Horses have been a part of human mythology ever since we started telling stories. From ancient Greece to the Vikings, horses have played a crucial role in the legends of mankind. Today we’re going to look at the most famous mythical horses and their incredible abilities, and how they inspired generations of horse lovers throughout history.
The Pegasus is an immortal winged horse that originated in Greek mythology. This is arguably the best-known mythological horse ever created. But a lot of people don’t know its history. Pegasus was born of Poseidon and Medusa – yes, Medusa, the lady with all the snakes in her hair. Pegasus also had a brother named Chrysaor, both of whom were born out of Medusa’s neck after the hero Perseus chopped her head off.
Greek mythology has quite a fascinating way of bringing creatures to life and the Pegasus is no exception. After springing miraculously out of Medusa’s neck, the winged horse had some adventures with the hero Bellerophon before ultimately being stabled by Zeus, the king of the gods, and being given the job of drawing his chariot of thunderbolts.
The name Pegasus is derived from the Greek word for springs, pegae, showing his closeness to water. Just like the horse’s father, Poseidon, Pegasus can create water streams wherever he strikes his hooves.
Pegasus has also been in a few horse movies, like Fantasia, Hercules, and Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus along with the stop motion film Clash of the Titans, its remake Clash of the Titans.
The hippogriff is another mythical animal that has its roots in Greek mythology. But unlike Pegasus, the hippogriff isn’t entirely a horse. Instead, it has the front half of an eagle and the bottom half of a horse. It first came to being in a poem written in the 16th century by Ludovico Ariosto. He described the hippogriff as being born of a mare and a griffin, so, from a horse and another mythological creature.
The hippogriff is said to be very quick, it can fly around the world and the moon, and it’s normally ridden by magicians. Ever since the hippogriff first appeared in the 16th century, it has been used in plenty of famous stories. The hippogriff was even featured in Harry Potter, named Buckbeak.
The unicorn is one of those weird mythical animals that wasn’t actually spoken of in cultural legend. Instead, the unicorn was created 1600 years ago by a Roman naturalist named Pliny the Elder. This guy crammed his encyclopedia full of amazing animals, but not all of them were real. He described the unicorn as a fierce animal with the body of a horse, the head of a stag, the feet of an elephant, a single black horn sticking out of its forehead 3 feet long, and the stumpy tail of a boar. As you can tell, the original description of the unicorn is a pretty far stretch from the truth – though not that the unicorn was ever real.
The unicorn also shows up in several different places in the Bible depending on the translation. It’s sometimes referred to as a type of antelope with a single horn or a huge type of cattle that went extinct in the 17th century.
No matter which way you slice it, the unicorn has been described a thousand different ways throughout history until modern times when pop culture settled on a beautiful white horse with a single white horn.
Tulpar is quite similar to Pegasus, only it come from Turkic mythology. Specifically, the Central Asian mythology of what is today Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The Tulpar is even seen on the Kazakhstan coat of arms and the Mongolian state emblem.
The people of Central Asia, all the way from Kazakhstan down to Uzbekistan, spoke of the legendary Tulpar. It was a horse with wings associated with the hunting lifestyle of these nomadic people. It could be black or white, with wings crafted by God to give it the speed of the wind. But unlike Pegasus, Tulpar only opens its wings in total darkness, never allowing people to see them. If anyone does witness the Tulpar’s wings, they’ll vanish.
The hippocampus, which yes, is also a part of the human brain, is a legendary sea monster. Unlike most legendary horses from mythology that have wings, the hippocampus is more of a seahorse. It still has wings, but it uses them more like a fish uses its fins to swim underwater.
The hippocampus is featured heavily in Greek and Roman mythology, though it goes all the way back to the Phoenicians. It’s said to have the upper body of a horse and the lower body of a fish. In other words, it was basically a horse mermaid. The hippocampus was even described by Homer in his epic fable the Iliad as drawing the chariot of Poseidon through the oceans.
Then in medieval times, the hippocampus became a symbol of maritime associations. In fishing villages and any place that relied heavily on the sea, the hippocampus could be found. There is still lots of artwork from the Renaissance throughout places like Ireland and the United Kingdom displaying mermaid horses.
Sleipnir comes from Norse mythology. It doesn’t have wings to fly, but it does have a few extra legs. According to the old fables, Sleipnir has eight legs and is ridden by the god Odin. Whenever Odin needs to travel through the legendary Nine Realms, he does so on Sleipnir.
So far as the legend goes, Sleipnir was born when Loki shape-shifted into a mare and then got pregnant by one of the giants’ stallions. It’s not clear why Loki did this, but when he gave birth to Sleipnir, Odin liked the eight-legged horse so much he took it for himself.
The centaur is the ultimate love letter from mythology to the horse. There’s no greater fantasy for a horse lover than to actually be fused together with a horse. As you probably know already, the centaur is a creature with the body of a man and the legs of a horse. But what you might not know is that centaurs were actually a representation of barbarism, heathenism, and unfettered chaos. Centaurs were seen by the Greeks as bestial creatures filled with lust and anger.
In fact, throughout Greek mythology, centaurs are seen as rude, uncouth animals often warring with mankind. Centaurs came from the father of their species, a centaur named Centaurus, who was the offspring of the king of the Lapiths, Ixion, after Zeus tricked him into seducing a cloud disguised as Hera, Zeus’s wife. The result was Centaurus, who went on to breed a race of horrible creatures despised by humanity.