Horses are among the first animals depicted in art. Outlines of what appear to be Asiatic Wild Horses on the walls of the Chauvet Cave in France date to 30,000 BC, while the spotted horses at the Pech Merle Cave, which may be examples of an ancient breed called the Knabstrup, go back to 25,000 BC. These paintings make the ones at Lascaux from 17,000 BC seem positively contemporary—those horses are probably ancient relatives of the Tarpan, now extinct.

Though not domesticated until some 6,000 years ago, horses quickly became important assets of the nomadic peoples of Kazakhstan and Mongolia, who bred horses as beasts of burden, to transportation to ride into battle against other rival tribes, and as a source of food, from meat to milk. Wealth was largely determined by the number of horses in one’s stable, while skill at breeding and riding alike was highly prized.

By the time of the ancient Parthian, Greek, Mesopotamian, and Persian cultures, horses were firmly associated with power; in Scythian society, horses were frequently buried with their owners. No longer relegated to the walls of caves, horses now appeared in decorative terracotta or marble reliefs on palace walls, in tapestries and rugs, within mosaics, and as bronze or stone sculptures. Bronze and terracotta were also favorite media of Chinese, Indian, and Japanese artists, who also drew and printed images of horses on scrolls, small works on paper, and woodblock prints.

The horses in these works of art, as well as those by more recent European and American artists, carried kings, rode bravely into battle, jousted, chased foxes amid scores of hounds, and played games, from polo to thoroughbred racing. Horses were idealized for their strength and mythologized for their supernatural powers. In the Bible, the appearance of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse signaled the coming of the Last Judgment, while hybrid creatures called unicorns were thought to be heroic, healing creatures who could only be tamed by virgins. The myth of the centaur may have evolved from the first look non-horse-riding cultures got of men on horseback (centaurs have the body and legs of a horse plus the body, arms, and head of a man), while the winged Pegasus embodies two enduring human preoccupations, great strength and the ability to fly.

Naturally, the rich history of horses made them prime targets for popularization as objects of decorative art and even furniture. Horses have been made into everything from table lamps to bookends to salt-and-pepper shakers, and what child's room would be complete without a rocking horse? Bottle openers with horse-head handles are common, as are horse-shaped coin banks. Numerous manufacturers made mantel clocks whose faces were set in carriages pulled by teams of brass horses. And horses have been used to decorate textiles from scarves to tablecloths.

In jewelry, horses can be found in pins and brooches, sometimes studded with rhinestones, sometimes left as simple sterling silver, often employing modernist, abstract designs. There are horse-themed cufflinks, horse and horseshoe charm bracelets, and horse-head earrings. Horses have also been known to appear on buttons and belt buckles, too.

For fans of art pottery, horses and equestrian figurals have been favorites of Staffordshire and Meissen potteries since at least the Victorian Era, while American firms such as McCoy and Llardo made numerous styles of horse figurines through the mid-20th century. French glass manufacturers Daum and Lalique rode the horse wave, as did Steuben and Heisey, whose Oscar horse mold has also been used by Imperial and Fenton...

For contemporary horse collectors, the most recognizable horses may be the ones used in advertising during the past two centuries. Horses have adorned to outsides of cigar boxes, tobacco tins, and whiskey bottles, although they have also appeared on healthier goods such as crate labels advertising asparagus, melons, and pears. Clydesdale horses have been the mascots of Budweiser beer since the repeal of Prohibition, while Mobil’s red Pegasus logo has been around almost as long.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Fine 18th 19th Century English Horse & Spaniel Landscape Antique Oil PaintingBreyer Horse Rare 2002 Mauvelous Velvet Rope Rearing Silver, Only 200 Made, CoaBreyerfest 2014 Silver Charm Gossamer Western HorseCustom Breyer Nokota, Gorgeous Model Horse By Jeanette GareyLg Antique Orientalist 19thc Arabian Horse Men & Gun Outdoor Scene Oil PaintingPostwar Lionel 3366 Operating Circus Horse Car & Corral Set, C-7 ExcellentWestern Electric No. 10 Black Tapered Shaft O.s.t. Pony ReceiverCustom Cm Breyer Peter Stone Horse Chips Appaloosa By L. Elkjer+++beautiful+++Unmarked Reflector Barn Farm Railroad Rr Lantern W/ Rayo Pony Bulls Eye GlobeAntique Circus Horse Weathervane Or Lightning Rod Nice!Custom Cm Breyer Stablemate Lacy Pinto Circus Horse StallionWw1 Anzac Light Horse Aif 1914 Group Collection: Gold Watch & Cufflinks & PhotoHuge Lot Vintage Marx Western Johnny West Dolls Toys Horses Accessories FiguresGood Old Chinese Carved Spinach Jade Horse & Wire Inlaid Carved Wooden StandBreyer - Flocked Rocking Horse New In BoxLionel Dealer Used Hobby Horse L.t.i. 1000 Rivet Press 531898Windstone "cosmic Shift #1" Male Unicorn, Fantasy Horse Statue, FigurineWw1 Brass Rising Sun Hat Badge For Australian Light Horse Style And Long Slider Hagen-renaker California Pottery Dw Arabian Horse Foal "zilla", Doeskin ColorVintage Sterling Silver Jewelry Charm Bracelet Boat Dog HorseAntique Hebdomas 8 Day Enamel Repousse Horse Hounds Case Pocket WatchAntique Primitive Tin Toy Horse On Wheeled PlatformVintage 1940's Harvey Era Horse / Dog Turquoise Sterling Silver Cuff BraceletRare Antique Horse Racing Game 19th Century Brevete Sgdg Je De Course Pub GameFarmers Porcelain License Plate Topper Sign Seed Feed Horse Cattle Tag Iowa FordVintage Silver One Ear Bc Marked Sterling Silver Buckles Horse Show Headstall19th Chinese Antique White Jade Horse1970s Mego Planet Of The Apes Action Stallion In The Box With Soldier Ape FigureWw1 Rising Sun Hat Badge As Worn By The Australian Light Horse With Long Slider Postwar Lionel 1877 Western & Atlantic , General Flat Car With Original HorsesAnimal Artistry Donna Chaney Mini Rearing Arabian Horse - Fleatbitten Gray MintLord Of The Rings Witch King Ringwraith Figure Lot Toy Biz Lotr Horse RiderAncient Celtic Ceramic Statue. Clay Figurine Of Horse, Circa 100 Bc. Mint. VfBritains Pre-war Painted Lead No40f Farm Cart Set With Horse-farmer-dog+churnsBreyer Premier Horse Desatado Oddity One Outside Run Unusual No Reserve!Breyer Cow Horse Bobby Jo Premier Club Red Dun Overo W/coa, Box & Bag9 Hummels Goebel Pony Express Just Horsin Around Do I Dare One Coat Or Two Vintage Miniature Arcadia Baby Buggy & Rocking Horse Salt Pepper ShakersSwiss Made Vintage Rado Green Horse Daydate Auto Men WatchSm Luigi Cagliani Horse-drawn Carriage Street Italian Impressionist Oil PaintingGorgeous Breyer Chalky Chalkie Dapple Grey Pam Proud Arabian MareBewsick Horse And JockeyRare Antique 1800's Lithograph Horse Stable Barn Bliss Gottschalk Dollhouse Very Scarce "horse & Hunter" Powder Flask - French 19th Century - Nice DesignPlaymobil Lot With 64 Figures & Soldiers, Weapons, Horses, And MoreGenuine Brass Ww1 Rising Sun Hat Badge With Long Slider Worn By Aif Light HorseHeyde Pre-war Tin Plate Horse Drawn Ambulance Solid Cast Lead. European No1Hand Carved~shell~turquoise~coral~sterling~horse~pendant~by Francisco GomezRare Cowboy Corral Girl Goebel Hummel Figurine • First Issue Rocking Horse MintAustralian Ww1 Aif Brass Rising Sun Hat Badge With Long Slider For Light Horse *** Tough *** Cd 120 Dark Brookes Blue Pony Pat App For Old Pony InsulatorMing Dynasty Chinese Antique Jade HorseVintage Gladys Brown Western Rodeo Cowboy Rearing Bronco Horse Numechron ClockS Scale American Flyer Stable Of Champions Horse Stock Cattle Car TrainRare Celluloid Mickey Mouse Rocking Horse Antique 1930 Borgfeldt Windup EarlyPeter Stone Horse - Ooak Efcm Glossy Dapple Bay Artful Dodger Tb - Gorgeous!!!Ww2 Antique Horse Hoof Inkwell W Ornate Silver Plate Mounts Mark Forster VintageCarved Horse Chalcedony Bead Bw400013Vtg Antique Embossed Kidman Feeds Tin Farm Sign Livestock Cow Horse Pig Sheep Vintage Breyer Smoke Western Prancer Horse - Chalky"