For many millennials who labored under the daily grind of rural American culture, the fundamental hobbies revolved around the ability to do them in cowboy boots. We went to the washes at night for frog gigging — hunting frogs with a spiked tennis ball and frying their legs up for dinner. We played music in the barn, because the reverberations of the guitar on the metal stalls acted as a DIY amplifier. We had bonfires. We shot empty beer cans with guns. And we definitely rode horses.
The digital world’s erosion of our selfhood means that last hobby — riding horses — also became a sort of one-dimensional expression of identity. If you were a woman and you rode horses often, you didn’t just ride horses: You were a Horse Girl. There’s plenty to be said about society’s inability to let women have a hobby without it being one of their defining features, but for better or worse, I was a loud member of that club. I wasn’t the kind of Horse Girl who played horse on the playground — although I have nothing but respect for my comrades. I was, instead, a Horse Girl of proximity who grew into an obsession with steeds. I rode a horse to the corner store. I worked as a stable hand for the better part of two decades. I had a humiliating number of horse stuffed animals decorating my bed until well into my teenage years.
Now, I live in Brooklyn and only see horses when I visit my family in rural Arizona. But I firmly believe that my nearly 20 years of experience as a Horse Girl makes me uniquely qualified to rank the most important 25 horses of pop culture.
While ranking these steeds, I asked myself five questions:
How important was the horse’s role to the plot of the film/TV show/general lore?
Do I personally think the horse is pretty?
Does the horse have an attitude I can respect?
How long did the horse maintain relevance?
Could I ride that horse?
Before we get started, it should also be noted that I’m only including horses. This includes big (#24) and small (#19) horses, but not unicorns or thestrals or pegasuses. Not all important video game horses are being ranked, as that’s already been done by one of my gamer colleagues. I am also not including any of the ponies from Mon petit Poney because I have, miraculously, avoided all information about those animals and wish to continue my streak of spectacular good luck.
Not horses, but notable steeds:
Donkey as a donkey from Shrek
The Trojan horse
Hippocampus, a sea horse that pulled Poseidon’s chariot
The unicorn Voldemort drank right up in Harry Potter
I have to be clear that this list is just my opinion. It is also undoubtedly correct. If you disagree, keep it to yourself.
Artax is Atreyu’s best friend in the movie The NeverEnding Story. They’re searching for a cure for the Childlike Empress, and he dies in the Swamp of Sadness. All this horse had to do was turn around and follow Atreyu out of the swamp and he did! not! do! it! He’s brought back to life when Bastian recreates Fantasia, but I’ll never forgive that horse.
24. The Budweiser Clydesdales
Credit: Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
While I think I could absolutely ride these horses, and I personally think the Budweiser Clydesdales are very pretty, they stopped maintaining relevance around the time the Got Milk? stopped airing. Plus, I have a hard time looking at any carriage-drawing horses without considering the mistreatment of the horses in Central Park. Not the fault of these Clydesdales, but still puts a real bummer in the enjoyment of this particular gang of horses.
23. The horse version of Donkey in Shrek 2
freaks me out
Credit: Screenshot/ Amazon Prime/ DreamWorks Pictures/ Shrek 2
This list doesn’t include donkeys, so I couldn’t give credit to Eddie Murphy’s character in the original Shrek. But in the second Shrek movie, Donkey takes a potion and becomes a magnificent white stallion, much to his joy. However, this version of Donkey gives me a general air of malaise. He was better than the original!
An obviously beautiful Appaloosa stallion ridden by John Wayne in the movie Eldorado, this horse is so low on the list purely because of the racism of it all. I’m putting all of the horses John Wayne has ridden in this category.
21. All horses from Disney movies
I hate to say it, but all the horses in Disney movies have virtually the same personality. Bullseye from Toy Story; Captain from 101 Dalmatians; Frou-Frou from Aristocats; Khan from Mulan; Major from Cinderella; Maximus from Tangled; Phillip from Beauty and the Beast; Altivo from The Road to El Dorado. It’s a good personality! But I’d like to see more diverse equestrian attitudes from Disney going forward.
20. The Kardashians’ 14 Gorgeous Friesians
I don’t feel like I need to say much more to defend this ranking.
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19. Li’l Sebastian
He’s a good mini horse… but he’s still a mini horse
Credit: Screenshot/ Parks and Rec/ Peacock TV/ NBC
I am biased when we talk about mini horses, because I spent much of my youth employed as a stable hand at a mini horse farm. They are the Chihuahuas of the horse world—little bodies, huge attitudes. Goal Li’l Sebastian of Parks and Rec fame is one of the best of his kind: a noble little steed of his own volition.
This unbelievably helpful equine from legend of zorro has a rich history with plenty of different personality tropes. For instance, in the 1957 TV series, he can bring keys to a jail cell and can be called with a whistle. In the 1990 TV series, he’s smart and loyal. And, of course, Antonio Banderas gets him drunk in The Legend of Zorrowhich rules.
Credit: Screenshot/ Netflix/ The Witcher
This Nilfgaardian Thoroughbred stallion from The Witcher somehow, miraculously, makes Henry Cavill even hotter. For that alone, he receives the coveted #17 spot on this list.
This 2004 Western was based on the legend of the American distance rider Frank Hopkins and his mustang Hidalgo, a horse that I personally think is very pretty; whose identity was very important to the plot of the film; who has an attitude I can respect. But I am not convinced that I could ride that horse, so he sits at #16.
Also known as Big Red, this American Thoroughbred racehorse was the ninth winner of the American Triple Crown who set the record for the fastest time in all three races. He’s one of the greatest racehorses of all time, and the movie about him absolutely rules. But I do not think he’s particularly pretty, and also I would be too afraid to ride him.
Joey was the name of the first horse I rode and showed in Hereford, Arizona, and is also the name of the horse in the novel-turned-movie War Horse. Both horses absolutely ruled, but I have to say I think warhorse Joey maintained a stronger societal cultural relevance and more important role in the film and novel than Hereford Joey did in either.
I’m talking specifically about Diablo from the iconic book and TV series The Saddle Club, whose air of spooky mystery held me and my friends by the neck for years. Also in this category is Diablo, the black and white pinto from the Cisco Kid movies.
Tony’s love for this horse… We love love.
Credit: Screenshot/ HBO/ The Sopranos
Ralph Cifaretto’s horse from Episodes 44 and 48 of Season 4 of The Sopranos. The horse is a massive symbol and point of tension in Tony Soprano’s relationship with Ralph, which becomes a source of his infamous depression when he demands a painting of the horse be destroyed. Pie-O-My also becomes one of the most significant mysteries in The Sopranosas we don’t ever find out who is truly responsible for the horse’s death.
Credit: Photo by Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images
The movie Seabiscuit was based on a true story, which is a wild one. But the real reason Seabiscuit makes it so close to the top of the list is because of the absolutely killer acting by King Tobey Maguire, who plays a jockey with a storied history of injuries that teams up with Seabiscuit, a temperamental, undersized racehorse.
10. Swift Wind
Swift Wind is a horse that She-Ra unknowingly turned into a unicorn (so still technically a horse but also a unicorn?) in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Swift Wind is She-Ra’s noble steed who can talk, is very funny, and has a mental connection with She-Ra. The horse helps save the world.
9. Black Beauty
I’m not personally a huge Black Beauty fan, but this animal might just be the original horse influencer. For that reason alone, we reach #9.
Shadow of the Colossus is an action-adventure game that follows the main character, Wander, as he tries to save a princess from dying. He has to traverse lands and battle colossuses with no one but his horse Argo. Argo became as much of a character as the rest of the most human characters, and also controls super well for a video game horse.
Credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus
This big boy is the horse ridden by the headless horseman, potentially the steed with the longest maintained relevance of any horse. Shout out to Gunpowder, Constable Ichabod Crane’s horse in the film The Legend of Sleepy Hollowwho has the same spooky energy but far less longevity.
Felicity is an American Girl doll who rescues a beautiful horse, Penny, from its cruel owner. Penny was originally released as the American Girl Horse in 1998, but the real claim to fame for this horse was when my dad cried while watching Felicity: An American Girl Adventure in theaters in 2005.
5. Mr Ed
“A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course.” That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed. Mister Ed, the main character in the 1961 TV show of the same name, speaks only with his owner Wilbur. This show absolutely slaps, and Mister Ed has an unmatched attitude.
Galdalf’s steed, Shadowfax, in the novels-turned-films Lord of the Rings, is commonly referred to as the most beautiful horse of all time.
This horse faced an unkind fate in The Godfather, but his presence was of unbelievable importance in one very important film. Plus, it gave me an entirely new fear to fall asleep to.
2. BoJack Horseman
Time to cry 🙂
This is one of the best TV shows of modern time and features an animated horse BoJack as the main character. More human than most of the other steeds on this list, BoJack is one of the few horses to give me a full existential crisis.
Credit: Screenshot/ Peacock TV/ DreamWorks Pictures
This buckskin stallion from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is the perfect horse. Wild, pretty, kind, a little queer: He has it all. I had a really hard time writing this blurb without making it sound like I have a big crush on Spirit, but then I realized that’s okay to admit. This horse is hot.
And, finally, lest we forget: The horse you rode in on.