Dawn of the centaur era?: equine-based human development and a new age in the evolving history of human-horse relations

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University of New Brunswick


In the last decades of the twentieth century a new industry emerged from the practice of partnering people with horses in interactive activities for the purpose of mental-health therapy and human development. In the late 1980s, as various equine-based health and wellness practices emerged from the margins to gain popularity and credibility in mainstream Western society, some practitioners developed a new paradigm which actively engaged horses as sentient beings capable of consciously aiding in human health, wellness, and social development. Practitioners working within this new paradigm altogether rejected the otherwise common praxis of coercive dominance by humans over animals. Over the past quarter century, this new paradigm and praxis expanded from marginalized experimental idea to increasingly popular professional practice striving for legitimacy as a therapeutic industry in North America, South America, Europe, Australia, and parts of Africa, and in doing so challenged historical social norms and perceptions about horses and created the potential for altering the millennia-old relationship humans have had with them. Existing literature on human-animal relations suggests a global trend of increasing compassion in human-animal relations since the advent of the humane movement in the 1860s, which was reflected in more gentle ways of working with animals. The Equine-Based Human Development (EBHD) industry which revolutionizes the historic human-horse relationship dynamic emerges from this development, at a time when academics in the Western world were also beginning to reconsider social norms regarding engagement with nonhuman animals. The beginnings of human-animal relations studies overlaps with the emergence of the EBHD industry, as well as with an era of social movements including those championing environmental and animal rights. The philosophies and values of the modern development of EBHD examined herein offer new insight into the larger, ever-changing history of human-animal relations, and especially the history of human-horse relations.