Those who have attended some of my lectures know I always bring up Orientalism before we can discuss the Arabic material that is at the heart of my research. Outside the seemingly protected area that is academia, few people know what Orientalism is, and fewer realise what it does. Yes does, not only has done, as it is still happening today because it is part of a larger system at work; inherited imperialism, colonialism and racism. Today I attended a workshop for PhD students who are having to deal with decolonising knowledge, and it struck me once more how important it is that we discuss the ways in which the discourse on horses and equestrianism can and must be decolonised.
But the way in which we deal with the knowledge on horses and equestrianism even in academia is very colonial. Views on breeds, ridingschools and ethics are inherited frameworks that originate in the imperial and colonial era. An example is the very DNA studies that we so impatiently await and expect to answer some questions about historicity of breeds, are verified by the same colonial studbook and breed structure that we aim to investigate anew based on DNA. Or the popular discussion on riding bitless vs with a bit, where we tend to see arguments agains bits based on assumptions about premodern material and methods that root in the colonial system of viewing the world. The narratives of breed histories are almost all intrinsically intertwined with the processes of nation and state formation during the colonial period.
So what can we do? My first aim is to expose the issue and then decolonise the knowledge on the desert horse by refusing the material on the Arab horse that echos imperialist, colonialist and orientalist epistemology. Secondly I strive to bring forward the “other” material, mostly Arabic, that was there all along, this time to offer it center stage instead of marginalising it through Eurocentric research methods.