John Hartigan Jr., "Shaving the Beasts: Wild Horses and Ritual in Spain" (U Minnesota Press, 2020)

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Wild horses still roam the mountains of Galicia, Spain. But each year, in a ritual dating to the 1500s called rapa das bestas, villagers herd these “beasts” together and shave their manes and tails. Shaving the Beasts is a firsthand account of how the horses experience this traumatic rite, producing a profound revelation about the durability of sociality in the face of violent domination.

John Hartigan Jr. constructs an engrossing, day-by-day narrative chronicling the complex, nuanced social lives of wild horses and the impact of their traumatic ritual shearing every summer. His story generates intimate, individual portraits of these creatures while analyzing the social practices—like grazing and grooming—that are the building blocks of equine society. Shaving the Beasts: Wild Horses and Ritual in Spain (University of Minnesota Press, 2020) culminates in a searing portrayal of the inspiring resilience these creatures display as they endure and recover from rapa das bestas.

Turning away from “thick” description to “thin,” Hartigan moves toward a more observational form of study, focusing on behaviors over interpretations. This vivid approach provides new and important contributions to the study of animal behavior. Ultimately, he comes away with profound, penetrating insights into multispecies interactions and a strong alternative to humancentric ethnographic practices.

Galina Limorenko is a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology of neurodegenerative diseases at EPFL in Switzerland. You can reach her at galina.limorenko@epfl.ch.

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