A Dog May Be Man’s Best Friend, But the Horse Wrote History

For those of us who love horses, the close finish in November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic was heart stopping when Zenyatta missed winning by a nose. She is the latest in a long line of horses, real and fiction, who have thrilled and motivated us throughout history. Other racehorses whose names have become famous are: Phar Lap, Man o’ War, War Admiral, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and the brilliant mare, Ruffian, who won every race she entered only to have her life end tragically on the racetrack.

There have been many incredible horses throughout history. Alexander the Great won battles astride his horse, Bucephalus, who died of battle wounds in 326B.C in Alexander’s last battle. Without their horse, many famous military names would not be so famous. Blueskin belonged to General Washington. Copenhagen was ridden by Wellington at Waterloo, and Traveller was Robert E. Lee’s beloved mount. Of course, the infamous also rode horses, among them, highwayman Dick Turpin’s horse, Black Bess, and Caligula’s horse, Incitatus, who Caligula made a senator!

Other famous horses include Jim Key “the smartest horse in the world”. Champion, Trigger, Buttermilk, Silver, Scout, Topper, and Diablo were ridden by Hollywood cowboys and their sidekicks. Justin Morgan (named after his owner) who started the Morgan breed as well as Misty and her foal, Stormy, immortalized by Marguerite Henry.

Famous horses in story include The Black in the Black Stallion series written by Walter Farley, The Pie in National Velvet by Enid Bagnold, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This last novel was instrumental in awakening an awareness of the need for a more humane approach in the treatment of animals, especially horses.

A book to equal the treatment given to horses in wartime is Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. This story of courage and endurance is told by Joey, a farm horse, who is sold to the Army during World War I. He describes the horror of his surroundings all the while searching for his young trainer, Albert, who has also joined the military in order to reunite with his beloved horse.

There are too many horses, real and imaginary, that have made differences in many lives, to list them all here. But if you’re interested you can read about them at your local library and check out the many DVDs devoted to Equus caballus.