337 Cohen Hall
Rachel Prentice, Cornell University
The Mechanics of Morals
This paper uses a controversy about a training practice employed by high-level dressage riders to explore sensory ways of knowing in human-animal relations. Starting in the 1990s, Dutch dressage trainers began using a practice known as hyperflexion to move horses into elite competition quickly and to create flashy gaits. The practice became widely adopted by dressage competitors and amateurs alike. Proponents claim hyperflexion is a useful tool; critics counter that it is abusive, causing long-term mental and physical harm. This paper examines one of the most important anti-hyperflexion polemics, a book known as Tug of War: Classical vs. “Modern” Dressage (Trafalgar Square Books, 2007), which sold 50,000 copies worldwide in its first decade of publication, as well as other horse training manuals, to examine the sensory worlds of horses and riders. Part of a larger study on sensory and biomechanical knowledges in the worlds of horses and riders, this case is unusual in that it finds science (in the forms of visualization, anatomical knowledge, biomechanics, and clinical evidence) on the side of tradition, aesthetics, and emotion and opposed to what is modern, athletic, and efficient (in the sense of reducing the number of years it takes to prepare a horse for high-level competition).