Galloping Straight Into Our Hearts: The Greatest Horses of Fantasy

Even in our normal, mundane reality, horses are amazing—it’s no wonder, then, that so many horses are also found in our ancient myths, legends, and modern fantasy tales. Whether they’re magical or not, these equine beauties are often vital to the hero’s quest, making it possible to reach hidden lands, slay hideous monsters, or just carry enough supplies for a month’s worth of second breakfasts.

Though we couldn’t possibly compile a complete list of fantasy horses (The Lord of the Rings alone would take forever to catalog), we’ve attempted to corral our favorites into one place. Like the Mustang on the plains, or the feral ponies of Chincoteague, we’re sure a few have escaped our snares, so let us know those we missed in the comments!

 

Bela—The Wheel of Time Series

Bela Flees Mashadar, Wheel of Time

Bela and Egwene al’Vere flee in “Mashadar” by Josh Hass.

Obviously when you have an epic as sweeping as the Wheel of Time, you’re going to have at least a few noble horses to carry our heroes through their trials and tribulations. Our favorite is Bela, a brown mare who belongs to Tam al’Thor, Rand’s adoptive father, and has been ridden into several adventures and battles. More interesting than her on-page action, however, is a certain fan theory… could Bela be the Creator in disguise?

 

Epona—The Legend of Zelda Series

Epona with Link in Ocarina of Time

In the Celtic-Roman pantheon, Epona was the protector of horses, and a goddess of fertility. The Legend of Zelda series pays homage to the goddess with Link’s horse Epona, who (like other characters in the series) recurs in several games. Link first meets the wild foal in Ocarina of Time, and learns how to play a song to calm her. The song allows her to recognize the older Link later in the game (ah, time travel), when he saves her from the jerk who owns the ranch.

Honorable mention: in Morgan Llywelyn’s The Horse Goddess, Epona is a young horsewoman whose deeds are already being sung, but who is far from being an actual deity.

 

Pegasus—Clash of the Titans

Pegasus in The Clash of the Titans

Pegasus is the son of Poseidon and Medusa, and is a freaking horse with wings. In traditional Greek mythology, he’s captured by the hero Bellerophon, who needed to fly in order to defeat the Chimera. During the Renaissance, it became more popular to tell the story with Perseus as the Pegasus-tamer, and lo, several hundred years later we got Clash of the Titans, with Perseus and Pegasus facing off with a Kraken. Poseidon also had a second horse-son, Arion (with either Demeter or Gaia, accounts vary) who is lauded as the swiftest horse in all of Greek mythology.

 

Tír na nÓg—Into the West

Tir na Nog, Into the West

In Irish mythology, Tír na nÓg is a mystical island—the “Land of the Young”—accessible in one story by a nameless magical horse. The 1992 film Into the West, Tír na nÓg is a wonderful white horse who ends up living with two young boys and their father in a tiny Dublin apartment. As you can imagine, this is not an ideal arrangement. When the horse is stolen, the boys head out on an adventure to rescue him, and ride into the West to set him free. And if you were guessing that the film’s Tír na nÓg is no ordinary horse, you are correct.

 

Artax—The Neverending Story

Artax in The Neverending Story

Like Jesus and Harry Potter, Artax’s place in this pantheon, and his ultimate importance, is defined by his death. Until that moment in the Swamps of Sadness, Artax was just your ordinary noble steed. But then, as you watched him succumb to despair and mud, a whole new era in your childhood was most likely born. A dark era, in which good did not always win (at least, not right away) and you were forced to contemplate the idea that a horse could be so depressed he’d rather die than go on.

 

Brego—The Lord of the Rings (films)

Brego with Aragorn

Appearing only in Peter Jackson’s films, Brego was a horse of Rohan and belonged to Théodred, the son of King Théoden. After Théodred is mortally wounded in battle, the horse becomes wild, and refuses all other riders. When Aragorn meets him in the stables, he sings to him in Quenya to calm the horse, then allows him to run free, saying Brego has “seen enough of war.” It’s a sweet moment, and also allows Aragorn to prove his awesomeness by out-horse-personing the Rohirrim. But wait! After Aragorn is presumed dead following the battle with the Warg-riders, it’s Brego who finds him, and allows him to ride to Helm’s Deep to warn everyone of the approaching Uruk-hai. From then on, Brego is Aragorn’s horse.

 

Yfandes—Valdemar Saga

yfandes-valdemarYfandes and the other Companions in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series are not technically horses—they are magical beings who just happen to look exactly like horses, but with bright blue eyes, pure white coats, and silver hooves. GLAM HORSES. They form lifelong bonds with their chosen Heralds, often extending to a psychic or telepathic link. Vanyel—hailed as the greatest Herald-Mage throughout most of the series—has a fittingly awesome Companion in Yfandes, who waited ten years for the right partner to come along.

 

The silver—Game of Thrones

Khal Drogo and Daenarys Targaryen with their horses

When Khal Drogo presents his young bride Daenerys Targaryen with a beautiful snow-white horse, it’s the first indication that he might not be the barbaric monster that we’ve assumed. It still takes time, but as Dany learns to speak his language, and begins asserting herself in their marriage, we realize that Drogo respects her, and the two (eventually) form the best partnership on the show. It is not customary for Dothraki to name their horses, so Dany refers to the steed only as “the silver.”

 

Spirit/Swift Wind—She-Ra: Princess of Power

Swift Wind with Sha-Ra

Princess Aurora’s horse, Spirit, is already a great companion – he can talk, he’s loyal, and he’s far more interesting than Bow. But even better, when Aurora transforms into She-Ra, Princess of Power, Spirit becomes Swiftwind, a badass talking winged unicorn, with telepathy. In your face, Battlecat.

 

Goliath—Ladyhawke

Goliath in Ladyhawke

Goliath doesn’t have any magical powers, but he displays an extraordinary level of loyalty. Not only does he just roll with it when each of his humans repeatedly turn into a wolf and a hawk respectively, but he also puts up with a whiny Matthew Broderick! In our own world, Goliath’s role in the film kicked off a wave of interest in Friesian horses, because look how pretty!

 

Bad Horse—Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

badhorse-ELE

The role model of Dr. Horrible and super villains everywhere, Bad Horse rules the Evil League of Evil with an iron hoof. He has a terrible death whinny, a trio of cowboys who sing his lines for him, and he loooooves murder. He’s the Thoroughbred of Sin, and we will never cross him.

 

Binky—The Discworld Series

Binky with DEATH and Discworld

LEGO Discworld via the LEGO Ideas Blog

After he had some problems riding a skeletal horse (bits kept falling off), and another horse with a fiery mane (it kept setting his robes on fire), Discworld’s personification of Death settled on a real living horse named Binky. Binky is pure white, and sometimes leaves a trail of glowing hoofprints. Even though he’s normal in most respects, working for Death has rendered him ageless. And sharing in Death’s hyperreality means he can just ignore lesser realities, like time and physical distance.

 

Bree (short for Breehy-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah)—The Horse and His Boy

Art by Pauline Baynes

Art by Pauline Baynes

Bree, a talking horse of Narnia, was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Calormen, where the animals don’t speak. Being the only talking horse has made Bree a bit full of himself. At first this comes across in the Peabody and Sherman-esque relationship between him and the titular boy, Shasta, but, this is a Narnia book, so Bree spends the second half of the book learning humility through a series of encounters with lions… who all turn out to be The One True Lion. Real subtle, Aslan. Bree also shares a name with the town featured in The Fellowship of the Ring, which was home to The Prancing Pony.

 

Li’l Sebastian—Parks and Recreation

Li'l Sebastian R.I.P.

“But wait!” you cry, “Li’l Sebastian was a real miniature horse, not a fantasy horse!” Yes, he was a real miniature horse, but now he is the brightest angel in all of Horsey Heaven, which qualifies him for this list. Also, he is always in our hearts.

 

Shadowfax—The Lord of the Rings

Shadowfax with Gandalf

And finally, we could only end this list with one horse, right? He’s Gandalf’s BFF. He shows us the meaning of haste. He is truly the Lord of All Horses.

…but wait. Shadowfax may well be the Lord of Horses, the Son of the Firstborn of the Meara, and the chosen steed of the greatest wizard of Middle-earth. But he’s no goddamn Bill the Pony.

bill-pony-lotr

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