The horse has been, over the ages, variously a symbol of: courage, strength, speed (swifter than eagles), the passage of time and human life, pride (get on your high horse), death (Book of Revelation, horses of The Apocalypse), and war (sacred to and sacrificed to Mars).
In the Bible, persons with military rank were generally mounted on horses – those without rank very seldom; and the association of horses with war is frequent.
A white horse signified conquest and victory and was a good omen. In medieval days (chivalry) a white horse also signified innocence and chastity.
The ancients attributed special sanctity to a vow taken on horseback – one that could not be violated.
The horse was frequently the emblem of the sun, symbolizing creative life and giving solemnity and fruitfulness to the marriage vows. The Ruler of the Day – the Sun – was drawn in his chariot by celestial horses in his daily journey across the skies. The Dawn (The Goddess Aurora) was called the “White Horse” and had Pegasus as her steed after he had disposed of his earthly rider.
To the ancient Norsemen and the Romans (Diana) the horse was also similarly associated with the moon – drawing that god’s chariot across the skies.
The horseshoe in mythology represented the crescent moon. Nailed on doorways it was deemed to ward off witchcraft, the evil eye and Satan. It is still, today, a symbol of good luck. Attached to a wall or doorway, the open end should be up, otherwise “the luck will run out”.
Horses disturbed and restless in the morning and with their manes and tails tangled and twisted are supposed, according to old English legend, to have been ridden in the night by the pixies.
Superstitions about color include these: A good horse is never a bad color.
ONE white leg, buy him.
TWO white legs, try him.
THREE white legs, send him far away. (Sell him to your foes)
FOUR white legs, keep him not a day. (Feed him to the crows)
(He’s sure to cause you woes) The Hungarians and Spanish believe all black horses are lucky – the French think the reverse.
There is an Irish superstition that a pure white horse – when ridden by the owner – confers upon him the special gift of advising how to cure physical ailments.
The White Horse – The Saxon King Alfred in the ninth century had carved in a precipitous chalk cliff on the Berkshire Downs in England an enormous white horse, 374 feet long and 120 feet high, to commemorate his victory over the Danes at Ashdown. It is still visible today. The “Tale Horse of the Saxons”, in varied forms, is found in the coat of arms of several British Regiments, of noble houses descended from the Saxons and in the ensign of Kent.
The Trojan Horse – The Trojan Horse is well known to all who have read Greek history. This was the tremendous image of a mare, built of wooden planks, concealing a group of Greek soldiers. The Trojans were led to believe that this was a peace offering to the goddess Minerva by the Greeks as they ostensibly abandoned their ten year siege of Troy and sailed home.
The stratagem worked. The Trojans opened their gates and widened the gap in their walls to take in the wooden mare (and its soldiers). The Greeks, under Ulysses, returned from their nearby island hideout – and Troy fell!
According to legend, Troy – built by Neptune who was the god of horses as well as the sea – was taken three times and each time a horse was the cause of its downfall. First, when the Trojan king refused a promised reward of six sacred horses to Hercules for the rescue of his daughter; second, the Greek’s wooden mare (The Trojan Horse) and third, when a Greek horse stood in the gates, preventing the Trojans from shutting them against their enemies!
The horse has indeed figured in many superstitions and fables!