Epic Nobility: The Horse as Tender Warrior in Mythology

The ancient Greeks gave us Pegasus, the white winged horse who helped mythic heroes like Bellerophon to defeat the Chimera. The horse is a noble creature beloved of the gods and of humankind. In Norse mythology Odin, the king of the gods, rode Sleipnir an eight legged horse. This powerful beast could ride to Hel and back, carrying the wily Odin on his back. In India Uchchaihshravas is a seven headed horse that carried the Hindu king of the gods Indra.

Islamic mythology gives us Al Burq the Prophet’s horse, which carried Mohammed and the angel Gabriel from Mecca to Jerusalem and then to heaven to have a chat with Allah. Another white horse with wings, but this time with a human face. The Four Horses of the Apocalypse are the Christian harbingers of conquest, war, famine and death; all part of the last judgement in the Book of Revelation. Siddhartha, the original Buddhist, rode Kanthaka, a (you guessed it) white horse of immense stature who was, interestingly, reborn as a scholar who achieved enlightenment; who said horses were dumb animals.

Horses are, generally, depicted as graceful animals who when galloping on top of the ground, almost appear to be flying. Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes had special relationships with their horses and they employed them skilfully in battle to overcome armies. Some of the American Indian tribes were masters of the plains, who brought down buffaloes on their horses. Human and horse have been bonded for a very long time. Knights jousting atop their mounts and charging into battle. Calvary were the elite soldiers in armies, the officer class who brought their own horses with them. The mighty Cossacks riding their mounts over the steppes of Russia.

Epic nobility: the horse as tender warrior in mythology has a place fixed firmly in the heart of humanity. We do not eat horses in most western cultures, despite the fact that many in the thoroughbred business end up as pet food; this is because we psychologically cannot stomach the idea. Free horse racing bets are as close as most people get to a horse these days. Equus stands proudly in the DNA of our past and we honour him and her for the bravery of their ancestors. We are interlinked with the horse culturally, despite the fact that the motorcar replaced the beast as our main mode of transport nearly a hundred years ago. Riding horses has become the hobby of the wealthy; polo and equestrian competitions.