Humans and horses have been together throughout history. The very beginnings of human history, as told by discovered cave paintings and drawings, show horses working with humans to make the world a better place.
Although most horse breeds have been fully domesticated today, including semi-feral herds and breeds, the symbolism of the horse is as important today as it was in the first days of human history.
What a horse symbolizes depends on a person’s culture and individual interpretation of what the animal means to them. A classic example of the differences in horse symbolism can be described by the optics of a white horse.
White horses, in many cultures, have stood for power and wisdom. It is a symbol of freedom, but with voluntary restraint, so that all can benefit. It provides a picture of being able to remove the obstacles that lie in your path so that you can achieve whatever goals are important to you.
In Christianity, the white horse is a symbol of victory.
“Then I looked on as the Lamb opened one of the seven seals. I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ So, I looked, and there was a white horse. Its rider held a bow and was given a crown. And he went forth from victory to victory.” – Revelation 6:1-2.
Horse symbolism goes beyond the animal. The color of the horse’s coat has significant meaning in many cultures. The patterning of the horse’s coat can be equally important. Even the placement of curls or swirls in the coat can have meaning to some cultures.
No matter what the symbolism may be, it is important to always remember one universal truth: the horse is representative of the spirit, but is not the actual spirit. Horses may serve us and as a species, we may consider them domesticated, but a horse will never be truly tamed by humans.
And we would have it no other way.
Life in Black and White— Amy Kate (@AmyKate8LFC) November 13, 2017
Horses in the field
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Tribal Cultures and Horse Symbolism
Tribal cultures throughout the Americas have often focused on the horse. Although each tribe, either Native American, First Nations, or otherwise, can have different meanings for what the horse represents, much is communicated about each culture by how they view the horse.
For the tribes in the United States, the horse was a symbol that represented strength and power. Horses would also represent love and loyalty, providing a symbol of mutual respect between two people, two families, or two tribes. It could also represent mobility, stamina, and devotion.
For the tribes in Canada, horses symbolized a transformation of life. This transformation was not always a positive representation. It was the Colonial Era that brought horses back to the Americas and many of the “explorers” were really conquerors. The horses were embraced when they were found, but the presence of a horse could also mean that war would be starting soon.
What is unique about both cultures, in general terms, is that the horse was always treated as an equal. Horses were treated with the utmost care. They would share homes and rooms with their caretakers. They were rarely fenced or bridled. The horse wanted to be there and the tribes formed relationships with them to create a society of mutual trust.
Yet the concept of power, as symbolized by the horse, could be seen in some tribal cultures as well. If one tribe had horses and another did not, then the tribe with horses had a natural power advantage. They could win more battles, conquer more territory, and even be more successful when hunting. For that reason, the horse can symbolize war, just as it can also symbolize peace.
Mythology and Horse Symbolism
Horses have been sacred symbols throughout much of our history, including our mythologies. Various cultures throughout time have come up with remarkable stories and links to unique and meaningful symbols to specific cultures.
For the Romans, who at one point ruled much of the known world at their height of power, linked the horse to Mars, who was their god of war. They also linked horses to Helios, who was their sun god. Although they were symbols of battle, the Romans rarely employed war horses. Most horses were used for pulling chariots or carrying supplies. There was a mystical component, but a practical one as well when considering the horse.
The Romans evolved their symbolism of the horse from the Ancient Greeks, who happened to revere the horse. Horses in Ancient Greece were symbols of status. If you owned a horse, then you had power and wealth. If you wore the symbol of a horse, then you could be bestowed with those attributes. Horses were directly associated with their gods as well, with Poseidon being credited with the creation of the world’s first horse. Athena was credited with domesticating the first horse.
In Celtic mythology, horses were considered a sign of good fortune. They would bring about good luck, whether they were owned or their image was being displayed. White horses were particularly favored. If several horses were seen standing together, however, then this was an indication that there was a storm, real or figurative, that was about to come.
Colors of Horses and Their Symbolism
Many modern cultures have based their interpretation of horse symbolism based on passages found in religious holy books. It isn’t just a white horse, for example, that is mentioned in Revelation 6. There are different colors of horse associated with each seal.
Red Horses: “When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ Out came another horse, fiery red. Its rider was allowed to take peace from the earth so that people would kill each other. He was given a large sword.”
Black Horses: “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ So, I looked, and there was a black horse. Its rider held a balance for weighing in his hand.”
Green Horses: “When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ So, I looked, and there was a pale green horse. Its rider’s name was death, and the grave was following right behind. They were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill by sword, famine, disease, and wild animals.
The natural question that comes next is usually this: when was the last time anyone saw an actual green horse?
“Green” doesn’t necessarily represent an actual coat color, though some holy book passages may imply this. Horses that are “green” are new to training or education and are very inexperienced. These horses have their own symbolism to consider as well. Foals are often a representation of a new undertaking and suggests that something happy or fortunate will occur in the near future.
Some horses have multiple coat colors and these patterned horses have their own symbolism to consider as well. There is an old folk poem that talks about the sock patterns of a horse.
If a horse has one sock, then buy him.
If a horse has two socks, then try him.
If a horse has three socks, then doubt him.
If a horse has four socks, then do without him.
Yet some cultures, especially nomadic ones, felt that a horse with four socks was incredibly lucky. Of course, that perception only applied if the horse’s stockings didn’t rise above the knee or the fetlock.
Markings of Horses and Their Symbolism
Some horses have different markings on their body, especially on the hooves. Horses might have whorls and other swirls in their coat. Even the eye color of the horse can prove meaningful to the symbolism of the animal.
Horses that have white hooves have often symbolized weakness. Over the generations, white hooves have even been avoided because people believed that the hoof was physically weaker than other colors. This may be due to the fact that it is easier to see a crack in a white hoof than it is to see one in a dark or striped hoof.
Certain whorls and their placement on a horse symbolize certain qualities as well. Horses with multiple swirls on their forehead are a representation of difficulty. Some whorl placements indicate good luck. Other placements indicate bad luck. The quantity and location often depend on the culture.
Horses with blue eyes are a representation of trouble for many cultures. That’s because there is a perception that blue-eyed horses tend to be more temperamental than other horses.
What do horse symbolize? That is up to you. Whether you base your perception on ancient cultures, your religious faith, or your personal experience, it is important to remember that every horse deserves a chance to live a happy life. Some horses might represent bad luck in some cultures, but let’s face it: we’ve been friends with horses for forever.
Maybe it’s the relationship that is more important.