Theses Doctoral

"Many Secrets Are Told Around Horses:" An Ethnographic Study of Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy

Van Tiem, Jennifer

This dissertation presents an ethnography of equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) based on nine months of fieldwork at "Equine Healers," a non-profit organization in central Colorado that specialized in various therapeutic modalities associated with EAP. In bridging scholarly work around animals, a literature suffused with the notion of "companion species," as well as scholarly work around psychotherapy, and most especially the idea of "psychotherapy as conversation," the connective conflict these two interests share, and from which this dissertation emerges, is over questions of language and communication. Specifically, the overarching problem that this dissertation addresses is: what counts as talking, in the context of "the talking cure," when beings that do not share human language are necessarily implicated in human conversations. Beginning with Das' (1997) encouragement to understand "pain as the beginning of a language game," most of this dissertation will therefore be about dropping the reader into the silences between the humans and the horses, and between the words the humans use to talk about their experiences with the horses, thereby raising fundamental questions about the communicational dialectics that can transform human experiences. I argue that anthropologists must re-arrange our analytical frames around humans and animals, beginning with how we understand language, in the context of communication, to be organized. Rather than privileging subjects and objects, I suggest returning to Bateson (1972) and attempting to privilege relationships. To explore these ideas, this dissertation will attend to a particular therapeutic modality employed at Equine Healers, a set of practices called a "group sculpture." To set up and make it possible to appreciate the complexity of this modality, this dissertation will first consider framing conversations among humans and horses as rhythmically ordered interactions. To do this, I generate a model of conversation based less on grammatical rules derived from the use of words, or the possibilities offered by subject-object "thing" relationships, and instead lean on musical relationships of rhythm. Initially emerging through conversation, I then trace out rhythms carried between horses and humans by particular physical, material pieces of their world. These brushes, clickers, and bridles ultimately bridge vocal and pneumatic rhythms; and it is movement along this connection, an ebb and flow of voice and breath that, in aligning, generate opportunities for iconic relationships with one's self.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Anthropology
Thesis Advisors
Varenne, Herve H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014