Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Towards the Horsewoman: Performing Femininity in the American Horse Training and Riding Arenas

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Lesa Lockford

Second Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Andrew Hershberger (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ronald Shields (Committee Member)


In my dissertation, “Towards the Horsewoman: Performing Femininity in the American Horse Training and Riding Arenas,” I explore how eight contemporary horsewomen perform femininity in their daily lives. I gathered my data over the course of nine months using ethnographic research methods including: conducting in-depth qualitative interviews, participant observation, and compiling a series of ethnographic and autoethnographic field notes. In order to analyze the interviews and my experience in the field, I turn to a variety of theories and theorists, most of which fall under the auspices of performativity, phenomenology, and feminist theory.

I begin my analysis by articulating some of the ways in which the horse industry is often misperceived of as a “man's world.” What this misperception does not acknowledge is the large number of qualified and competent women who do participate in the horse industry, of which my eight study participants are only a sampling. In chapter two I discuss the ways in which the eight interviewees defined femininity. I analyze the ways in which the horsewomen perform femininity through their clothing and accoutrements in chapter three. Finally, in chapter four I examine the ways in which these women perform femininity through their bodily comportment and motility. Throughout these chapters, my overarching claim is that while these women's articulations of femininity are influenced by cultural constructions of traditional femininity, their lived experience of femininity, even from within a “man's world,” is much more various.