite. But it is more than this, it’s about choosing the company of horses, and girls, before the company of boys and other non-horse humans, it is a way of placing ones solidarities somewhere outside of schools and men and parents.

Being a horse girl is an experience of civilization. You learn how to act, how to be strong, to handle the horse – like a soldier, a worker, a man – to handle other humans, to be responsible, to take care, sometimes with tenderness, sometimes with violence, sometimes in a sort of inbetween where tenderness and violence are inseparable.

Thinking about horse girls is a very nostalgic practice. I write a collective piece on horses. Jenny, my co-writer and I, write through the internet, high on memories of intense feelings. We remember Milton, the white jumping champion we both adored. We remember a paradise, lost, a paradise that never where, a paradise that more-than-where. Is this nostalgia good or bad? I would call it a potential risk, of overlooking things that might need critique. But it might also be a possible space for discussions between generations, to remember and rethink relationships without judging them good or bad.

I grow old and I stop being a horse girl. For a lot of reasons and for no reason at all. But I still read all literature with a kind of horse filter; I highlight the parts about horses. I wonder, what is this horse, these literary, partly symbolic horses, and what do they have to with my experience of horses and horse girls? Nothing, and everything. It’s the same and totally different. To love horses could be to view life from a different angle, sort of. To love a kin and a kind and a person, a body, a situation, an activity, an experience, a context. It never stops.