Horse symbolism and meanings include determination, endurance, valor, freedom, travel, beauty, majesty, and spirit.
Horses are beloved by people around the world, so they have been important figures in the mythology and folklore of many cultures, as well as in people’s personal lives. In fact, it’s impossible to quantify the amount of art, music, literature, and other forms of expression that have been inspired by these magnificent creatures.
In this post, we’ll explore all aspects of horse symbolism and meanings, including horse spiritual meaning, the horse spirit animal, horse mythology, and more.
What does a horse symbolize?
Here are some details on what the horse symbolizes and what these qualities might mean in your own life:
Horse Symbolism: Determination
When humans first began to domesticate horses 6,000 years ago, they undoubtedly saw an animal who would not give up easily. To this day, we use the term “work horse” to describe appliances, trucks, and other things that outperforms the others in their class when it comes to getting the job done.
In fact, horses are determined to a fault. Unfortunately, this can lead to their exploitation, whether it’s people pushing them too hard to pull a plow or a tourist carriage or in horse racing. The horse does not give up. This is also why getting a horse to accept a rider on their back is called “breaking the horse.” It’s an odious expression that underscores the horse’s determination.
As a symbol of determination, the horse reminds us that our stubborn determination should be used as a force for good in the world and to protect ourselves. For example, you may be very determined to be successful in a work environment to a fault. Remember that you need to work smart, not just hard. Make sure your determination is getting you to where you want to be, such as financial independence.
The positive side of determination is an unwavering optimism and faith. Horse people focus on the goal instead of the obstacles. They believe that where there is a will, there’s a way.
An American quarter horse (which is the equivalent to a human sprinter in a running race) can achieve speeds of up to 55 mph (88.5 kph). And a horse that’s in good physical condition can travel as much as 100 miles (161 km) a day carrying a rider. In short, horses have incredible endurance.
As a symbol of endurance, the horse spirit animal reminds you that you’re in it for the long haul. You have within you the capacity to dream, set goals, and see things through.
Horse Symbolism: Valor
While they are naturally gentle creatures, horses are capable of incredible bravery. This is why they were so often used in warfare. In fact, the horse is such a powerhouse that it’s easy to forget that they’re gentle herbivores. In mythology and folklore they are often put in the same class of power as fierce animals, such as the wolf, bear, shark, or dragon. Yet, horses are obviously not carnivores. They are, in fact, prey. That’s why they’re built to run. However, while the horse is a peaceful spirit, they will not back down if confronted. This is why they are also symbols of valor.
A Personal Story About the Bravery of Horses
I’ll tell you a story about my first-hand experience with the bravery of horses. My mom used to live in the mountains of Colorado, where she had four quarter horses. One time when I was visiting and was home by myself, I heard the dogs barking like crazy. I looked out the window and saw that a brown bear had made his way into the corral where the horses were.
Freaking out, I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find: an antique wooden ski on the wall that my mom had hung up for decoration. I ran out towards the corral after shutting the door so the dogs couldn’t get out. I didn’t want them to have a run-in with the bear.
As I was running towards the corral, I was shocked to see that all four horses had the bear cornered in the corral. Blaze, who was the dominant horse, was in the front. He was digging up the ground as he repeatedly stomped it with his front hoof in an aggressive stance.
Before I reached the corral, the bear crawled over the fence and quickly climbed up the nearest tree. I let the horses out of the corral into the nearby field and called the local wild animal control center.
The valor of the horse reminds you to stand your ground, even if your aggressor seems more powerful than you are. However, if you’re in a situation where you truly feel that you can’t win, summon the speed of horse and get yourself away from the negativity before your opponent can even blink their eyes.
Horse Symbolism: Freedom
Arguably, one of the most beautiful sights in the world is a horse running without restraint. Undoubtedly, this power of this wild abandon is why so many sports teams, from elementary schools to the pros, are called the Mustangs.
The horse is the embodiment of freedom. If a horse has suddenly captured your attention, whether in real life, art, or the media, it could be a sign that you’ve been corralled for too long in some area of your life. Maybe it’s time to explore some greener pastures?
Because they’re fast and they love to move, the horse also symbolizes travel. From rocking horses to carousel ponies to wild mustangs, horses are all about movement. Undoubtedly, this is also why in astrology Sagittarians are the travelers of the zodiac. The symbol for Sagittarius is the centaur, a half-human with a horse body.
If a horse has suddenly made themselves known to you, it can be a sign that it’s time for you to explore some new pastures. Go and see some old friends or get out of your comfort zone. The horse is all about kicking up their heels, bucking off the routine, and seeing the world.
It’s understandable why the writer Alice Walker named one of her books of poetry Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful. The beauty of the horse stirs our spirits and reminds us of the sublime beauty in the world. After all, the unicorn gets its magical beauty from the horse.
In a world with too much violence, fear, and sadness, the horse reminds us to remember the beauty in life. Sometimes we have to strive to find it, but the horse reminds us to never give up. Their very presence reminds us that life is beautiful.
When the Mongols invaded new lands, they did so on horseback. In fact, horses were the key to many of their easy victories. These victories left a mark on other societies, from Chinese to European and beyond.
Owning and caring for horses required resources. In addition, people who were on horseback physically made people on the ground look up to them. All of these attributes are why horses came to be associated with nobility and leadership.
In fact, the way 13th century Mongol horsemen were dressed created fashion trends in other societies. For example, they wore riding boots with heels, which quickly caught on in high societies. This was the origin of the term “well-heeled” to describe a person who is wealthy or aristocratic.
In their own right, horses are majestic creatures themselves. The horse spirit animal reminds you to hold your head high. Be proud of who you are and where you come from. Fulfilling your own purpose in this lifetime is how you achieve majesty in your own life.
The horse is an exuberant animal who loves to frolic and kick up their heels. In fact, colts and ponies are often described as “spirited” because of their frisky and playful natures. So, the horse is a symbol of spirit both on a physical and metaphysical level.
In Eastern spiritual traditions, including Tibetan Buddhism and others, there is an archetype called the wind horse. A wind horse is a mythical animal who represents the human soul as well as good fortune and well-being. The wind horse is said to exude powerful positive energy. For example, they have the capacity to influence outcomes, people, and society.
As a symbol of spirit, the horse inspires us to have faith and to believe in positive outcomes. By being happy and exuberant ourselves, we inspire others to feel the spirit within themselves.
White Horse Meaning
The white horse is another horse archetype that holds cultural and symbolic significance. White horse meaning includes purity, heroism, spiritual enlightenment, and the triumph of good over evil. You can read more about white horse meanings in the sections on the horse in Slavic culture, Hinduism, and Buddhism below.
Dark Horse Meaning
In addition to the white horse, there is also a dark horse archetype. The term “dark horse” is used to describe a competitor in a contest whom few have heard about or are paying attention to but who unexpectedly wins. To mix metaphors, a dark horse is an underdog or the David who defeats the giant Goliath.
The term dark horse to describe an underdog was first coined in the novel The Young Duke by Benjamin Disraeli (who went on to become the prime minister of the UK.) In the novel, the main character, the Duke of St. James, is at a horse race where an unknown dark horse wins the race at the surprise of all.1
Horse Mythology and Folklore
Humans began to domesticate horses about 6,000 years ago in the grasslands of what is now Ukraine. Over time, these domesticated horses bred with wild horses. Eventually, they spread throughout Europe and Asia, and then the rest of the world.2 So, the horse is an important figure in the mythology and folklore of many cultures. Here are some of those stories:
Horse Meaning in Slavic Culture
In early Slavic societies, horses were used to pull plows, so they were very important in agriculture and the livelihoods of local people. The Slavs depicted their deity Jarylo, who was the god of fertility, agriculture, and springtime, as a young man riding a horse. In addition, according to some folktales, Jarylo could shapeshift from being a human-like god into a horse and back.3
Thus, horses were important symbols of life, death, and rebirth in ancient Slavic societies.
Jarylo’s sister was also associated with horses. Called Devana, she was the goddess of the wilderness and hunting.
Other Slavic deities also had horse companions. Dazbog was a solar deity. He was said to move the sun across the sky in a chariot pulled by three horses: one made with silver, another with gold, and a third with diamonds.
Another deity named Chernobog was a malevolent god who rode a giant black steed. His arch enemy was Belobog was a hero god who rode a white horse.4
Horse Meaning in Mongolia
As some of the world’s first herdsmen, the Mongols revered horses. Horses had spiritual power to the Mongols. As in other Eastern spiritual beliefs, the Mongols called the human soul a “wind horse,” which they described as a winged horse.
The Mongols also had a horse deity they called Kisaγa Tngri who protected human souls. Furthermore, a god named Ataγa Tngri was a special protector of horses.5
As the Mongols invaded other lands, their success was largely attributed to their horsemanship.
The Horse in China
In China, the horse is a powerful and revered symbol. In fact, the horse is held in such high regard that they are referred to as the dragon’s relative.
The Chinese also have legends about a Dragon Horse, which they call longma. The creature has the body of a horse and scales and claws like a dragon’s. For the Chinese, the longma is compared to a powerful person who is vigorous in old age.6
In addition, the horse is an important symbol in the Chinese zodiac. In Chinese astrology, people born in the Year of the Horse are said to be industrious, generous, extravagant, passionate, and stubborn.
Horse in Hindu Mythology
Hindus also hold the horse in high regard. In fact, they refer to horses as gifts from God. In Hinduism, the horse symbolizes great power, as that from the sun, as well as generosity and royalty.
According to Hindu mythology, the very first horse was a seven-headed creature named Uchchaihshravas. In addition to having seven heads, Uchchaihshravas could fly and reach all of the divine worlds.7
In addition to being seen as having mystical powers, horses were used in battle in India. Thus, they came to be status symbols for power and nobility. Horses were even portrayed as playing a role in the sun rising and setting every day.
The Hindu god Kalki, who was a manifestation or avatar of the god Vishnu, was portrayed as riding a giant white horse. In fact, some historians believe Kalki’s name is derived from the word karki, which means white. Kalki was believed to punish the wicked while rewarding the good.8
Horse Symbolism in Buddhism
In Buddhism, white horses in particular have sacred meaning. Like the lotus flower, a white horse symbolizes purity and the Buddha himself.
According to some Buddhist stories, before he became Buddha, Prince Siddhartha had a beloved white horse named Kanthaka. It was while riding Kanthaka that Siddhartha left the palace grounds and began to see the world as it really was – a place of immense suffering.9
The sutras were the texts that held Buddhist teachings. According to some Buddhist stories, the sutras were carried to China the first time on the back of a white horse. In fact, the first Buddhist temple built in China in 68 AD was called Bai Ma Temple, which translates to White Horse Temple.10
Horses in the Bible
Horses are mentioned numerous times in the Bible. In general, they symbolize power, conquest, and fearlessness. For example in Habakkuk 1:8, God says of the Chaldeans (whom God will use as agents of punishment against the people of Judah): “Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour.”11
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
In the Book of Revelation, there are four horsemen who usher in the apocalypse. They ride different colored horses, which represent four aspects of the end of times. One rides a white horse, which symbolizes Christ. (Or some interpretations say the rider is the anti-Christ.) The second rides a red horse, which symbolizes war and bloodshed. The third rides a black horse, which symbolizes famine. And the fourth rides a pale or gray horse, which symbolizes death.12
The Horse in Greek Mythology
There are a number of mythic horses in Greek mythology, which underscores the Greeks’ reverence for these beautiful animals. To begin, the Greek gods had their Hippoi Athanatoi, who were their own breed of immortal horses.13 And possibly the most famous is Pegasus, the majestic white winged horse who was born when Medusa was beheaded.
As a seafaring people, the Greeks also told stories of hippocampi, who were giant half-horse and half-fish creatures who pulled Poseidon’s chariot. Many believe they were inspired by seahorses.
The Greeks also had their centaurs: creatures who were half-human and half-horse. The centaurs embodied the freedom-loving wildness of horses.
The horse was also a symbol for the city of Troy. Hence, the Greeks were able to successfully trick the Trojans into accepting a giant wooden horse as a gift, which they fatally brought inside their gates.
Celtic Horse Meaning
In Celtic, Gallic, and Roman mythology, the goddess Epona was associated with horses. In fact, the Celtic word epos means horse. Epona was a protector of mares, fouls, and cavalries.
Another Celtic goddess, Rhiannon, may have been inspired by Epona. She is also associated with the horse and was said to ride so fast that no one could catch her.14
Both Epona and Rhiannon were also goddesses of death and the afterlife. Therefore, horses were considered to be transporters between life and the afterlife, the material and supernatural worlds.
In other Celtic stories, the demi-god Cuchulainn had two mythical horses named Liath Macha and Dub Sainglend who pulled his chariot.15 The two horses originated in a magical pool in the mountains. They are gifts from the goddess Macha or her sister Morrigan. The horses are wild and uncontrollable at first. However, they accept Cuchulainn and go on to help him win epic battles.16
Horse Symbolism in Norse Mythology
As in Celtic mythology, the horse was important in Norse mythology. Horses were viewed as transporters between life and death as well as the worlds of mortals and the gods.17
The Norse god Odin had a gray, eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. As the child of Loki and the mythic horse Svaðilfari, Sleipnir had special powers and was able to travel between the worlds of gods, humans, and Hel, which was the Norse land of the dead.18
Arvakr and Alsvior
In other Nordic stories, two mythical horses called Arvakr and Alsvior pulled a chariot holding the sun across the sky each day. According to the legend, the gods put bellows beneath the horses’ shoulders so the sun’s fire wouldn’t burn them as they rode.19
Skinfaxi and Hrimfaxi
Two other horses, Skinfaxi and Hrimfaxi, also appear in Norse mythology. Skinfaxi, whose name means “shining mane,” was said to pull the day across the sky. And Hrimfaxi, whose name means “frost mane,” was said to pull the night across the sky.20
Horses in Native American Culture
Fossils and petroglyphs discovered in North America reveal that horse-like animals roamed here tens of thousands of years ago. However, they became extinct sometime between 10,000 – 15,000 years ago.21 Nevertheless, in the 16th century, the horse returned to North America with Spanish Conquistadors.
When they first saw them, some Native American tribes viewed the new bison-like animals as a potential food source. That is until Spanish settlers taught them to ride.22 With their natural reverence for animals, the Native Americans took to horseback riding like fish to water. As a result, the horse became an incredibly important being in Native American culture.
For Native Americans, the horse symbolized mobility, prosperity, and power. They used horses for travel, hunting, and in warfare. In fact, they had such a natural affinity for horses that the Spanish made it illegal for them to ride or own them. Undeterred, the Native Americans began to breed their own horses.
Horses were already running wild in the west as some had managed to escape both the Spanish and the Native Americans. The Spanish called these horses mestengo, or mustangs, which translates to “ownerless beast.”
Horse Spirit Animal
If you have always loved horses or one suddenly captures your attention, whether in real life, art, or the media, pay attention. There are no coincidences. The horse has special messages for you that can help to guide you on your soul’s journey.
When the horse spirit animal makes themself known to you, it’s always a positive omen. The horse embodies the rare combination of beauty, spirit, valor, and freedom. When the horse is your spirit animal, you have been blessed with a beautiful, exuberant guide who can help you on your life path.
Horse people are determined by nature. You have the capacity to buck off anything that is holding your back from evolving to your highest self. However, you must break out of the corral of any limitations that could be holding you back. These can be self-imposed limitations or those put on you by other people, including society. The horse encourages you to break free and run faster towards your dreams.
Horse Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can empower you with their most dynamic traits.
So, if you want to transform an area of your life, consider the attributes that the power animal represents. For example, you can summon the horse power animal in situations where you:
- Want to find more determination and willpower within yourself than you think you possess.
- Need to break out of a rut or break free from repeated cycles of behavior that are holding you back.
- Want to get in shape and feel more beautiful inside and out.
- Are working too hard for someone else and need to find a way to work for yourself or be financially independent.
- Feel deflated in some way and need to rekindle the inner spark that feeds your spirit.
Horse Totem Animal
An animal totem encapsulated the protective powers of the animal it represents. So, a horse totem is a helpful symbol when you need to find ways to feel more freedom and spiritual exuberance in your life. The horse totem is also a good luck talisman for finding the courage and determination that are required to do something that’s difficult for you, but which you know needs to be done. In addition, the horse totem is a helpful symbol to remind you to look for the good-natured spirit in others and the beauty in life.
Horse Dream Meaning
If you dream of a horse or horses and you wonder what your dream could be telling you, consider the emotions you felt in your dream. While dream meanings and interpretations are personal to every individual, one thing we all have in common is that our subconscious emotions don’t not lie to us. They can reveal underlying issues we need to address.
Horses can be very soothing animals. This is why they are used in therapy for people. So, a dream about a horse in which you felt at peace can be a very positive experience. You can use memories from the dream to get to a peaceful state if you’re feeling anxiety or are under stress.
On the other hand, dreams about horses running can be exhilarating. This can be a sign that you need to exert more freedom in your life. However, a horse running can also be a sign of fear. This can signify that you want to run away from something negative in your life, when in reality you should address it in your wakeful state.
If you had a real horse who has passed, likely a horse dream can be the animal’s spirit reaching out to you.
While dreams are unique to every individual, hopefully understanding more about horse symbolism and mythology can bring new insights to your life. But if you’re still curious about what your horse dream might mean, be sure to check out my dedicated post on horse dream meanings.
Horse Tattoo Meaning
A horse tattoo is a beautiful symbol that shows the world you are a free spirit. It can also signify that you love to move, travel, and experience greener pastures. Tattoos are deeply personal to the person whose skin they adorn. But hopefully learning more about horse symbols and mythologies can bring deeper meaning to your tattoo.
How You Can Help Horses
Any time that an animal is viewed as a piece of property instead of a sentient being, they are vulnerable to abuse. Unfortunately, domesticated horses, donkeys, and ponies face threats including being overworked, abused, and neglected. Furthermore, wild horses face threats including starvation and being shot. If you care about horses, please do what you can to protect them. Here are some organizations that are working to protect domesticated and wild horses, donkeys, and ponies:
- International Fund for Animal Welfare
- Equus Foundation
- The Humane Society
- In Defense of Animals
- American Wild Horse Campaign
- Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages