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Guest Post ~ The Unique Symbolism of Horses in Different Cultures

Symbolism of Horses in Different Cultures

Today I am pleased to introduce you to Louise from the Horsey Council Blog. She writes about everything you can possibly think of, from how to manage your horses feet to finding the perfect and unusual name for your horse.

Let me put your imagination to work. Picture early civilization as a complex mechanism. It contained numerous cogs and gears, each with its own specific purpose. In this analogy, horses represented one of the largest cogs. Without it, everything would have fallen apart. They helped us in our daily tasks, they provided transportation, and they even fought in our wars.

While modern-day horses no longer enjoy the same status, they still play a key role when it comes to racing, sports, and draft work.

And since the lives of horses and their role in society have changed so much over the centuries, I thought it would be fitting to explore the unique symbolism of horses in different cultures.

Horses have impacted different cultures in different ways.  In some parts of the world, they were associated with loyalty and respect, while others viewed them as tokens of luck and freedom. One thing is clear: the horse has always been a beacon of positivity.

This aura has taken on different shapes in different parts of the world, so let’s see exactly how horses were viewed from a symbolic point of view in Hindu, Chinese, Arabic, and Western cultures.

The symbolism of horses in Hinduism

Horses are a recurring theme in Hindu mythology. They used to be the focus of various rituals, some of which involved sacrifice. While it may seem barbaric in our modern days, these rituals were being performed all over the world in the early stages of civilization.

It wasn’t just the Hindus that were performing them either. Celtic, Norse, and Roman people sacrificed horses and other animals as well, oftentimes as a means of communion with their gods.

White horses are particularly noteworthy in Hindu mythology. One of the most important figures is Uchaishravas, which was believed to be a beautiful white horse with seven heads. Legend has it that he was the personal steed of Indra, lord of the devas.

Apparently, Indra had such a liking for white horses that he would sometimes steal those intended for sacrifice, rescuing them from their fate.

Horses also appear in Hindu legends in relation to a solar deity named Surya. Her chariot was drawn by seven horses, but as far as the horses’ colors are concerned, they were sometimes described as donning the colors of the rainbow.

Horses symbolize loyalty, respect, and power in Hinduism. The worship of Hayagriva, a form of horse worship, was established in India around 2000 BC. Back in the days of native life on the continent of India, horses revolutionized the way people traveled, hunted, and conducted warfare.

Horse symbolism in China

Horse symbolism is abundant in Chinese culture, particularly when it comes to the good old Chinese Zodiac. The horse is the seventh animal of the Zodiac, and it usually represents beauty, freedom, natural power, and grace. At the time of writing, the previous Year of the Horse was 2014, and the next one will be 2026.

One of the most important figures in Chinese mythology is the so-called Dragon Horse, which was said to have the head and claws of a dragon but the body of a horse. In a more abstract way, the horse is viewed as an embodiment of the Yellow River spirit – the power and resilience of the Chinese people, and their ability to adapt and overcome ill odds.

Horses were used extensively by the Chinese military for warfare and transportation. Steeds that were particularly tall were called Dragons, perhaps as a tribute to their strength and stamina.

How has the horse influenced Chinese culture? The reign of Emperor Wu Ti (141-87BC) offers a fitting example. During that time, the Chinese were incredibly skilled at riding horses, particularly in battle. In fact, they led a very successful campaign against Hsiung-nu barbarians. They captured their capital and their best horses, and they proceeded to cross-breed them in order to obtain a truly unique and special breed.

The resulting breed was named Tien Ma or Celestial Horses. Many believe that the renowned Flying Horse of Gansu or Bronze Running Horse statue pays homage to the breed.

Horses in Arabic culture

If you know anything about horses, then surely you must have heard about the Arabian breed. The fact that one of the world’s most refined horse breeds is called the Arabian should tell you something about the immense importance of horses in Arabic culture.

Resilient, quick, and incredibly beautiful, Arabian horses are often seen as the purest equines in the world. When it comes to their relationship with humans, legends say that horses have always been a part of human society.

Some believe that early-day Arabs raised foals along with their children and that they even allowed them to live in their tents from time to time. Whether that’s true or is merely an exaggeration, few can say for sure.

However, the mere existence of these rumors indicates that the horse has had a profound impact on the lives of Arabs. As time went by, Arabian horses became a symbol of nobility, pride, and chivalry.

Horse symbolism in Western cultures

Western cultures have their own special relationship with horses, particularly when it comes to war and power. Everyone knows that some of the world’s most prosperous empires belonged to Western civilizations. It should come as no surprise that Westerners relied heavily on the horse to achieve their military goals.

I’m not just talking about Europe. In fact, Native Americans viewed horses as a symbol of war. It’s hard to imagine how their lives would have unfolded and how their cultures would have evolved in the absence of horses. They relied on them for their military campaigns and tribal disputes.

Going back to Europe, the Celtic people believed that horses could bring good luck. White horses, in particular, were sacred in various parts of the Western world. While the mysticism surrounding horses has faded with the centuries, the practical, pragmatic use of equines stood the test of time until the early days of the Industrial Revolution.

As far as breeds are concerned, the Icelandic Horse comes to mind – one of the world’s oldest horse breeds. Early Norse civilizations worshiped the horse as a symbol of fertility and abundance. When Iceland was settled for the first time, those early settlers brought their horses (and their stories) with them.

Conclusion

It’s obvious that horses have played major roles in the shaping of our cultures. They were valued in every part of the world, and while their symbolism varied from culture to culture, they were almost always associated with positive outcomes, beauty, and good fortune.

It’s hard to imagine how we would have evolved without horses. While it’s true that other animals such as the ox and camel could have provided substitutes for draft work or transportation, no animal on Earth is truly as graceful, powerful, resilient, and versatile as the horse.

Last Updated on 11/03/2022

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