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Mythological Horses

Horses and Horse-like Creatures from Different Cultures

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When I was much younger I used to love to spend hot summer days reading my book of Greek mythology. Horses belonging to heros, magical horses and part-horse, part other-creatures were favorite amongst the stories. Horses have always captivated our imaginations and have become woven into many legends and myths. Here are just seven of the many horses and horse-like creatures that can be found in the mythologies of almost every civilization.

1. Pegasus

One of the most well known mythological horses is Pegasus. Winged horses have been used to symbolize freedom, power and victory in many different cultures. Pegasus is an immortal winged horse of Greek mythology. Pegasus is said to have sprung from the head or body, depending on what version of the myth you read, of Medusa, a mythical Gorgon sister with hair of snakes and a stare that could turn a man to stone. Medusa's head was lopped off by Perseus, a greek hero who was challenged by a rival suitor to bring back Medusa's head, a ploy intended to keep him out of the way while his rival won his lady. Thanks to some tools and trickery supplied by a sympathetic God and Goddess, Perseus was successful in his quest. Along with Pegasus was 'born' a warrior, Chrysaor who arrived riding Pegasus and carrying a golden sword and is regarded as his brother.

We don't seem to know much abour Chrysoar, and the relationship between the brothers. Perseus himself was the first to ride Pegasus in a heroic quest. Bellerophon, a rather vain young man also desired to ride Pegasus but did not know how to capture him. He was told to sleep in a temple to gain guidance, and dreamed he was presented with a golden bridle. When he awoke the bridle was beside him. He used the bridle to capture Pegasus while the winged horse drank at a fountain. Then Bellerophon is said to have ridden Pegasus into a battle against a fire-breathing Chimera. Then, unwisely, Bellerophon tried to ride Pegasus to the top of Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. But this displeased Zeus with whom Bellerophon had fallen out of favor, and he sent an insect to to sting Pegasus and make him buck. Bellerphon fell to the earth.

Pegasus continued his flight to the top of Mount Olympus where the gods welcomed him and gave him the job of carrying thunderbolts. Today, Pegasus can still be seen as a constellation in his place of honor in the spring sky.

If you are lucky enough to find a Pegasus of your own, I would suggest paying close attention to saddle fit as the wings make if difficult to put a modern English or western style saddle on it. Riding bareback may be your best bet. Because your winged horse will carry you much higher in the sky than a regular horse be sure to wear both an ASTM approved helmet and a parachute.

2. Unicorn

Another well known mythical horse-like creature is the unicorn. The unicorn is most often described as a beautiful mythical horse with a single horn in its forehead. They are sometimes depicted as having cloven hooves like a goat or deer. The can come in almost every color, although are most often depicted as being white. The tail or mane hairs, blood, hooves or horns of unicorns are often used in magical or medicinal potions and Harry Potter's wand had a core made of a strand of unicorn tail hair. They are sometimes attributed with having healing or purifying powers. Unicorns are often seen on Medieval style tapestries and are often seen as a heraldic symbol on coats of arms. Unicorns are said to only appear to, or may be captured by women of pure virtue.

Over the centuries, many ancient societies were convinced of the unicorn's existence. They are mentioned in many very ancient texts including the bible. Because of this, there is speculation that unicorns did exist. Some people think they were actually single-horned goats, as there are some skeletal remains that could support this. A cross between a unicorn and a Pegasus is called a pegacorn or a unipeg.

Should you be lucky enough to catch and tame a Pegasus be aware that while grooming, extra care should be taken to polish its horn. Talk to your farrier about the best way to protect its cloven hooves—either with custom shoes or perhaps hoof boots. While cattle often chew away a regular horse's tail, you may find you have to curtail wizards who will want to steal tail hairs for their wands and potions.

3. Hippogriff

Another magical horse-like creature that we, or at least the fans of Harry Potter will be familiar with is the Hippogriff. The Hippogriff predates the Harry Potter books by a few centuries. It is said to have the head, talons and wings of an eagle with the body of the horse. Legend has it that a wizard bred a mare to an eagle and the result was the Hippogriff. They were used as beasts of burden, much like horses were. The Hippogrif appears in several video games and you can download the Hippogriff Cookbook, which offers many recipes for cooking the mythical beast, (including instructions for more common substitutes such as beef or chicken). Like the Pegasus you may find the Hipogriff needs special saddle fitting considerations. Judging from the Hippogriff's temperament in the Harry Potter movies, I would suggest keeping that there is a Hippogiff cookbook a secret. Obviously, there is a need for more natural Hippogriffmanship.

4. Kelpies

If you watched the movie 'The Water Horse' you'll already know that a kelpie is a mythical horse-like creature that lives in rivers and lakes. From Celtic legend is often described as sturdy pony, white or black in color. They are tricksters, luring unsuspecting people into the water where it eats them. Similar horse-like creatures appear in many different mythologies around the world. Kelpies also appeared as menacing shape-shifters in the Harry Potter stories. If you should happen to own a Kelpie, the first thing you should do is establish ground manners. While riding one on trail is fine, take great caution when near water. In fact, it might be advisable to dismount to avoid having the Kelpie pull you under.

5. Widow Maker

Widow Maker's real name was Lightening. Peco Bill is an American legend, an amalgam of many tall tales that had their beginnings around campfires of the old west. He was so named because he could be ridden by no one else but Peco's Bill himself. He so disliked Peco Bill's bride that he bucked her off, resulting in the end of the couple's relationship. This emphasises the need to learn to fall off as safely as possible and of course the need to always wear a helmet because the bucking resulted in the rider hitting her head on the moon. Widow Maker's favorite food was said to be dynamite. Needless to say dynamite should be on the list of what not to feed a horse.

6. Bucephalus

The name Bucephalus means 'head of a bull (or ox)'. It's not clear whether a marking such as a star or blaze on the horse's face looked like a bull, or if the horse had a very large wide head or was bullish in attitude. Bucephalus was tamed by a twelve year old , who showed an impressive display of natural horsemanship. The youngster, who would later be known as Alexander the Great, rode the horse in many battles and when the horse died, he named a city after it.

7. Sleipnir

If you think that keeping four hooves healthy can be difficult be glad you don't own Sleipnir. Sleipnir has eight hooves. The mount of the Norse god Odin, Sleipnir was a heroic horse who was swift, sure footed and could jump anything. Odin and Sleipner may have been the precursors to the modern tale of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer.

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