Permanence and transition in a livery yard: an ethnographic case study from Scotland

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


The role adopted in the field by an ethnographic researcher has received some measure of coverage in the literature but it may be suggested that the gatekeeper’s perspective in facilitating an ethnographic episode is less often discussed. Focusing on an ethnographic study of an equestrian livery yard which was designed to explore what makes a ‘healthy’ livery yard experience for both humans and equines, this paper considers an aspect of the research method, namely, the comparative/symbiotic roles of the ethnographic researcher and the livery yard owner. Thus, we explore the concept and practice of hosting and embedding an ethnographer from both the perspective of the ethnographic researcher and – importantly – from the viewpoint of the gatekeeper to the research setting.

Presented as a discussion between the ethnographer and the gatekeeper, we examine the importance of a relationship of trust for the effective negotiation of access to the field location. We unpack the gatekeeper’s concerns about allowing access to her livery yard, her staff and her clients both before and during the ethnography. These concerns included ensuring that the involvement of a researcher was beneficial (or at least not detrimental) to the work of the yard and its clients and that the researcher maintained a persona which was not incongruent with the teaching, training and horse care ethos of the yard. We discuss how these concerns were addressed.

Conceivably, having an ‘outsider as observer’ as part of the yard could have a negative impact on the gatekeeper’s business. It would have been an unwelcome consequence if, for example, staff and clients had felt sufficiently uncomfortable with the ethnographer’s presence that they decided to leave the yard - and so we discuss the process of positioning and integrating the ethnographer. Indeed, we consider how defining the role of the ethnographer (as livery client activity organiser, tack cleaner and groomer of rescue horses) was crucial in allowing her to ‘fit in’. However, taking into account the gatekeeper’s view that both she and her staff/clients had to derive some benefit from allowing this access to their world, we consider the extent to which this benefit-focus impacted on the research itself and the relationships formed between the parties in the setting. Further, we reflect on how, over time, the role orientation developed in a way that led the ethnographer to be viewed as (and in fact become) the livery yard owner’s ‘friend’ as opposed to primarily just someone who was ‘hanging about’ on the yard. This is not conceived as detrimental to the study – it facilitated an additional depth of understanding because it allowed access to a type and level of information which had not been fully appreciated when the ethnographic episode began.

Finally, we consider the researcher’s withdrawal from the field and incorporate discussion from some of the participants with regard to their perception of the impact of the research on their summer with their horses.


ConferenceAnthropology Ireland Conference 2015
Internet address


  • Ethnography
  • Research ethics
  • Equestrian
  • Equine


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