Horse Crazy: Professor Jean Halley’s Research About Girls and Horses
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Horse Crazy: Professor Jean Halley’s Research About Girls and Horses

August 12, 2019


I had a rather difficult childhood. There was a lot of alcoholism in my family. There was extensive violence. And yet, you know, in spite of all that,
my father was the one who bought me this little pony out of the blue. And basically the pony was my closest friend and the center of my life. So starting at age 8, I would ride by myself all day across Wyoming
prairie on my little pony. And when I outgrew my pony,
my father bought me a yearling quarter horse. And I had him all his life til he died. Probably my horses, they carried me through a difficult childhood.
They got me through that. It is really interesting and I grew up horse crazy. When I became an adult,
I realized that it was something beyond my own personal experience. And what I began to realize is that there’s something profoundly
 empowering about this relationship that some girls have with horses. It’s a relationship that’s very much,
you know, a close, intimate relationship. And in that relationship, I think girls gain a kind of power that they don’t
necessarily have otherwise in life. And I think that happens in a number of ways. Certainly that they begin to have a capacity to work with a
large animal over 1,000 pounds. Girls who are horse crazy tend
to be horse crazy instead of boy crazy. Girls who are horse crazy are focused more on things like their strength
and their capacities with horses than on. Things like thinness, femininity, attracting boys. And I found even the fantasies that horse-crazy girls had were
and have were empowering. So one woman I spoke to said that she spent, you know, some six years
just completely passionate about horses. And she would play horses, she would read horses, she would draw horses,
she would talk horses, she would think horses. And when she played for example with her friends, they would do fantasies
where they were out in the woods riding in an adventure. Or they were rescuing someone, or they were training a horse that
was untrainable. As she put it, she wasn’t princessy, she was a horse girl. So men and women compete equally once they’re on the horse. It’s the one sport that’s been gender neutral for decades from
the highest to the lowest level. So just little tiny shows that happen in rural areas
all the way up to the Olympics. But as you go down sort of the hierarchy of the sport, there are more
and more women to the point of, you know, a lot of … The smaller shows around the U.S. are just dominated by women.
It’s only women. Well there’s a whole rich response by
consumer culture to horse-crazy girls. I mean this was an opportunity to make money of course. So there’s a lot of stuff, a proliferation of toys and books and
paraphernalia for girls who may not ever be around horses. But are passionate about them. We didn’t have much money for toys but I had a little tiny wooden stable
and three plastic Breyer horses. I didn’t really have dolls, I had my horses and that’s what I played with. I think some of the consumer culture material is constricting for girls. It pushes girls back into more normative gender roles. Like for example My Little Pony tends
be pink and very focused on being pretty. But even My Little Pony offers a challenge.
My Little Pony, the theme is friendship is magic. And there’s a real focus on friendship mostly
with other girls and how much that friendship matters. This was my show bridle. I also brought one of my favorite books about Wild Horse Annie. Who was a woman who sort of took on ranchers and people
with a lot of power in the West. To stand up for mustangs
that were being slaughtered by the tens of thousands. I brought one early copy of “Black Beauty”
which most horse-crazy girls have read eight or nine times. I also brought a clipping of my horse’s mane. When he, before he died obviously, I would trim his mane. I still when I imagine a peaceful place,
I imagine riding my horse in the Rockies And the snow and the snow falling and the quiet everywhere and That delicious horse smell, yeah.

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