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    

Ww1 Australian Light Horse. Original Tunic, Jodpers, Leggings, Canteen + ExtrasFine Large 19th Century Horse Cart Land Landscape Antique Oil Painting Gorgeous Hagen Renaker Dw Horse Nataf Arabian Stallion C-112Fine Small Chinese Light Celadon Jade Horse Pendant Or Toggle 19th-20th Century Ww1 Anzac 1914 Princess Mary Tobacco Tin Gallipoli Aif Light Horse Army VintageVintage 1953 Hagen Renaker Designers Workshop Shetland Pony Figurine MaydeeWw1 Anzac Military Short & Mason Marching Compass Lieut F Linacre Light HorsePolia Pillin Listed Vintage Modernist Horses Art Pottery Abstract Vase SculptureVintage Carved Bakelite Pin Horse, Western Boots & HorseshoeProud Arabian Mare & Foal W/ Black Points-halo Dapples... Beautiful!!Breyer Horse Trad Size Proud Arabian Mare Chestnut Model Horse Congress Sr Rare!1800's Antique American Trotting Horse Copper Hollow Weathervane Primitive Yqz1958 Apache Warrior + Horse Indian Aurora Model Kit Unbuilt Complete Box Set MibVintage 1953 Hagen Renaker Designers Workshop Shetland Pony Figurine WrangerAntique 1800's Victorian Wood Pull-toy Horse W/ Hair & Leather EarsWw1 - Medals - Plus - Boer War Medal - Sac/enslins HorseCarrera Y Carrera 18k Gold Elegant High Fashion Horse Motif Quartz Ladies WatchVintage 1955 Hagen Renaker Designers Workshop Shetland Pony Foal Figurine RascalBeswick Pottery - Hand Painted Dale Pony Horse Figure - Unusual!Beswick Pottery - Bay Pony Horse Figure - Very Nice!Vtg Lot Navajo Sterling Silver Zuni Petite Point Turquoise Horse Watch Tip BandsOld Pawn Turquoise Cuff Bracelet Fred Harvey Era Sterling Silver Horse Gals Gilbert 1948 Erector Set # 12 1/2.  books, Horses .... Nice PartsA Master Piece-antique Edo Period Inro Decorated W Dutch Man&horse.signed Kozan.Breyer Reeves Model Horse Limited Edition 2014 Gold/black Glossy FinishBeswick Pottery - Hand Painted Highland Pony Horse Figure - Unusual!Vintage 1958 Dk-green Tonka Farms Stake Truck & Horse Trailer CleanBeswick Pottery - Connemara - Grey Pony Horse Figure - Very Nice!Vintage Charcoal Running StallionDl Antique 1800s Hollow Body Zinc Prancing Horse On Weathervane Arrow Cast Iron$320 Jes Maharry Sterling Silver Ring Live Free Size 8 Horse Sundance CatalogBreyer Horse Trad. Size "windtalker" Smarty Jones Nrfb 2007 Collector's Choice Vintage Breyer Traditional Horse #174 Indian Pony AppaloosaHuge Old Islamic Nizwa Coffee Pot Arabia Arabic Oman Eastern Arabian Dallah 47cmBreyer Reeves Horses Antique Cast Iron Toy Horse Drawn Cart Wagon Moveable LegsVintage Herend Hungary Rust Orange Fishnet Horse Stallion Porcelain Figurine NrVintage 54mm Lead Farm / Garden Forge + Blacksmiths + Horse + Anvil - John HillVintage Charbens Painted Lead Pre-war Road Works Set - Horse Drawn Tar BoilerLot Old Vintage Antique Britains/pixyland Pre War Lead Hunt Figures Horse DogsBreyerfest 2011 Sr 'once Upon A Time' Bay Appaloosa Warmblood Mold 1 Of 750 Vintage Victorian Antique Equestrian Horse Relief Repousse Gold Filled Locket 1940s Vintage Trapeze & Horses Mills Bros 3 Ring Circus Fair Poster Original YqzSterling Silver Scallop Conchos Macpherson Browband Horse Show Vintage HeadstallCustom Trail Saddle 1/6th For Johnny West Horses And 12 Inch Action FiguresVintage Breyer Model Horse Dapple Grey BelgianWw11 23rd Light Horse Barossa Valley (s.a.), Infantry X 2, A.c.m.f., Badges Schoenhut Horse-drawn Milk And Ice Cream Wagon -- RareUnusual Chinese Porcelain Snuff Bottle Horses 19th C. Yongzheng MarkAntique Horse Weathervane 23k Gold Gild W/lighting Rod Lavender Ball Set Up Nr Antique Horse Farm Animal Sleigh Bells 48" Long Old Leather Strap W/ 23 Bells #2Breyer Traditional Chestnut Arabian Mare S JustadreamPretty Antique Horse Engraved Silver Swiss Pocket Watch 10 Rubis RemontoirAntique John Deere Gilpin Sulky Plow Tool Box Holder Horse Drawn Cast Iron VtgLot 17 Vintage My Little Pony Horses 1980s Hasbro Vintage High End Gold Plate Green Jeweled Horse Head Clip EarringsProud Arabian Stallion W/ Black Points... Beautiful!Antique Graduated Brass Sleigh Bells Harness Farm Horse Numbered #5-#141940's Bakelite Horse Head Brass Studs & Chain Brooch Pin Overdyed Resin WashedVintage Antique Horse Weather Vane