Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationWashington U., St. Louis
Grant numberGr. 9323
Approve DateOctober 5, 2016
Project TitleBarnes, Sara Carolyn, Washington U., St. Louis, MO - To aid research on 'Bluegrass Horsemen: Thoroughbred Trainers, Equine Biocapital, and Elite Agrarian Expertise in Kentucky's Horseracing Industry,' supervised by Dr. Peter Benson
CAROLYN BARNES, then a graduate student at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, was awarded a grant in October 2016 to aid research on “Bluegrass Horsemen: Thoroughbred Trainers, Equine Biocapital, and Elite Agrarian Expertise in Kentucky’s Horseracing Industry,” supervised by Dr. Peter Benson. This research examined how Kentucky racehorse trainers’ practices, social roles, and relationships with thoroughbreds are being affected by the shrinking economic viability of the industry, advances in veterinary science and biotechnology, and public concerns about horse welfare at the track. The funding supported the primary phase of ethnographic fieldwork in central Kentucky, a center of the thoroughbred industry. Findings reveal that trainers’ expertise is constituted through traditional horsemanship skills—being present with and sensing each horse to know it as an individual—as much as in managerial power aimed at producing aestheticized equines and pastoral spaces. Economic pressures, labor shortages, and recordkeeping regimes increasingly make many middle- to low-range trainers feel they cannot compete with elite trainers who tend to spend less time with horses and more time managing their businesses. While trainers exercise a great deal of power in their barns, they are brought under scrutiny at the track, where they are subjects of state regulation stemming from efforts to improve public perception of the sport. These dynamics reveal debates within the industry about who has knowledge of horses, what are/not ethical forms of equine care, and whether state regulation and oversight can render a biocapitalist endeavor (more) ethical.