Riding High

Horses, Humans and History in South Africa
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Dimensions and Pages: 220 x 150 mm, 256 pp
  • EAN: 9781868145140
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): 290.00
  • Recommended Price (USD): 34.95


In this fresh and engaging history, Sandra Swart combines her knowledge of the past with her love for horses. We learn that horses – and the people who rode them – built South Africa by means of draft power, cavalry power, and class power.

— William Storey, Millsaps College, USA

Horses were key to the colonial economies of southern Africa, buttressing the socio-political order and inspiring contemporary imaginations. Just as they had done in Europe, Asia, the Americas and North Africa, these equine colonisers not only provided power and transportation to settlers (and later indigenous peoples) but also helped transform their new biophysical and social environments.

The horses introduced to the southern tip of Africa were not only agents but subjects of enduring changes. This book explores the introduction of these horses under VOC rule in the mid-seventeenth century, their dissemination into the interior, their acquisition by indigenous groups and their ever-shifting roles. In undergoing their relocation to the Cape, the horse of the Dutch empire in southeast Asia experienced a physical transformation over time. Establishing an early breeding stock was fraught with difficulty and horses remained vulnerable in the new and dangerous environment. They had to be nurtured into defending their owners’ ambitions: first those of the white settlement and then African and other hybrid social groupings. The book traces the way horses were adapted by shifting human needs in the nineteenth century. It focuses on their experiences in the South African War, on the cusp of the twentieth century, and highlights how horses remained integral to civic functioning on various levels, replaced with mechanization only after lively debate.

The book thus reinserts the horse into the broader historical narrative. The socio-economic and political ramifications of their introduction is delineated. The idea of ecological imperialism is tested in order to draw southern African environmental history into a wider global dialogue on socio-environmental historiographical issues. The focus is also on the symbolic dimension that led horses to be both feared and desired. Even the sensory dimensions of this species’ interaction with human societies is explored. Finally, the book speculates about what a new kind of history that takes animals seriously might offer us.

Riding High contemplates what a new kind of history that takes animals seriously might offer us. In some ways, it is an attempt to chronicle the events of an inter-species relationship between horses and humans, that changed the history of leisure, transportation, trade, warfare and agriculture. On another level, these stories are simply the adventures of a big gentle herbivore and a small, rogue primate.

Sandra Swart is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

  • 978 1 86814 514 0 (PB)
  • 220 x 150 mm, 256 pp
  • July 2010

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: ‘But where’s the bloody horse?’ Humans, Horses and Historiography
  • Chapter 2: The Reins of Power: Equine Ecological Imperialism in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
  • Chapter 3: Blood Horses: Equine Breeding, Lineage and Purity in Nineteenth-century South Africa
  • Chapter 4: The Empire Rides Back: An African Response to the Horse in Southern Africa
  • Chapter 5: ‘The last of the old campaigners’: Horses in the South African War, c.1899–1902
  • Chapter 6: ‘The Cinderella of the livestock industry’: The Changing Role of Horses in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
  • Chapter 7: High Horses: Horses, Class and Socio-economic Change in South Africa
  • Chapter 8: The World the Horses Made

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