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Notes to Race, Ethnicity, Species, and Breed Totemism and Horse-Breed Classification in America

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Sally F. Moore for several critical readings of this essay. Thanks are also owed to Charles Lindholm, Chris Waters, Peter Sahlins, Daniel Goldhagen, and Carlos Forment for their suggestions.

1. When dealing with horse breed classification, one encounters several coexisting category systems. In the words of one authority, "now nearly every country has its own national, as opposed to native, breeds. . . . In each case, these breeds have been developed to meet the interest, demands and requirements of the individual country" (Skelton 1978: 10-11). The cultural differences at the linguistic level alone can be the subject of an entire book. For example, breed and race have separate, though overlapping, semantic usages in English. Yet, the words race in French and Rasse in German are used for both people and animal classifications.

There are three categories of horse generally recognized throughout the world among people who domesticate horses. The cold-blooded horses, which are not dealt with in this paper, are those functional draft breeds used for pulling heavy loads but generally not ridden. Cold-blooded can also mean phlegmatic and tractable. The term hot-blooded is most generally limited to horses of the Thoroughbred and Arabian breeds. Three Arabians, imported to England in 1689, 1705, and 1730, are the foundation sires of the English Thoroughbred. These two breeds are also considered full-bloods because they have engaged in endogamous breeding programs over a long period of time. Full-blood and hot-blood are often used, many maintain incorrectly, interchangeably. Hot-blooded can also mean excitable and sensitive. The third category of horse, the subject of this essay, are termed light horse breeds, often a cross between the other two types and used for domestic riding and competitive performance. In the United States they are not simply animals for "ritually demarcated" use, and the theoretical distinction between ritual and everyday is not useful in explaining their categorization.

The term warm-blood refers to those European breeds established specifically for show purposes. They are a cross between Thoroughbreds or Arabians and local draft horses, and are the primary light-horse category in Europe. Each European country has at least several different warm-bloods, which tend to be named after their geographical origins. While draft-horse and Arab breed categories have been constant over several centuries, light-horse breeds (which also includes the English Thoroughbred) are relatively recent in origin (eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), and in the United States new ones continue to be created. The point being elaborated in this essay is that the continental European and American breeds are constituted by different generative principles. The American breeds discussed here are uniformly recognized within the American horse world (see, e.g., AHSA 1982-1983; Kays 1982; Skelton 1978; Davis 1962; Evans 1977; Gorman 1958; Haddle 1975; Haynes 1976; Horse Identifier 198o).

2. Lévi-Strauss has often been accused of reifying cognitive structures. Although he does not deal with the social relations out of which the ideological transformations he outlines are drawn, he recognizes their theoretical significance:  "It is of course only for purposes of exposition and because they form the subject of this book that I am apparently giving a sort of priority to ideology and superstructures. I do not at all mean to suggest that ideological transformations give rise to social ones. Only the reverse is in fact true. Men's conceptions of the relations between nature and culture is a function of modifications of their .own social relations. But, since my aim here is to outline a theory of superstructures, reasons of method require that they should be singled out for attention and that major phenomena which have no place in this programme should seem to be left in brackets or given second place. We are however merely studying the shadows on the wall of the Cave without forgetting that it is only the attention we give them which lends them a semblance of reality" (1966: 117).

3. Dressage, meaning to school or train, provides the basic principles for all hippology, but is today often narrowed to what is in the vernacular called classical riding. Classical, or "high school," riding takes many years of training and supervision, for both the horse and rider, to achieve a moderate level of accomplishment. While in most other riding sports horses can be trained to their maximum capacity in from six months (racing) to two years (show jumping), a horse generally requires seven years of methodical ballet-like training under the guidance of an expert trainer to achieve the ability to perform at the Grand Prix level of dressage.

4. Authors differ in accounting for the nature of Justin Morgan's death.  Jeanne Mellin, in her idealistic biography of the horse, claims he "died of an injury" (1973: 10). Charles Trench maintains that after the death of the original owner, Justin Morgan was turned out to pasture in the harsh northeast winter, like any other horse, "where he was eaten by wolves" (1972: 28).

5. The entire "industry" of horse-breed production and showing is in fact growing rapidly. The following table listing the growth of several major breeds is taken from Dinsmore (1978).


Year Formed

Horses in 1960

 Horses in 1977

































6. The Arabian horse, incidentally, has always been known as an endurance horse rather than a quick stopper and starter; it has a weakly muscled rear end and often crooked hind legs (cow-hocked or sickle-hocked). Consequently, there is no fetishization of the rear. Yet, as in the case of the Quarter Horse, halter classes have increased in importance for the Arabians. Although this shift was based upon different sets of morphological criteria, in both cases less attention was paid to how the horse performed. Many Arabs, bred for heads and necks that blend gently with the rest of the body, for "smooth toplines," lack an adequate withers to hold the saddle in place. Consequently, not only the saddle, but also the rider is continually sliding forward. Such fetishization of parts and "dysfunctional developments" have not, to my knowledge, occurred in Europe, perhaps because of the close ties of function to performance in the European sport horse.

7. An old aphorism says: The mare contributes the disposition, the stallion the conformation. Then, again, there are commonly recognized stallions in each breed that are called prepotent because they pass on their characteristics to their offspring. In America, these particular stallions are said to have a lot of "type" and to be "true to their breed."

8. The exact description of the Ideal-type and conformation is given as follows: "The Paint Horse is a stock-type horse. Head relatively short and wide with small muzzle and shallow, firm mouth; nostrils full and sensitive; ears short and active, set wide apart; large eyes, set wide; well-developed jaws with width between lower edges; neck of sufficient length, with a trim throatlatch and not too much thickness or depth joining the head at a 45-degree angle and blending into sloping shoulders which are long and relatively heavy muscled; medium-high and well-defined withers the same height as croup; deep and broad chest with wide-set forelegs and well-muscled forearm; back short, close-coupled and powerful across loin; deep girth with well-sprung ribs; broad, deep, heavy, well-muscled quarters that are full through the thigh, stifle, and gaskin; cannon bones short with broad, flat, clean, strong, low-set knees and hocks; firm ankles and medium length, sloping pasterns; tough, textured feet with wide open heel" (AHSA 1982-1983: 235).

9. For a useful discussion of the genetic component in breed reproduction, see Warwick and Legates (1979: 553-85). They conclude that although the horse appears to be a "genetically plastic species," we are still ignorant of the "genetic parameters of quantitative traits in horses" (1979: 567).

10. In an extensive discussion concerning the names given to animals, Lévi-Strauss classifies racehorses as metaphorical inhuman beings (1966: 207). He first narrows his discussion of names to racehorses, for "ordinary horses whose place approximates more or less closely to that of cattle or that of dogs according to the class and occupation of their owner. . . is made even more uncertain by the rapid technological changes of recent times" (1966: 206). Reflecting upon English names, Edmund Leach agrees with him concerning racehorses, but disagrees as to cattle and dogs (1976: 100-102). With regard to the American case, I would emphasize Lévi-Strauss's caveat concerning the historical nature of naming "ordinary horses," which, as he uses the term, are the subject of this essay. I would also extend the caveat to racehorses, dogs, and cattle. While naming always involves political power in that it never merely describes but also constitutes the object, there are serious limitations to an approach that determines the signification of animals based solely upon a study of their names as part of a semiological system.  The names themselves are determined by a combination of material, symbolic, and functional aspects of the animal's relation to humans. It should be added that function, conformation, and color of horses are not merely metaphorical extensions of differences in occupation, morphology, and color qf people. There is also a metonymical identification between the temperament, origins, and functions of particular horses and the corresponding would-be or aspired-to characteristics of social groups. This kind of identification has only been suggested in this essay, and deserves further study.

11. Gorman (1958: 313) elaborates the levels of categorization used in speaking about individuals who are partially or fully part of a specific breed. A purebred "is a horse whose ancestors have been recognized as a breed for several generations.  They are generally registered in a breed association." "A registered horse is one that has been recorded in a registration association by name and number." "A crossbred is a horse whose sire and dam are of different purebred breeds." A grade usually means a horse that had one purebred parent and one of unknown or mixed breeding. A more basic distinction is often made between hot-blood and coldblood, which roughly corresponds to the light-horse/draft-horse division. Haynes describes a hot-blood morphologically, as having "smooth body lines, trim legs and feet, quick movement, maneuverable speed" (1976: 62).

12. For a perspective on the extensiveness of an inspection program, note the following two years of statistics for the Quarter Horse (Sikes 1958: 12):

Years Miles Driven by Inspectors Horses Assigned for Inspection Percentage Accepted Percentage Rejected
1956 199,011 5,888 68 32
1957 264,890 9,007 70 30

13. Although the pattern to be sketched is generally true for the Continent as a whole, I am limiting the discussion to Germany and France. Germany is today the recognized exemplary center of international horse competition, of dressage in particular, and a center of breeding for this purpose. Yet, it is in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France that light-horse riding as we know it today became codified, and for this reason, the development of French breeding and showing served as an exemplary center for the rest of the Continent.

14. In an article on sport and social class, Bourdieu makes several related observations about the French case. He maintains that the "extension of the public beyond the circle of amateurs helps to reinforce the reign of the pure professionals," and he attributes "decisive political effects" to "the division it makes between professionals, the virtuosi of an esoteric technique, and laymen, reduced to the role of mere consumers" (1978: 829, 830). While democratization and popularization of certain sports (that is, the extension of participation from royalty in elite schools to military to mass sporting associations) in Europe may have lead to the solidification of status differences, the process in America is different. This is because, first, many sports in America were not initially confined to an elite or to a group of amateur connoisseurs (for example, racing, Western riding); rather they were initially quite democratic. Second, the movement has been toward a proliferation of breeds, sports organizations, and shows, all roughly hierarchically ranked and indexically related to the creation of class and status distinctions in the general population. The consequence has been an appropriation of particular breeds by particular social classes.

15. The account here of this history follows the similar, although more detailed, accounts in the following texts: Seunig 1956; Wynmalen 1966; Kellock 1975; Skelton 1978; Goodall 1982.

16. Xenophon's texts appear enlightened and contemporary when compared to documents published in the Middle Ages. Laurentius Rusius, in Hippiatrica sive marescalia, printed in Paris in 1533, notes: "The nappy horse should be kept locked in a stable for forty days, thereupon to be mounted wearing large spurs and a strong whip; or else the rider will carry an iron bar, three or four feet long and ending in three well sharpened hooks, and if the horse refuses to go forward he will dig one of these hooks into the horse's quarters and draw him forward; alternatively an assistant may apply a heated iron bar under the horse's tail, whilst the rider drives the spurs in with all available strength" (quoted in Wynmalen 1966: 27).

17. For detailed and theoretical treatment of the history of manners in France and Germany, see Nobert Elias (1978; [982). Elias emphasizes both the internalization of norms and the external, policing efforts toward making particular cultural standards uniform. Although, for reasons of length, I am not dealing with the social conditions that made possible the reception and adoption of a national standard, imposed from without, the social leveling processes that preceded and subsequently accelerated after the French Revolution are acknowledged as important in the creation of French nationalism.

18. Arguments concerning the effects of French political centralization on cultural development are put forth by Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron (1977) on national education, and by Eugen Weber (1976) on the creation of national identity among French peasants. Pierre Birnbaum makes the strongest theoretical statement, claiming that the French state is an independent variable, setting the limits for cultural and social processes (1980; Badie and Birnbaum 1983).

19. Max Weber, commenting on the importance of bureaucratization in the development of Germany, notes that the lack of powerful status groups of notables in Germany was in part responsible for the absence of political centralization (1978: 976-77). In an extended treatment of the Prussian experience, Hans Rosenberg maintains that during the ancien regime the bureaucracy "ceased to be responsible to dynastic interest" and "recast the system of government in its own image" (r966: vii). By 1815, the "political hegemony of the bureaucracy. . . was firmly established" (1966: 227). By 1871, German political unification was complete. The interesting aspect of German breeding is that even without political centralization, each German breeding program (Landgestüt) bureaucratized and rationalized separately. The history of German breeding is tqo lengthy to deal with here; however, I might note that the Teutonic Order of Knights already owned sixty-one stallions in 1400. In 1732, Frederick William I started the Trakehner Royal stud which was later taken over by the Prussian state upon the death of his son, Frederick the Great. Yet during the nineteenth century 80 percent of breeding still lay in the hands of small breeders, and the Trakehner horses were not branded until 1888. The Oldenburg breed was constituted in the seventeenth century by Count Gunther, but not subject to licensing of stallions and breeding control until 1819. This can be compared with the early date, 1621, of the Swedish Royal Stud (Goodall 1973; 1982; Skelton 1978).

20. The infantry, not the cavalry, was the backbone of the Prussian army. Yet the Prussian cavalry enjoyed royal patronage and "in the eyes of Europe (since Frederick the Great) was the most famous branch of the Prussian armed forces" (Shanahan 1945: 17, 19). Perhaps because of the lack of political integration, there existed great regional autonomy in breeding and training until the time of Bismarck.

21. Birnbaum maintains that "the German state was unable to differentiate itself from the aristocracy" (1980: 675), whereas in France "the institutionalization of the state was accompanied by marked differentiation from the dominant class" (1980: 676). This may explain in part some of the differences between German and French horse breeding that run contrary to what one might on the surface predict.  The German standard is more uniform than the French, deriving from the close links among the German aristocracy, the military, and the bureaucracy. Yet the French, who have more centralized political administration than the Germans, also have more marked differentiation among the aristocracy, the military, and the state. Thus, the French exhibit somewhat more regional diversity in horse breeding and usage than do the Germans.

22. See Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities (1985) for an extended argument on the conditions under which imagined national communities have arisen.


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