I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming… A book about horses in Arthurian romance… My own book…
It is a laconic book, with many pictures reproducing miniatures in famous French and English romances, with lots of references to studies by earlier horse historians and Arthurians and by my colleagues, with the analysis kept as concise as possible and the amount of professional jargon – both equestrian and Arthurian – kept to a strict minimum.
A book envisaging a double audience: Arthurian scholars and horse historians. Also all medievalists interested in the context – in knowing more than just their own field, in feeling the Middle Ages as they felt to the people inhabiting them, in knowing what people knew then and reconstructing the way people thought then.
A book that looks not only at horses, but also at such issues as gender, social status, homosociality, religion and spirituality. Because horses had their say in all of these field, they were more than simple war machines or means of transport. More than pets or even cherished companions. They were the other ‘selves’ of the medieval chivalry, the other ‘selves’ of chivalric romance.
This book, despite its slimness, is the result of five years of intensive research, conference attendance and discussions with my colleagues among both horse historians and Arthurian scholars. Research conducted without a post-doc, without a permanent academic position, working as lecturer at the Latvian Academy of Sport Education. This strikes many as a strange affiliation for a medievalist, but, surprisingly, it enabled me to write exactly this kind of book – a book about practical horsemanship, where the ideology of chivalry and its literary expression in Arthurian romance is critically deconstructed through the prism of equestrian knowledge, both theoretical and practical.
This book was written over years of uncertainty, when I did not quite know whether I should stay ‘in the game’ or leave the field of academia and settle for a ‘solid’ office job, which was surely more lucrative and less labour intensive option. And more sensible, with a growing family of two kids and two horses. Luckily, I had a crazy supportive husband and a crazy indulging mum, who encouraged me to continue my private obsession with medieval scholarship and enabled me to attend all those conferences and research trips without which this book would never have been possible. And, of course, I was surrounded by amazing people from all over the world, Arthurians and horse historians alike, whose work provided me with inspiration and whose insight into their research subjects was invaluable – their names appear throughout the pages of the book and the bibliography. Their work in academia – despite all odds, such as inadequate funding, family pressure and work imperatives – reminded me that following one’s dream is never easy, but it is doable and worth doing.
In the technology-driven world, we often lose sight of the conditions informing the lives of medieval people, making them what they were. Horses were one of the fundamental factors of medieval civilization, so that reading medieval literature, particularly chivalric literature, without having some idea of the practicalities of medieval horsemanship means losing an important part of it meaning and flavor. This book takes a step to bring its readers closer to the understanding of Arthurian romance their original audiences had, approaching this from a direction that has been taken by fewer scholars than, in my opinion, it should have been.