Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

John Glendening

Commitee Members

Katie Kane, Ione Crummy


women, horses, feminism, patriarchal equestrienne


University of Montana


Both literary representations of horsewomen and critical responses to such characterizations have largely failed to expose the full complexity of the cultural constraints brought to bear on women’s interactions with horses. In this thesis therefore I will argue that in response to feminist activity to dispel stereotypes of any group of women, the long development of strong, capable representations of women on horseback spanning the nineteenth through the early twenty-first century prove to be little more than repetitive archetypal images which serve to reaffirm patriarchal controls in western culture. If only threaded together by the ways the literary figure of the horsewoman has been marginalized or even misinterpreted through the centuries, feminist scholarship affords a powerful opportunity to revisit the issue of the horsewoman in novels. Uncovered as deceptive, the oddly plural understanding of the woman-and-horse relationship as sexualized and a basis for female empowerment falls to the more nuanced reading of the relationship as deeply patriarchal. While the patriarchal reading of women and horses offers little in the way of celebrating the success of feminist goals in today’s world, this reading does reaffirm the need for continued research in feminist studies. The scholarly pursuit should aggressively seek out representations of women which do not conform to recurring images and types, and use these unique representations to inspire writers to create female characters that break from the expectations of patriarchal constraints and to encourage literary scholars to publish on atypical representations too. In all, the emblematic figure of a woman riding horseback––at breakneck speed, loose hair trailing behind in the wind––calls to mind the necessary future of feminist scholarship instead of the overused symbol of power and liberation.



© Copyright 2014 Kaitlynn Hanna Hirst