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Sandra Swart on the Significance of Animals in History at the Launch of Riding High

prof Anton van Niekerk - dr Sandra Swart

Riding HighNot every academic publication can be launched in a outdoor setting in Stellenbosch’s historic Dorp Street.Sandra Swart’s dynamic account of her research, in combination with the genial atmosphere at Verbatim bookstore, added a fittingly distinctive flavour to the launch of Riding High: Horses, Humans and History in South Africa.

As a horse-lover, Swart tried to give a voice to “those who cannot speak for themselves”. She emphasised that, although it isn’t necessarily possible to speak for animals, it is possible to make the once invisible become visible. And although, according to Swart, “writing history is harder than it looks”, she found the topic of the significance of animals in human history rewarding in many ways. Swart jokingly commented that her book has been some time coming, but that now she can “feel it, it is here”.

During her field work, Swart was not only able to spend time with horses, but also to get close to nature and share other people’s experiences with animals. Her book emphasises the dangers and difficulties the animals faced in various settings from South Africa’s post, but also reflects on nature and nature as an historical agency.

Swart said she was also “telling stories” about the relationship between humans and their animal companions. Her book speaks to many audiences – not only horse-lovers and historians, but also to anyone with a love for nature and man’s occasionally tempestuous relationship with nature and her creatures.

The audience responded to a striking comment in Swart’s account, namely “as the horse leaves agricultural fields, it gallops into the imagination”. This not only aptly describes the role of horses in history, but also gives a glimpse of the remarkable theme of this book.

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