by Susanna Hedenborg & Gertrud Pfister

Vol. 3 2012, pages 25–47
Published March 28, 2012


The purpose of this article is to analyse gender relations in equestrianism from the beginning of the 19th to the first decades of the 20th century. Focus will be on the female horse riding circus artists, the écuyères. The fact that women were circus riders at this time is interesting as in many parts of the world and in many epochs, horses have played a significant role in the lives of men. Traditionally men used horses in agriculture, forestry, the transport sector and in the army and a real man was a horseman. Widespread practices and, in particular, the symbolic correlation between masculinity and horsemanship conveys the impression that women had nothing to do with horses. This is true for many situations. The circus arena, however, seems to have been an exception as women could perform there. At the heart of the performances was not only equestrianism, but also the notion of gender. It is even likely that ”doing gender” was an indispensable part of the show, as the allure of the écuyères depended on the embodiment and presentation of seemingly incompatible features: beauty, grace and femininity as well as mastery of an art that was a traditionally male domain.

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About the Authors

SUSANNA HEDENBORG is professor of sport studies at Malmö University, Sweden. Her research focuses on sport history as well as on issues of gender and age. Currently she is working with the history of equestrian sports – gender, age and nationality. She is the author of several books and articles in peer reviewed journals.

GERTRUD PFISTER s professor of sport sociology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Her current research focuses on sport history as well as on issues of gender, leadership, transnationalism, aging and media coverage in the context of physical activities and sport. She the author of more than 100 articles in peer reviewed journals and the author or editor of several books, e.g. Understanding American Sport (Routledge 2009), and Muslim Women and Sport (with Tansin Benn, Routledge 2011).


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