You can’t delve into the fantasy genre without encountering a horse or two. At their most basic, horses serve as transportation on many a quest to defeat a great and terrible evil. But look a little deeper, and you’ll see horses occupy more roles than that as a beast of burden. Sometimes they’re gods. Sometimes they’re Fae. Sometimes they bear a horn on their forehead or a pair of wings that allows them to fly. But even if they’re simply amazing beasts that run very, very fast, horses remain magical.
Whether you're looking for a talking animal like Bree from A Horse and His Boy or a regal creature like The Lord of the Ring's Shadowfax, you're sure to love these amazing horses in fantasy.
The Grey Horse
Set in Ireland, MacAvoy’s novel introduces us to horse trainer Ainrí. One day, he encounters a mysterious grey horse, and despite the many folktales warning people not to mount strange horses found in the wild, Ainrí does exactly that. To no one’s surprise, he gets taken for a ride. Literally. But while he didn’t follow the first rule of engaging weird and magical horses, he does carry a well-known tool of his trade: a halter.
Like other stories about magical horses have taught us, getting a halter upon a wild equine beast will tame it. Though this grey horse doesn’t exactly become tame, he does return with Ainrí to his stable. There, the horse trainer learns something astonishing: The horse isn’t a horse at all. Not exactly, anyway. He's a Fae and has come to town to win the love of a woman named Maire.
The Last Unicorn
If you want to be technical, you might say that unicorns aren’t horses. I’d argue that they’re a special type of horse. Kind of like how squares are a type of rectangle, but rectangles aren’t necessarily squares. At any rate, any list of horses in fantasy—whether they have horns or not—wouldn’t be complete without Beagle’s novel about a unicorn who believes she’s the last of her kind and seeks out what happened to her brethren. At any rate, it’s fitting to include The Last Unicorn on this list because as the perceived last of her kind, no one recognizes the titular unicorn for what she is, and everyone believes she’s merely an ordinary mare.
Arrows of the Queen
Like the horses found in faerie lore, the Companions in Mercedes Lackey’s long-running Valdemar series aren’t exactly normal four-legged steeds. They’re actually spirits who’ve reincarnated as telepathic blue-eyed white horses to guide their charges on the right path. Arrows of the Queen, the first book in the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy, is the one that kicked everything off.
Birth of the Firebringer
Unlike the other books on this list, which feature horses who live and work alongside humans, Meredith Ann Pierce’s trilogy drops us into the equine perspective. Jan is the despair of his father, who is king of the unicorns. When he accompanies other warrior unicorns on a pilgrimage, Jan encounters countless dangers that make him wonder if perhaps he’s the heir to a great destiny.
Wings of Flame
Three people from different walks of life come together to face a threat from a powerful demon whose curse upon their homelands has lasted generations. One is a warrior prince who is nothing more than a hostage of peace. Another is a magician-king who detests war. The last is an outcast girl disguised as a boy who has a special way with horses. The only thing uniting them is the warrior prince’s magnificent blue stallion, Omber, and the horse-god they all worship.
Dun Lady's Jess
In many fantasy novels, people get transported to another world. In Durgin’s novel, a young woman gets transported into our world. Or more accurately, a being that looks like a young woman. As a pair of hikers soon discover, Jess isn’t a young woman at all. She’s a horse that’s been transformed into a human. Now possessing both the intelligence of a human and the soul of a horse, Jess desperately seeks out her beloved rider and master while escaping the evil that’s followed her across worlds.
The Guardian Herd: Starfire
If we include unicorns on this list of our fantasy horses in fantasy, then we must include a pegasus or two. In the Guardian Herd series, a black foal is born once every century with the destiny to either unite all five herds of winged horses or destroy them. Rather than wait and see which way destiny bends with this century’s black foal, the leaders of the herds decide to kill him. Seems a bit excessive given that the Pegasus in question can’t even fly.
The Mountain's Call
An author well-known for her accurate depiction of horses, Judith Tarr has penned countless fantasy novels. Writing as Caitlin Brennan, she introduces us to the Mountain, a place where horse-like gods dwell. A young woman named Valeria is called to the Mountain, which is a problem because women do not become Riders. Though she tries to hide her true gender, her secret is discovered and she’s cast out. From there, she must decide whether she wants to protect the very Empire that rejected her.
The first novel in a series, Green Rider introduces us to Karigan, a young woman who went from being expelled from school to entering a world filled with dangerous magic. When she crosses paths with a dying courier, Karigan agrees to complete his mission: deliver an urgent message to a king. In doing so, she soon joins the ranks of the Green Riders: magical messengers who serve the king.
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