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Human-horse relationships in work and play: Interspecies encounters in business, tourism and beyond

This, the second biannual Equine Cultures in Transition conference, will consider the various ways in which humans and horses live, work and play together.

Equine event

Hosted by the School of Events, Tourism and Hospitality Management at Leeds Beckett University, the conference will be organised around four streams which will consider various ways in which humans and horses work and play together:

  • Equestrian tourism, events and leisure
  • Business, organisations and equestrian work
  • Ethics and methods in researching human-horse interactions
  • Open stream

Horses have long played important and varied roles in human societies, partnering people in work, warfare and, increasingly, leisure. The study of horses, and the range of practices they are embedded in, forms an emerging field of research for the social sciences and humanities. The proliferation of human-horse interactions, through practices ranging from tourism to therapy to sport, illustrates the complexity of these interspecies encounters, and the continued importance of horses to many aspects of human culture and societies. 

If you have any queries please contact: k.dashper@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

Key dates

  • 5 February 2018 – deadline for submission of abstracts
  •  16 February 2018 – notification of acceptance
  • 30 April 2018 – Early bird registration deadline
  • 21 May 2018 – Registration deadline
  • 19-21 June 2018 - Conference 

Key note speakers

Plus Icon Professor Lynda Birke, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Chester, UK

Lynda is Visiting Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Chester.  Her background is in biology (animal behaviour), but she has for many years specialised in interdisciplinary research, in both feminist studies and human-animal studies.  Her most recent work has focused on horses, and especially on the horse-human relationship.   Since horses have been a significant part of her life since she was a child, doing this research gives her the perfect excuse to be with them and call it work. Her recent publication with Kirrilly Thompson (2018), (Un)Stable Relations: Horses, Humans and Social Agency, is published by Routledge.

How can nonhuman animals be social actors in shared interspecies worlds? In this talk, I will consider what it means to talk about animals as social actors in relation to humans, with particular focus on horses. Domestic horses live lives that are constrained by humans and our demands, so the potential for them to show agency might seem limited. Yet equestrian culture abounds with stories of horses who demonstrate agency, sometimes in surprising ways, whether they are working with us during riding, or alongside us on the ground. So perhaps we can talk of horses as social actors in these relatively constrained settings, individuals who contribute to, and shape, our social interactions.

There are implications of seeing horses as social actors. From a research perspective, we might ask how equine actions can be taken seriously in research settings: can we foreground their agency in ways that challenge – or change – research questions? If horses (or, indeed, any other animals) are seen as social actors, how might this change what questions we ask in our studies? But there are also ethical implications in terms of practice: emphasising their agency raises many questions about how we keep horses, and how we interact with them.

Linda Birke

Plus Icon Professor Ulrich Raulff, German Literary archive, Germany

Ulrich is director of the German Literary Archive at Marbach (South West Germany). Born on a farm in Westphalia he spent his first years among horses. After his studies in history and philosophy he worked for several German publishing houses and the press. He was Literary Editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Managing Editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. He has written books on Marc Bloch and Aby Warburg, and won both the Anna Krüger Prize and the Ernst Robert Curtius Prize for Essay Writing. His book on the influence of the German poet Stefan George was awarded the 2010 Leipzig Book Fair Prize. His latest book, Farewell to the Horse, was chosen as The Sunday Times History Book of the Year 2017. 
Ulrich Raulff

Plus Icon Dr Kendra Coulter; Department of Labor Studies, Brock University, Canada

Kendra Coulter is associate professor and Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence at Brock University in Canada. She is also a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. An award-winning author and global leader in the analysis of human-animal labour, Dr Coulter brings expertise on the intersections of equine cultures, class and gender, and human-horse work. Her current research includes ethnographically-rooted exploration of horses and care work, and she is interested in the potential for creating more humane jobs, fostering interspecies solidarity, and developing integrated methodologies for both understanding and improving multispecies work-lives.

In this presentation, I use the concept of care as a lens, a frame, and a springboard for interrogating the challenges and possibilities of horses’ and people’s work-lives. After elucidating my concept of work-lives and introducing a conceptual framework for thinking about different understandings and practices of care, I examine linked yet distinct sites of horse-human interaction, and consider how daily labour and political economic contexts reproduce and/or challenge intra- and interspecies inequities and solidarity. I highlight the most salient scholarly and political insights, in the interest of creating more humane jobs that promote the wellbeing of horses and humans.

Kendra Coulter equine cultures

Plus Icon Professor Guðrún Helgadóttir; Professor of Tourism, University College of Southeast Norway and Hólar University College, Iceland

Department of Business and IT, School of Business, University College of Southeast Norway and Department of Rural Tourism, Holar University College, Iceland

Guodrun has been researching and writing on horse cultures for the last decade, with a special focus on horses and tourism and events. In her work she argues for horsemanship and horse husbandry as an intangible cultural heritage and for horse tourism as a case of tourism culture that is co-created in the meeting between hosts, guests, horses and landscapes. She divides her time between Norway and Iceland, where her horses live and most of her horse research takes place but lately she has become interested in horse tourism in Kyrgyzstan. 

The human-horse relationship is a multi-layered and multifaceted living and intangible heritage. The horse has been to humans everything from sustenance, slave, co-worker, companion, pet and comrade in arms. This complexity is borne out in the wide range of events that celebrate the relationship that humans have with horses. Equestrian sport events range from races to group sports such as polo, from traditional nomad games to gaited competitions and dressage.  Apart from sport events, we have events within the traditions of horse husbandry relating to the working year of horses and humans. The Icelandic horse is a case that I have been researching for a couple of decades, so I will use the culture around this breed as a case in point in my keynote. Icelandic horse events, both traditional and the contemporary sport and leisure events, attract tourists. These events highlight a horse tourism culture co-created in the meeting between hosts, guests, horses and landscapes.


Heldadottir equine cultures



Early bird (until 30 April 2018)

Full conference - £260
Concession full conference - £200
Day rate - £95
Concession day rate - £75

After early bird
Full conference - £300
Concession full conference - £240
Day rate - £110
Concession day rate - £90

Included in conference fee – 
- Registration, access to sessions, book of abstracts
- Equine-related book reception
- All coffee breaks
- Three lunches

Please inform of any dietary requirements at time of booking.

Conference dinner - £40 

The concession rate applies to registered students, retired academics/practitioners, and colleagues from category B and C countries, as designated by the International Sociological Association, details available here.


Call for abstracts

Abstracts are invited from international scholars from a range of disciplinary perspectives, working across the social sciences and humanities. We encourage contributions from artists and visual/creative scholars exploring these themes.  We welcome submissions from colleagues at any stage of their academic career.

An abstract of 250 words should be submitted to k.dashper@leedsbeckett.ac.uk by 19 January 2018. Submissions should include the title of the presentation, author(s) and affiliation, a succinct abstract of 250 words (maximum), 100 word author bio, and an indication of which stream the paper falls under.

Abstract themes

Plus Icon Stream one - Equestrian tourism, events and leisure

Within this stream we invite papers that explore human-horse interactions through tourism, leisure and events, questioning how humans and horses work and play together in different cultures, how these relationships can be understood theoretically, and the practical and ethical implications of including horses within different tourism and leisure practices.

Plus Icon Stream two - Business, organisations and equestrian work

Within this stream we invite papers that consider different types of work and organisations connected to horses and equestrian practices, and the opportunities and challenges of working across species boundaries. 

Plus Icon Stream three - Ethics and methods in researching human-horse interactions

Within this stream we invite papers that explore some of the thorny ethical issues that arise when people ask horses to join them in their labour and leisure pursuits, and consider the methodological challenges of trying to understand interspecies encounters from multiple, more-than-human perspectives.

Plus Icon Stream four - Open stream

In addition to the three central streams, we also invite social science and humanities research that focuses on other aspects of human-horse relationships and the role(s) of horses in human cultures, through work and play.

Abstracts are invited from international scholars from a range of disciplinary perspectives, working across the social sciences and humanities. We also encourage submissions from artists and those in the creative sectors, working on topics within this area. We welcome contributions from colleagues at any stage of their academic career.

An abstract of 250 words should be submitted to k.dashper@leedsbeckett.ac.uk for a paper to be presented at the conference in June 2018. Submissions should include the title of the presentation, author(s) and affiliation, a succinct abstract of 250 words (maximum), 100 word author bio, and an indication of which stream the paper falls under.


The Solidarity Prize for Excellence in Early Career Equine Research

This award recognizes top quality early career equine research and supports a junior scholar with excellent potential. Current graduate students and those who received their PhDs in 2014 or later who will be presenting at the second Equine Cultures in Transition conference “Human-Horse Relationships in Work and Play” at Leeds Beckett University are invited to submit their work. To be eligible, papers must consider one or more of the following: equine and/or human-horse wellbeing, work and labour issues, interspecies ethical and/or methodological possibilities.

Applicants should submit their conference papers of approximately eight pages in length along with a short biography to Kendra Coulter at kcoulter@brocku.ca by 1 June 2018. Submissions will be assessed by a jury of leading human-horse researchers and the winner will be honoured at the conference. The prize includes $500CDN which is supported by the Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence at Brock University, Canada. 

Routledge Best Paper Prize

Routledge publish a range of horse-related monographs and edited collections across the social sciences, many of which will be showcased at the Drinks Reception on Tuesday 19 June. In addition to supporting this celebration, Routledge are sponsoring a Best Paper prize. The prize of £150 worth of Routledge books (to be chosen from the Routledge list by the winner) will be awarded at the conference close on Thursday 21 June. All papers presented at the conference will be eligible for the prize, which will be decided by the conference organising committee.

routledge logo


Outline Conference Programme

Tuesday 19 June, 2018


Registration desk open at the Rose Bowl, Level 4


Conference welcome and opening


Keynote presentation

Professor Guðrún Helgadóttir


Coffee break


Parallel paper session 1




Parallel paper session 2


Coffee break


Parallel paper session 3


Drinks reception and equestrian book celebration


Informal social


Wednesday 20 June, 2018


Registration desk open


Keynote presentation

Professor Lynda Birke


Coffee break


Parallel paper session 4




Parallel paper session 5


Coffee break


Keynote presentation

Professor Ulrich Raulff


Social: Conference dinner, Leeds restaurant


Thursday 21 June, 2018


Registration desk open


Parallel paper session 6


Coffee break


Keynote presentation

Dr Kendra Coulter




Parallel paper session 7


Conference end and announcement of prizes


End of conference

Social programme

The social programme is designed to offer delegates a taste of what Leeds has to offer, as well as chances to network, socialise and relax.

Tuesday 19 June
Drinks reception and equestrian book celebration – supported by Routledge, and included in conference registration fee.

Informal social – optional informal get-together in a Leeds venue. Opportunity for delegates to purchase food and drink.

Wednesday 20 June
Conference dinner – at an independent Leeds restaurant, offering a range of vegetarian and vegan options. Additional cost of £40, to be paid for online at time of conference registration.

Venue and Accommodation

Plus Icon Accommodation

Leeds has a wide variety of accommodation options. More information can be found here:

Plus Icon Getting to Leeds

Leeds is centrally located in in the UK, making the city easily accessible to delegates: Just two hours from London by train, with direct train links to most major UK cities. Leeds Bradford International Airport provides speedy domestic links and daily flights from more than 65 destinations and a wide network of inbound connections worldwide. Leeds is at the heart of the UK motorway network, with excellent connections in all directions. The A1 and M1 link to the north and south, and the M62 to the east and west.

Plus Icon Venue

The conference venue is The Rose Bowl, the flagship development for Leeds Beckett University and a landmark for the city of Leeds. This centrally located state of the art development features the very latest in modern conferencing facilities and design, including free Wi-Fi. It is within easy walking distance of major hotels, restaurants and bars, as well as the train station and other public transport links.


You can download our campus map here.

Organising committee

Plus Icon Kate Dashper (Conference Chair)

Kate is a Reader in the School of Events, Tourism and Hospitality Management at Leeds Beckett University. She researches human-horse relationships in tourism, events, sport and leisure, with particular focus on gender, identity and embodiment. She is author of ‘Human-animal relationships in equestrian sport and leisure’ (Routledge, 2017) andeditor of ‘Diversity, equity and inclusion in sport and leisure’ (Routledge, 2014), ‘Sports events, society and culture’ (Routledge, 2014) and ‘Rural tourism: An international perspective’ (Cambridge scholars, 2014). Kate was co-chair for the 2017 Leisure Studies Association conference at Leeds Beckett, and the academic lead for the ‘Active countryside tourism’ conference, hosted in association with the Regional Studies Association, at Leeds Metropolitan, 2013.

Plus Icon Charlotte Brigden

Charlotte is an Assistant Head of the Equine Department at Myerscough College, Lancashire, where she has worked for the past fifteen years.  Charlotte has been involved in a fairly broad range of research projects during her career, resulting in publications and conference presentations relating to equine biomechanics, nutrition, economics and industry, and horse-human relationships.  Charlotte has now targeted her research focus on the sociological aspects of horse-human interactions.  She has just submitted a proposal for her PhD, which will explore the impacts of horse death on horse owners, their family and veterinary professionals.  Charlotte works closely with colleagues at other land based institutions, including fulfilling external examiner responsibilities.  She is also a member of the Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence committee, a Committee of the British Equestrian Federation.

Plus Icon Charlotte Lundgren
Charlotte is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Culture and Communication at Linköping University, Sweden. Her research in applied linguistics is focused on communication in sports, health care and other learning centred activities. She uses ethnographic methods and video recordings to collect data (text, talk and other modes of social action) and analyses them from a multimodal, dialogical perspective on communication. Recent publications include Teamwork in Medical Rehabilitation (with Carl Molander, Routledge 2017) as well as several articles on riding, especially dressage training, as a communicative and didactic activity. She is the leader of the Horse-human Relations Research Group at Linköping University (HumSamHäst@LiU), was one of the initiators of the UK Equestrian Research Network (UK-EqRN) and is one of the academic leaders of the international Equestrian Social Science network.
Plus Icon Judith Turner

Judith studied Agricultural Science in the 70’s but her first love is equine and human behaviour. She is treasurer and Scientific Seminar organiser for the Equine Behaviour Forum and treasurer for the Yorkshire Exmoor Pony Trust. She is a qualified judge for TREC GB and regularly vet writes for their Championship events. She loves attending various conferences and exploring the academic world of animals and equines. She has had various articles on equestrian holidays published and is an avid consumer of equestrian tourism having ridden on nearly every continent. She has her own book-keeping business and is proud to call most of her clients’ friends. She also holds the British Equestrian Tourism Certificate [as] Assistant Ride Leader. 

Plus Icon Paula Danby

Paula is a Lecturer in International Tourism Management at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, UK. Her research focuses on human-animal relations and experiences within leisure and tourism environments, particularly equestrian tourism. Reflecting upon theoretical insights from human-animal interactional studies, her interests include animal tourism, ecotourism, human-animal relational leisure, and well-being. Paula’s work explores human-animal interactions for mutual well-being.

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