Picking up on the post "Smitten" by Francesca Prescott, 7/4/2010, which touched a chord in many of you, I'd like to expand a bit on the research project I did in my senior year of college - a social research project called A Passion for Horses: American Women and their Love Affair with the Horse. I dropped out of college at age 20, went back at age 48 to finish, and finally graduated at age 52. So this research was done after many decades of being a horsewoman myself, and I have always been fascinated by what it is that draws women and girls to horses.
My research consisted of interviewing women from ages 12 to 66, all who described themselves as horse-crazy. I asked them all a series of questions, from when they first became interested in horses - to what it was about the connection with horses that so appealed to them, and lots more.
One hundred years ago, women were expected to wear long skirts and ride side saddle.
I originally had thought that perhaps media influences (the Westerns on television in the 1950's and 60's) or more recent books and movies celebrating horses (The Black Stallion series, etc.) had shed some influence.
But the most common thread I found through all these varying ages of horse women was that they had loved horses for "as long as they could remember" or that they thought "they were born with" their love for horses. Interesting, huh?
Cultural factors have definitely made our ability to own and love horses more easily obtainable today. Note the picture above. Up until about the 1930's, it was unseemly for a woman to be seen mounted astride in trousers. A 1912 book called Riding and Driving for Women stated "the whole idea of women riding astride was an outrage . . . women's thighs were too round and too weak to grip riding that way." And from a medical manual from the same era "riding is dangerous to female anatomy: it produces and unnatural consolidation of the bones of the lower body, ensuring a frightful impediment to future functions which need not here be dwelt upon."
Still, horse lovers have survived. As attitudes towards women were redefined in the 1940's and beyond, the horse's role in society also changed - from primarily a work animal to a recreational one. And conditions were ripe for a woman's love of horses to finally take flight, and finally enjoy the sport of riding in all its glory.
Most all of the women in my study agreed that there had been some older member of the family (if not a parent, maybe a grandparent, aunt, or someone) who first introduced them to horses.
And the other thing they all agreed upon was that it is not just the sport of riding that appealed to them. It is the whole connection with the horse, the bonding with their animal, taking care of the horse, just being around them in general. Horses were described as stress relievers, therapy, companions, and just beautiful to look at. All of these things were important to the love of horses discussed by the subjects in my research.
How about you? What things are important to you in your love of horses? Riding, or what else? Do you think you were born with these feelings? Can you remember anyone of a past generation that might have passed this love down to you?