Do You Know These Famous Horses?
There is something magical about a horse that attracts us to them. On the big screen, they captivate us with larger-than-life heroics, quirky personalities and incredible beauty. In real life, they leave hoofprints on our hearts through inspirational deeds, phenomenal feats of power and being a trustworthy partner.
Real or imaginary, these famous horses are known and loved by millions. Get to know them for yourself.
Made famous by Marguerite Henry, who wrote “Misty of Chincoteague” along with many other beloved children’s books, Misty was in fact a real Chincoteague pony owned by the real Beebe family. She was born on the Beebe farm in 1946.
Henry then bought her to be a model for her books but eventually gave her back to the Beebe family.
Misty passed away at the age of 26. She was preserved and is on display at the Museum of Chincoteague.
Model-horse manufacturer Breyer made a model of her as well as some of her progeny from the books.
Hidalgo became a household name with the release of Touchstone’s “Hidalgo” in 2004. Before that, not many had heard of the wild pinto mustang or his owner, Frank Hopkins, who Viggo Mortensen portrays on the big screen.
In fact, no one can agree on whether Hidalgo and Frank Hopkins were real figures and, if they were, whether or not they really won over 400 races in the United States.
The screenwriter for the film, John Fusco, stands by his claim that they both existed and that the movie is indeed based on true events.
True or not, Hidalgo became an icon and a spokeshorse for the American mustang. The movie brought new awareness to the importance of preserving the wild horse, and Breyer honored him with a model horse.
“Hello, my name’s Mister Ed.”
If you ever watched the TV series of the same name, you can just hear Mister Ed’s voice, given life by Western film actor Allan Lane.
Mister Ed's Story
Bamboo Harvester, a palomino American saddlebred/Arabian gelding, was the main horse that depicted Ed on-screen from 1961 to 1966. The first horse to play Ed proved to be difficult to work with, and he didn't make it past the first, unaired pilot episode.
If you have not watched it, the show's available on Amazon Prime.
Pair a too-small racehorse with a too-big jockey, and you have the makings of a legend.
Seabiscuit was an underdog during the Great Depression, and he was exactly what the public needed.
In the 1940s, Seabiscuit was the top-winning Thoroughbred in racing. His most famous triumph was the match race against Triple Crown Winner War Admiral, where he won by 4 lengths.
You can watch footage of the historical race on YouTube.
“Big Red,” as he was known, really needs no introduction. Every stride he took on the track gained him notoriety.
Born in 1970, Secretariat was owned and loved by Penny Chenery and Meadow Stable.
Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in a quarter of a century in 1973, smashing track records as he went.
His win at the Belmont Stakes to clinch the crown was a new world record: a record that still stands today. He won that race by an incredible 31 lengths.
Perhaps just as famous as the man who rode and owned him, Trigger was the faithful partner of Roy Rogers.
Rogers himself picked the young stallion, originally named Golden Cloud, to be his mount for television and movies. It was a match made in heaven.
Often called “The Smartest Horse in the Movies,” Trigger was fast, kind and easy to train. It’s said he could learn things he needed to know for filming after just one or two practices.
When Trigger passed away, he was preserved and put on display at the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum until it closed in 2009.
Another iconic film horse from the black-and-white TV era was Silver. “The Lone Ranger” was wildly popular when it aired from 1949 to 1957, and Silver was just as popular as Clayton Moore who played The Lone Ranger.
In black and white, the 17-hand stallion popped against an otherwise dark background.
While there is not a lot of information on the horses that played Silver, the most notable one was originally named Silver Cloud. Silver Could won a Picture Animal Top Star of the Year (PATSY) Award for Excellence in 1957.
He died in 1959 and is buried at the Hudkins Brothers Ranch in North Hollywood.
Fans of NFL football most likely know Thunder. A white Arabian has been the Denver Broncos’ mascot since 1993, when the first Thunder, a stallion named JB Kobask, took to the field.
Since then, two other horses have portrayed Thunder at all home games, Super Bowls and other events for the team.
The current Thunder is in his fifth year. He was at Super Bowl XLVIII in New York and Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco.
You can even follow him on his very own Facebook page.
There are a few war horses who have become as famous as their riders, and Bucephalus is one of them.
It is said that Alexander the Great’s horse would let no one else ride him.
Alexander was 12 when he was given Bucephalus, who would become his main mount and would carry him into many of his victories on the battlefield.
Alexander even named a city in Asia — Bucephala — after him. Breyer made a model horse of him in 2002.
Although a book was written about him first, most people know The Pie from the “National Velvet” movie released in 1944, starring Elizabeth Taylor.
In the movie, The Pie is played by King Charles, a beautiful thoroughbred who was a grandson of star racehorse Man O’ War.
The Pie's Story
It was reported that the horse was aggressive with handlers during filming and even threw Taylor off, injuring her.
But Taylor, who had been riding since she was 4, also had a special bond with King Charles that calmed him down. She was gifted the horse when they completed filming.
Although not a real horse, Shadowfax is a name that any fantasy lover knows. He is the Lord of the Horses in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”
A pure white horse that understands human language and can run faster than the wind, he is definitely a fantastical horse.
In the movie, Shadowfax was played by Blanco, an Andalusian. After filming, he was purchased by Cynthia Royal, who toured with him for three years before health issues forced her to retire.
In 2014, Blanco passed away after suffering for several months from illness.
The Black Stallion
There is just something about a black horse that makes everyone’s heads turn.
The Black, as he was known, is a fictional character in a series of books by Walter Farley that, of course, was turned into a movie in the 1970s, starring Cass Ole as The Black.
The Black Stallion's Story
The story is about an incredible, pure black Arabian stallion that befriends a boy after they are both shipwrecked.
And it's one that's been told time and time again.
If you have been to a Horse Expo in the past few years, you have probably seen Spanky (and his trusty friend Dally, the Jack Russell terrier).
Spanky is a rescued miniature horse that owner Francesca Carsen rehabilitated from an aggressive stallion to an incredible “trick” horse.
Since then, Spanky's been made into a Breyer, been on the “David Letterman Show” and is the inspiration for the movie “Spanky and Dally,” to name just a few of his credits.
An incredible warhorse, Sergeant Reckless is the only horse to have ever been given an official rank by the Marine Corps. She was named after the nickname given to the recoilless rifle because she was purchased in Korea to carry the heavy ammunition for the rifle to the men on the front.
She was trained to make these trips alone without a human handler.
Sergeant Reckless' Story
On March 27, 1953, she made 51 round trips through no-man’s land, delivering 386 rounds of ammunition as well as bringing the wounded back to safety.
She passed away at Camp Pendleton in 1968. Breyer made a model of this fearless warhorse as well.
Shergar was a racehorse in Ireland that was famous, not just for his racing, but for what happened to him thereafter.
Born in 1978, he won the Epsom Derby by a shattering 10 lengths, the largest margin in the race’s history. He was named European Horse of the Year in 1981 and was worth more than $13 million.
Then, in 1983, Shergar was kidnapped. No ransom was paid, and he was never seen again.
It is believed that the IRA had stolen him for money for weapons but that they ended up killing him shortly after and therefore could not receive a ransom. A movie was made about him called “Shergar.”
The Godolphin Arabian was a horse in the mid-1700s that is famous for being one of three Arabian stallions considered to be the foundation of the Thoroughbred racehorse.
Godolphin Arabian's Story
Most of his story is legend, with little evidence to back it up. He was named after his owner, Francis Godolphin.
Today, Sheikh Mohammed’s international racing stables are named “Godolphin” after him.
A sad and powerful story, “Black Beauty” by Anne Sewell brought to light the terrible treatment of horses in the last 1800s.
The book’s harsh realities on the lives of carriage, riding and workhorses, told from the point of view of Black Beauty himself, were the catalysts for animal welfare laws.
Black Beauty's Story
There have been several movies and a few Breyer horses made honoring this horse. Docs Keeping Time portrayed Black Beauty in both the 1994 film as well as the television series, “The Adventures of the Black Stallion.”
The star of the 2020 film was portrayed by four different horses: Spirit, Jenny, Awards and Rosie.
Figure, better known as Justin Morgan, after his owner, is famous for being the foundation sire for the Morgan breed.
Morgan owned Figure for just three years, but during that time, he recognized something special in the small, stout horse he had been given for payment of a debt.
The horse was strong enough to pull out stumps and then go and win a race.
During his lifetime, he would produce offspring that would go on to establish the Morgan breed.
Traveler, a gray Andalusian, is the horse mascot for the University of Southern California (USC) who is ridden by a Trojan warrior at all the home football games.
There has been a Traveler at USC since 1961.
The first Traveler horse was owned by Richard Saukko, who would go on to breed, raise and train all the Travelers until 1988.
Since then, Joanne Asman has been in charge of training Traveler.
Barbaro became a household name when he won the Kentucky Derby in 2006 and then tragically shattered his leg just two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes.
Fans everywhere rallied and followed along as Barbaro’s owners fought to heal his leg.
While Barbaro recovered from surgery, he developed laminitis and had to be euthanized in January 2007. He was given the honor of being interred at the entrance of Churchill Downs.
Admirers still visit his bronze statue, often leaving flowers or cards. He was made into a Breyer in 2006.
Originally named Rienzi, Winchester was the famous warhorse of General Philip H. Sheridan.
Given to him by the Second Michigan Cavalry in 1862, Sheridan rode him in nearly every battle until the end of the Civil War.
General Sheridan was riding Winchester on his famous ride from Winchester to Cedar Creek, Virginia, which was immortalized in the poem “Sheridan’s Ride” by Thomas Buchanan Read. In fact, it was this poem that caused Sheridan to rename his horse Winchester.
Winchester passed away in 1878. He was preserved and put on display at the Military Service Intuition of the United States by General Sheridan himself. Later, he was moved to the Smithsonian Institution.
Comanche is a warhorse who is famous for one specific event: He was the lone survivor on the field from the U.S. Cavalry’s Battle at Little Big Horn.
It is believed that the Native Americans left him because he was injured. After he recovered, the cavalry said he should never be ridden again.
He became a public symbol to the people at the time, who believed he was Custer’s horse and the only survivor of the whole battle. He was actually the mount of Captain Myles Keogh, and there were other survivors, though none as famous as Comanche.
When he passed, he was preserved and put on display at the University of Kansas.
Another football mascot, Renegade is a stunning Appaloosa who rides onto the field for Florida State University.
Renegade is ridden by Osceola, a famous Seminole warrior.
There have been six Renegades since the tradition began in 1978.
In 2002, Dreamworks released “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” an animated film about a wild mustang stallion captured by the U.S. Cavalry.
He is freed by a Native American man who tries to lead him back to a Lakota village.
Dreamworks wanted to make their animated film as real as possible, and to that end, they chose a real-life Kiger Mustang, whom they named Spirit, to be their model.
After the movie was done, Dreamworks chose Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation as Spirit’s forever home.
Famous almost as much for his misspelled name as he is for his racing career, American Pharoah became legend in 2015 when he was the first horse to win the Grand Slam: He won the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in one year.
American Pharoah's Story
Breyer commemorated American Pharoah's win with a model horse.
Fans still follow him and his offspring on Facebook.
A funny name for a horse, Blueskin was a half-Arabian that George Washington rode during the Revolutionary War.
He was named for his gray color.
Although Washington had another horse, Nelson, that he rode into battle more often, most paintings portray him on Blueskin.
Perhaps it’s because of his color or because he was the horse he rode for ceremonial events.
Rugged Lark is a famous bay Quarter Horse stallion that gained notoriety for competing bridleless. He was a two-time American Quarter Horse Association World Show Superhorse and a three-time World Champion.
He was inducted into their hall of fame in 2006.
Rugged Lark's Story
Today, one of his grandsons, Sir Rugged Chex (known as Checkers) has made a name for himself doing bridleless mountain trail with owner Mark Bolender.
Both of them have been made into Breyer model horses.
Black Nell was one of Wild Bill Hickok’s horses. Not much is known about this famous horse.
Some say she was a black stallion that was used as the subject of many of his stories as well as portraits of the famous showmen.
Black Nell's Story
However, in the “Life and Marvelous Adventures of Wild Bill, The Scout” by J.W. Buel, Black Nell is a mare that Wild Bill took “great pains to train.” The author goes on to say that Bill dedicated a year to teaching her tricks. “The mare at length acquired such a complete understanding of Bill’s wishes that her obedience was truly marvelous,” he writes.
According to his documentation, Black Nell died in 1869 after a full life of some incredible feats, including supposedly being able to jump 20-foot-wide ditches.
Any Disney fan knows Maximus from “Tangled.”
Maximus won hearts as the first Disney horse to have a major role in one of their movies.
While Disney has had some fun horses in the past — Mulan’s Khan, the horse in “101 Dalmatians,” Belle’s Philippe and Prince Philip’s Samson — Max was the first horse that really had a full personality and was a big part of the plot.
His dog-like personality makes him endearing, and he is a horse anyone would love to own.
Among her favorite horses of all time, Queen Elizabeth II lists Burmese, an elegant black mare that was given to her by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1969.
The Queen rode Burmese sidesaddle often, including to every Trooping the Coulour, a ceremony that also marks her birthday.
Often called a modern “Black Beauty,” Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” is the tale of Joey, a bay Thoroughbred sold to the British Army in World War I.
He travels around Europe, experiencing the tragedies of war as he is passed from owner to owner.
Written by Sir Michael Morpurgo in 1982, the book came to life as a Dreamworks picture in 2011.
The horse, Finder, was the main horse actor who brought Joey to life and won the hearts of fans all over.
This famous horse may not have even existed! Marengo is credited to being one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite mounts.
He was supposedly a grey Arabian stallion who stood at just 14 hands and was known for his speed and stamina.
It is said Marengo is the horse that Bonaparte was most often painted astride. It is even said he was riding Marengo at the Battle of Waterloo.
The horse’s skeleton is on display at the National Army Museum in London. And, yes, research has found no trace of the name Marengo on any of Bonaparte’s stable lists. Bonaparte was known for nicknaming everything, so some believe the name Marengo was just a nickname for another horse. We may never know, but either way, his grey steed is definitely well-known.
In the 1950s, Norman Thelwell began a comic strip called "Penelope and Kipper," which included a fat, roly-poly pony named Kipper.
Often Kipper is teaching something through humor and kindness.
Little did he know that adorable steed would become an international star, still being used on everything from cards to belts 70 years later.
Ruffian’s tale is one that many cannot get through with a dry eye.
This incredible racehorse was born in 1972, and she began to turn heads as a filly that could outrun the colts.
It was believed she may have been the greatest racehorse of all time, but no one will ever know, as her life was cut short during a match race with Foolish Pleasure.
It would be the only race she lost. Her leg broke during the race, and she continued to run on it, showing immense heart. Vets tried to save her, but she fought the cast, and she had to be euthanized. She is buried near the finish line at Belmont Park. She, too, was made into a Breyer model.
Zenyatta is another great racehorse mare that became a fan favorite, as she quickly proved she could also keep up with the colts in racing.
She even made Oprah Winfrey’s 2010 Power List.
Born in 2004, Zenyatta won 19 of her 20 races, losing the 2010 Breeder’s Cup Classic, which was also her last race.
She was retired and has been a broodmare ever since. Fans still follow her and her offspring on Facebook. Breyer made a model of her as well.
If pedigree ever prophesized greatness, Seattle Slew certainly had it. A descendant of the famous horse, Bold Ruler, Seattle Slew’s mother, My Charmer, was also successful on the track.
But her son, a dark bay colt, would accomplish even more. Not only did he win the Triple Crown — the pinnacle award in American Thoroughbred racing — but in 17 starts he had 14 firsts and two seconds.
Seattle Slew’s Story
He came back from a collapsed left jugular vein, a suspensory ligament injury and a filled ankle — all things that should have ended his racing career. But each time he recovered and continue to not only run but win.
Seattle Slew passed away on May 7, 1997, which happened to be the 25th anniversary of his Kentucky Derby victory.
While Angus doesn’t have any lines in the movie, “Brave,” there’s no way Merida would have had the life-changing adventure without her trusted steed, Angus.
Angus is a Shire, a large draft breed known for having good temperaments.
It’s no surprise that the willful Merida finds solace in Angus, as he provides her the freedom she so desperately craves.
Flicka is the main star in the book “My Friend Flicka” by Mary O’Hara. Flicka is a sorrel Mustang-Thoroughbred cross filly that young Ken McLaughlin develops a deep bond with after she is injured while trying to escape her pen. He names her Flicka, meaning “little girl” in Swedish.
The book has been used as inspiration for a couple movies, the first being “My Friend Flicka” in 1943. Six different horses were used to play Flicka in this first film. They also created movies based on O’Hara’s sequels, “Thunderhead, Son of Flicka” and “Green Grass of Wyoming.” Following that, there was a TV series made in the 1950s.
More recently, the movie “Flicka” was released in 2006, but in it, Flicka is a black horse, and the main character is a girl.
Sequels, “Flicka 2” and “Flicka: Country Pride,” were created and released directly to DVD. They were not based off of O’Hara’s original works.
Whether you loved or hated George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” chances are you remember Boxer. This fictional horse quickly endeared readers, who maybe related to his loyalty and hard-working nature, as well as his humanity when he feels remorse for knocking down the stable boy.
He is selfless and innocent to the end and his maxim, “I will work harder,” stays with you.
There were a few movies based on the book, but in the most recent one (released in 1999), Boxer is voiced by Paul Scofield.
Of course, the movie still had the same sad ending with Boxer being turned into glue.
During the Great Depression, Phar Lap became a symbol of hope for people when they needed it the most. Similar to America’s Seabiscuit, he came from humble beginnings and rose a champion.
And, like Secretariat, his heart was also larger than the average horse’s. A chestnut Thoroughbred stallion, Phar Lap was born in New Zealand and then purchased by Harry Telford of Sydney.
Phar Lap’s Story
Phar Lap didn’t place in his first eight starts. But, luckily, that didn’t stop his trainer. He went on to win 36 of his next 41 racings, including the 1930 Melbourne Cup. He is the only horse to be the favorite to win the Melbourne Cup three years in a row.
He was then sent to America, where he collapsed and died just 16 days after winning the 1932 Agua Caliente Handicap in Tijuana, Mexico.
Pilgrim is the main horse in Nicholas Evans’s best-selling book, “The Horse Whisperer.” The novel tells the story of Pilgrim, who is severely injured along with his rider, Grace, when they are hit by a vehicle.
The rest of the book is about Pilgrim’s and Grace’s road to recovery, including learning to trust again.
In the 1998 movie starring Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas and a very young Scarlett Johansson (Grace), Pilgrim is played by four horses that have extensive trick training: High Tower, Cash, Maverick and Kentucky Pet.
The Latter was one of Buck Brannaman’s own horses. Brannaman is the real-life horse whisperer the book was inspired by, and he worked on the film to make sure the horsemanship was realistic.
Stormy was a chestnut pinto Chincoteague pony mare, the daughter of the famous Misty from Marguerite Henry’s books. The real Stormy was Misty’s last foal.
Just like in the book, she was born during a terrible storm and had a crescent moon-shaped star on her forehead.
Stormy accompanied her dam, Misty, to theaters that were showing the “Misty” movies as a way to fundraise to help the islands recover from the storm.
Henry wrote “Stormy, Misty’s Foal” based loosely on the events of Stormy’s birth, but she also wrote "The Pictorial Life Story of Misty,” which gives the real account of her birth and even includes actual photos of her.
Anyone familiar with Norse Mythology knows of Sleipnir. This famous horse is unique because he has twice as many legs as a horse should! He’s an eight-legged horse that is the son of Loki and Svaolifari, a stallion.
He was thought of as the “best of horses.” And in the “Prose Edda” it is remarked that he was grey in color.
Sleipnir was used as a mode of transportation by Odin, as Sleipnir could travel throughout the Nine Worlds.
Of course, there are many versions of Sleipnir portrayed in Norse folklore as well as in more modern versions of the gods, including Marvel Comics.
Affirmed was a chestnut Thoroughbred stallion that became the 11th horse to win the Triple Crown.
But that wasn’t the only thing he was known for. He had an intense rivalry with Alydar, another racehorse, whom he competed against in 10 different races, including the Triple Crown series.
Denny is a stunning buckskin that is the favorite steed of Jim Craig (played by Tom Burlinson) in the movies “The Man from Snowy River” and “Return to Snowy River.” Charlie Lovick provided the horses for the movies, including his very own Denny.
Denny endears audiences to him, and his story is one of the greatest on-screen horse tragedies.
While there is not a lot of information about the real Denny, we know he lived to be 29.
He toured with Tom Burlinson before being retired to the Lovick Ranch in Victoria, Australia.
Champion the Wonder Horse
Although there were three Champions (and many stand-ins) throughout Gene Autry’s career, the original Champion that started it all was a dark sorrel with three white socks and a blaze.
Autry paid just $75 for the first Champion, who would go on to star in “Melody Trail” and 51 other Gene Autry films.
Champion was a skilled trick horse, trained to untie knots, play dead, fall, bow, say “yes” or “no” by shaking his head, and come to a whistle.
When he died at 17 while Autry was serving in the military, he was buried at Melody Ranch.
Pokey is Gumby’s pony pal, a cute red horse that is a bit reluctant to go on adventures.
Gumbyworld.com describes him as: “just plain cranky and pessimistic, poking and gibing at Gumby.
Audiences love Pokey for his sarcasm. He also mutters under his breath, drags his feet, and doesn’t like it when Gumby takes advantage of him.”
Pokey was voiced by Art Clokey, who created the characters.
Winx is a champion Australian racehorse mare that gained notoriety through her amazing accomplishments on the track.
Although she started her career a bit rocky, with three wins and then a series of losses, she seemed to gain momentum as she got older.
In 2015, she won Group 1 at Queensland Oak, which started her winning streak. By 2019, she had won 33 consecutive races. She was the 2015-2016 and the 2016-2017 Australian Horse of the Year. She won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes three times in a row. She is also the only horse in history to win the Cox Plate race four times.
In 2018, she was awarded the Secretariat Vox Populi Award, being voted in by racing fans in 60 countries. She is now retired and being used as a broodmare.
Tornado has been Zorro’s mount since the very beginning. And in every version on the silver screen, the horse’s shoes are filled by a magnificent black horse.
So, when Hollywood called and once again decided to bring Zorro to life with Antonio Banderas playing the famous masked vigilante, we were once again in need of a Tornado.
While in the film they claim he is an Andalusian, Tornado was actually played mostly by a black Friesian stallion named Casey, along with another Frisian, Duke.
Casey was also used in the film “Avatar,” before passing away in 2013.
Copenhagen was the favorite mount of the Duke of Wellington. The Duke prized the stallion for his endurance, which he proved at the Battle of Waterloo where he carried the Duke for more than 17 hours straight.
However, the Duke did say that other horses may have been smarter and faster. Copenhagen was most likely an Arabian-Thoroughbred cross.
When he passed away, the Duke had him buried but noticed someone had cut one of his hooves off, presumably as a souvenir.
The hoof was later recovered for the Duke, who passed it down to his son.