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I would say that the single greatest change has been what I perceive to be the continuing divorce between modern Western society and the world of large animals, in this case, of course, horses. This is not to say that there are not still millions of them. Rather, it is to say that the mad rush of technological change since the beginning of the twentieth century has created a sort of “civilizational amnesia” as regards the intimate and absolutely critical connection – one that had endured for literally thousands of years – between man and equus. The relative proportion of persons in the Western world who have the good fortune to maintain that connection today is miniscule, but precisely because that number is so small, there devolves upon those same persons (and interested others) what I would describe as an enormous historical responsibility not to allow the collective memory of human-horse relations to die away entirely.
2 - Do you ride?
Thanks to the generosity of a good friend and neighbor, I do indeed ride. My mount is a chestnut, Pennsylvania-bred Irish Hunter (TB).
3 - Do you own a horse?
Regrettably, I do not currently own a horse. My association with horses, however, is of long standing.
4 - Who is your favorite horse in history?
If one may be permitted to choose an anonymous one, then I would have to say that my favorite horse is the horse of the mounted warrior. The cavalryman’s horse, broadly defined as the steed of any horse-warrior (whether Hun, Scythian, Sarmatian, Magyar, Mongol, Turk, medieval European knight, early-modern or modern European cavalryman, US Dragoon, Native American horseman, samurai, etc.), carried the fate of empires on his back. And sometimes he carried the fate of civilization itself. I should like to think that he did so largely without complaint. I know that he frequently did so without proper feed, water, or care. He risked his own life and paid it in full more often than his rider. He should be remembered.
5 - Who do you think was the most influential equestrian human in history and why?
For my part, I would have to say that Genghis Khan must be regarded as by far the most important example of what author Bjarke Rink has termed “Homo-Caballus.” The empire established by Genghis Khan is almost universally regarded as the largest contiguous territorial polity in the history of the world. At its greatest extent (A.D.1227) it stretched from the River Dnepr and the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean and from the Persian Gulf to beyond Lake Baikal. More to the point, it was an empire conquered and administered quite literally from horseback. That empire (and its immediate successors) not only lasted for several centuries in its own right but also indelibly influenced the extant horse cultures of the Eurasian steppe right down to the Cossack societies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
6 - What was your greatest equestrian influence from books or cinema when you were young?
The most rousing and enticing, if not always historically accurate, equestrian influence in my youth came from the cinema. It was J. L. Thompson’s 1962 adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s novel Taras Bulba which told the story of the Zaporozhian Cossacks.
7 - What equestrian book would you recommend today and why?
As a European historian, I would actually recommend two: Miklós Jankovich’s They Rode into Europe: The Fruitful Exchange in the Arts of Horsemanship between East and West, (The Long Riders’ Guild Press) and Sandra L. Olsen’s Horses Through Time (Carnegie Museum of Natural History). In the first instance, Jankovich forcefully reminds Western riders of the immensely important influence which Eastern equestrian practices and breeding have had on Europe and, by extension, Europe’s offshoots in North America and elsewhere (see Question 5 above). In the second instance, Olsen provides a very useful collection of brief essays on various equestrian topics each of which is not only informative in its own right but, when taken together with all the others, provides a thorough overview of horses, their history, and their breeding. To anyone reading these two texts, I would further recommend the offerings of the The Long Riders’ Guild Press in general as well as a newly published text by Pita Kelekna entitled The Horse in Human History (Cambridge University Press).
8 - How did you initially become interested in your specific equestrian specialty?
I was struck by the compulsion to take my passion for horses and riding and “marry” them to my lifelong – and now, for more than twenty years, professional – interest in European and German military history. Specifically, I became fascinated by an examination that I’d begun concerning the role of the German cavalry between 1870 and 1945. As regards the latter part of this period, there still exists a popular myth that the German Army in World War II was a fully mechanized force. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, many professional historians know this, but not many at all have written about it. Consequently, I decided to do so.
9 - What prompted you to enter that field?
As I say, my professional and personal interest drove me to it, and I am happy that that happened. Furthermore, I was prompted by a desire to try to communicate my knowledge of the subject to a largely “horseless” contemporary society of American college students.
10 - Did someone encourage your decision or inspire you?
Yes, indeed. I enjoyed the warm encouragement of my family, my riding partner, and my colleagues at Western Carolina University. I should also certainly add that CuChullaine and Basha O’Reilly and The Long Riders’ Guild Press have remained wonderfully supportive of my endeavors. In fact, they have made possible a number of developments that simply would not have occurred otherwise, and I remain very grateful for their assistance.
11 - When did you begin your research, investigation, work?
I began this research in earnest in 2005. I like to think, however, that all of the work that I have done and all of the experiences I have had with horses heretofore have constituted a sort of preparation
12 - What do you think is your most important discovery, achievement or insight regarding your equestrian work?
I believe that my most important achievement is to contribute in a material fashion to the dispelling of the popular myth about the German Army that I mentioned above (see Question 8).
13 - What modern technology, techniques and media have you found most helpful?
Certainly the most helpful technology that I have used to date in my current research has been computer-driven data storage and retrieval for the actual writing of my manuscript. Furthermore, extensive use of microfilm has proven invaluable for my reading of German-language primary documents from the period 1939-1945.
14 - What part of your work do you find most fulfilling?
The most fulfilling aspect of my work is twofold: 1) the process of discovery and 2) being able to take my new knowledge directly into the classroom and onto the written page.
15 - What’s been your biggest disappointment in your work?
My biggest disappointment lies in the fact that it has taken me longer than I would have liked to conduct my research and write my manuscript.
16 - How do you explain the gulf between academic equestrian investigation and the average horse owner?
I suspect that this gulf is the same as that existing between other academic investigators and their potential audiences, namely that professionals in the “ivory tower” and non-academics simply don’t communicate as often or as effectively as they should.
17 - What equestrian subjects are in need of more research and investigation?
As you might expect, I believe that solid historical research on the place of the horse in human society needs much more thorough investigation. It appears that a genuine start has been made if one considers either new publications or re-prints of earlier works that would otherwise have been lost or, at best, ended up on antiquarians’ private bookshelves. In the latter regard, once again, I believe that The Long Riders’ Guild Press is making a signal contribution.
18 - Which part of the equestrian world would you like to see reformed and why?
I would most like to see all professional equestrian sport more thoroughly monitored for the purpose of protecting horses.
19 - How do you traditionally deliver your findings or message and how would you ideally like to do so?
The traditional delivery of my findings occurs in writing and in the classroom. Ideally, I would hope for a number of years’ worth of continued health and opportunity to keep doing what I am doing now: riding, writing, teaching, and researching!
20 - What intellectual, technical or ethical advances would you like to see in the horse world?
See Question 18.
21 - Do you foresee any difficulties for the horse world in the immediate future?
I fear that any prolonged continuation of the global economic recession will soon make it much more difficult for middle-class horse owners to keep and/or care for their horses. I have anecdotally heard of this problem already here in the mountains of Western North Carolina where I live, work, and ride.
22 - What is the greatest challenge facing the horse world in the long term?
There is, I believe, any number of challenges. From an historian’s perspective, I would return to the matter of the “civilizational amnesia” that I mentioned in response to Question 1. If I and persons in my position do not do our jobs well, this amnesia threatens to become a permanent condition.
23 - What books, magazines, websites, etc. can people read and review to learn more about your work?
I may be contacted via Western Carolina University’s web-site, www.wcu.edu.
24 - Any final thoughts?
For many thousands of years, the horse has been man’s companion, fellow traveler, brother-in-arms, and servant. It is trite to say that he is a noble creature. It is also true. He can make us better than we are, if we will let him.
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