Exploring the human and greater-than-human world

Flying Over Keeneland

“Bird’s Eye View” of Keeneland racecourse and shedrows as we made our final descent into Bluegrass Airport.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

After a 3:30am wake-up call to catch a 6am flight out of Vancouver International Airport, I touched down at the Bluegrass Airport approximately twelve hours later (give or take with the time changes). As the commuter plane from Houston International Airport had coasted over Lexington during its final descent, I caught my first glimpse of some now very familiar landmarks: Rupp Arena in the heart of downtown, the brick buildings of Blackburn Correctional Complex framed between the wing and the sky, and as we sailed towards the runway, the grounds of Keeneland Racecourse raced by below.  Once my feet were back on Bluegrass ground, dinner was relished at the Grey Goose restaurant in Paris – where Varden’s used to be.  The old soda fountain had been converted into a beautiful bar, and I thoroughly enjoyed their chocolate peanut butter pie for dessert.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The first day of spring bloomed blustery and cold, but a tangerine sun still managed to emerge above the horizon that morning.  Utterly fatigued from flying, I decided to take a personal recovery day.  This began with a walk with the dogs on the farm I was staying at, clucking and greeting the pregnant mares or new mammas and their foals on Thoroughbred stilts-for-legs as I routed down the tree-lined roads.  I then embarked on some errands, driving the familiar road connecting Paris and Georgetown in a growling pickup truck that was lent to me for the week.  Amidst the muted beige-green landscape, tiny yellow daffodils sprouted and swayed in roadside irrigation ditches, and the famous stone fences of the Bluegrass poured over themselves in patches, toppled over by a long, climatically sporadic winter, yet to be repaired.  The mail clerk at my old post office recognized me, and I made the discovery that Scott County had gone from a “moist” (alcohol only served in restaurants) to a “wet” county since I left – as judged by the two aisles of alcoholic offerings at the drug store.  At the bank, two clerks lamented the UK basketball team’s bitter loss in the first round of the NIT conference (this after winning the NCAA national championships the year before).  As I conducted my business at the counter, we all lamented the never-ending winter.  “I am ready for some barbeque!” One lady exclaimed.  “Kicking it and dicing it up – I’m ready for summer t’get here!”

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Today was the first day of the “Living with Animals” conference hosted at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.  I’d been to EKU once before when Temple Grandin spoke during my fieldwork year.  After she’d given her talk and the floor was opened to questions from the audience, amidst all the other heartbreaking, telling questions about autism, mine was the only question about her research on animals, specifically her work on humane slaughter of horses.  When she said she was all for horse slaughter instead of the starvation being witnessed that summer of 2011 due to the devastating drought in the southcentral U.S., the auditorium erupted in cheers and applause – that was quite telling too.

The Living with Animals conference kicked off with a keynote address by Kari Weil, who spoke of the legacy of empathy (or lack thereof) in horse training beginning with the impact of Descartes’ theory of animals as machines, and ending with a bricolage of references from Gustav Le Bon (on the moral training of animals and children) to Donna Haraway (and her engagement with the work of the trainer Vicki Hearne) to Judith Butler’s most recent ideas on “unchosen inhabitation.”  The conference then split into two different sessions devoted to canine and equine studies – I chose the equine studies presentations, of course.

While the papers varied in topic and strength, I relished this opportunity: it was like taking an all day seminar on equine studies as approached from an arts and humanities perspective.  From Carol Baker’s paper, I learned about contemporary horsemanship traditions I’d never heard of before, such as the work of Carolyn Resnick; Darlene Chalmers shared how social work models of wellbeing can be applied to understanding mutual relationality between humans and horses; Nora Schuurman addressed the performative narratives of Finnish horse blogs; Chelsea Medlock answered audience questions about the “Goodbye Old Man” wartime propaganda poster used to foster support for equines in World War I; Letizia Bindi introduced the study of horsemanship as an “intangible cultural heritage” in places like France, Italy, and right here in the Bluegrass (which also got me thinking and percolating about my Tibetan horse festival research); and Deborah Butler demonstrated how an Irish steeplechase horse is “produced” in the training yards of Britain through Van Gennen’s theory on the rites of passage.  I also attended a plethora of afternoon sessions, ranging from mustang adoption (Karen Dalke) to applying indigenous paradigms in equine assisted psychotherapy (Arieahn Matamonasa-Bennett).

All the while I “Tweeted” my discoveries at Rimolha, trending as #livingwithanimalseku – you can follow me as I head out today, 22 March 2013, for the second day of the conference.


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