Famous Horses in History
Horses have been domesticated for over 5,000 years, and during that time, there have been some pretty incredible animals that have made their way into the history books. If there’s anything I love more than horses, it’s history! I thought that in this article, I would combine these two passions!
What are some of the most famous horses in history? While there are many noteworthy horses from history, these are considered some of the most well-known:
- Godolphin Arabian
- Blueskin and Nelson
- Man o’ War
- Misty and Stormy of Chincoteague
- Sergeant Reckless
- Bamboo Harvester
The horses in this list span all different eras and time periods. To learn more about how each of these horses ended up in the history books, keep reading!
Famous Horse #1: Bucephalus (335 BC – ?)
Arguably the most famous horse in ancient history, Bucephalus served as the mount of Alexander the Great. Bucephalus, previously considered to be unable to tame, was purchased by a then 13-year-old Alexander the Great, who earned his trust by speaking softly to him and “turning him away from the sun” so that he was no longer spooked by his own shadow.
Bucephalus went on to become a valiant warhorse, serving Alexander the Great in many battles. One historical source states that Bucephalus died at the age of 30, but other sources state that he perished as a result of injuries sustained in the Battle of the Hydaspes at the age of 9.
Famous Horse #2: Godolphin Arabian (1724 – 1753)
The Godolphin Arabian was an Arabian horse that was passed around as a gift among English and French nobility until settling in with the 2nd Earl of Godolphin. This horse is best known as one of three stallions to father the Thoroughbred breed. Initially considered to be too small (at 15 hands) to serve as a racehorse sire, he was used as a “teaser.” When a mare brought to the stud farm rejected her intended, Godolphin Arabian was allowed to service her. The resulting colt went on to win every one of his 9 starting races. From there, Godolphin Arabian became the leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland, and many of today’s racehorses – including Man o’ War and Seabiscuit, count him as an ancestor.
Did you know that the Bible has a lot to say about horses? To read scripture where horses are mentioned in the Bible, visit my article Horses in the Bible: Top Bible Verses About Horses.
Famous Horse#3: Blueskin and Nelson (Late 1700s)
Chances are you’ve seen paintings of Blueskin and Nelson without even realizing who they are. George Washington, the first president of the United States and the general of the Continental Army, was also an expert horseman and a dedicated equestrian. Throughout the Revolution, he rode primarily two mounts; Blueskin was a grey Arab X, and Nelson was a big chestnut gelding.
Blueskin was given to Washington as a gift in 1773. Painters and artists preferred to paint Washington mounted on Blueskin due to his striking coat and the contrasting colors of the blue uniform Washington wore. In 1779, The Revolution was in full swing, and Washington needed a horse fit for battle and brave under fire. He then acquired Nelson, who would be his companion until 1790, when Nelson died at the age of 27.
Famous Horse #4: Marengo (1793 – 1831)
Marengo, a 14.1-hand Arabian, is known around the world as the mount of Napoleon I. He was a brave horse that was wounded at least 8 times in his career. He was able to gallop 80 miles in five hours and was known as a fast, reliable, and steady mount. He was captured by an English baron after the Battle of Waterloo and retired to the UK, where he lived until the age of 38.
Famous Horse #5: Copenhagen (1808 – 1836)
Though starting his life as a moderately successful racehorse, this 15-hand Thoroughbred / Arabian cross was then sold to the Duke of Wellington. Quickly winning his new owner over, he is most famous for being the Duke’s mount in a number of battles, including in the Battle of Waterloo (he may have seen Marengo behind the enemy lines). After carrying his rider for 17 straight hours, the Duke dismounted and patted Copenhagen on the flank in celebration – the horse was not in a celebratory mood and reportedly kicked the Duke, narrowly missing his head. The Duke said of his horse, “there may have been many faster horses, no doubt many handsomer, but for bottom and endurance, I never saw his fellow.”
War horses are an important part of history. To learn about the most popular horse breeds used as war horses, visit my article Top 10 Medieval War Horse Breeds: History, Size, & Pictures.
Famous Horse #6: Comanche (1862 – 1891)
Comanche was the courageous and tough mount of Captain Myles Keogh of the 7th Cavalry. In 1876, Comanche rode with Keogh into the doomed Battle of the Little Bighorn. There were believed to have been no survivors of the detachment until US soldiers found Comanche in a ravine two days later, riddled by bullets but alive. He was nursed back to health and lived a comfortable retirement thereafter under the order of Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis.
Famous Horse #7: Warrior (1908 – 1941)
Warrior, the famed warhorse of General Jack Seely in World War I, was aptly named “the horse the Germans couldn’t kill.” Warrior is famous for surviving many harrowing experiences, including a sniper that missed him by inches and a bomb that hit his stable. Warrior was a Thoroughbred and, after his military retirement, went on to win a race on his stomping grounds, the Isle of Wight.
Famous Horse #8: Man o’ War (1917 – 1947)
Man o’ War is regarded as the greatest racehorse of all time. He won 20 out of 21 races, losing his only race to a horse aptly named Upset at the Saratoga Race Course. He was voted the greatest American racehorse of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, ESPN, The Blood-Horse, and the Associated Press. He was also recognized by the New York Times as one of two outstanding athletes of the year – the other athlete to win was Babe Ruth.
Man o’ War was a 16.2-hand chestnut Thoroughbred who consistently outperformed his rivals, even when handicapped significantly with weights. His trainers had their work cut out for them, as Man o’ War was known for his wild temper tantrums. He retired at the age of 3 and remained a successful stud until he died at the age of 30.
Famous Horse #9: Seabiscuit (1933 – 1947)
Seabiscuit is a famous racehorse who brought in more money than any other racehorse up until the 1940’s, and beat the 1937 Triple Crown Winner (War Admiral – another famous racehorse) by four horse lengths in a two-horse race-off. He was a 15.2-hand bay Thoroughbred.
While Seabiscuit’s track performance is hard to rival, he is made even more popular due to his remarkable story. Seabiscuit had a rough start to racing and was considered undersized and lazy. In his first year of racing, he lost every one of his first 17 races. He was the butt of stable jokes, and more attention was given to the other horses. Once he began to achieve success, however, he was purchased by a new owner, and his career took off at breakneck speed. He won race after race, and after suffering a potentially career-ending injury at age 5, recovered and continued to win races. Seabiscuit will always be remembered as one of the ultimate underdogs.
Famous Horse #10: Misty and Stormy of Chincoteague (Mid-1900s)
In 1947, Marguerite Henry published her first book about Misty of Chincoteague. Her series followed the real-life events of a wild pony from the Virginian island of Chincoteague that ended up being raised by the Beebe family. The series made the paint pony an icon, and the story was even turned into a movie.
In 1962, Chincoteague Island was evacuated due to a strong storm sweeping the East Coast. Devastated to leave their horses behind, the Beebe family put the then-pregnant Misty in their house to wait out the storm. Misty ended up giving birth to a foal, who was named “Stormy.” Stormy was just as iconic as her mother.
Misty of Chincoteague is one of the most beloved horse books there has ever been. If you’re a big reader, check out my article 25 Horse Books For Horse Lovers (Picked By an Equestrian.)
Famous Horse #11: Trigger (1934 – 1965)
Trigger was the palomino ridden by Roy Rogers in film and later in his personal life as well. Roy Rogers purchased him from a trainer after riding him in his first film, and the two were so bonded that Rogers had Trigger preserved by a taxidermist after his demise. Trigger knew an astonishing 150 tricks and was even housebroken.
Famous Horse #12: Sergeant Reckless (1948 – 1968)
Sergeant Reckless was a 14-hand chestnut Mongolian Horse mare who served in the Korean War with the Marine Corps before being “promoted” to staff sergeant before her retirement. Born to a racehorse dam, she was owned by a Korean stableboy who sold her to two US soldiers at a racetrack so that he could afford medical care for his sister. She was then trained by the USMC and served as a pack horse during the war. She became familiar with the routes and was known to deliver ammunition and other supplies to the soldiers without the need for a handler. She would also carry wounded soldiers out of the battlefield. Sergeant Reckless was trained to lie down for cover when the camp was under fire, to run toward the bunker at the cue word “incoming,” and was allowed to roam the camp freely, even sleeping in the soldiers’ tents on cold nights.
Famous Horse #13: Bamboo Harvester (1949 – 1970)
Perhaps the most famous horse in history and in the media, Mr. Ed was a TV show featuring a talking horse as the title character. While Everyone will remember him as Mr. Ed, the horse that played the character was actually named Bamboo Harvester. Born in 1949, Bamboo Harvester was a palomino Saddlebred X who shot to national fame when the show first aired in 1961. He portrayed Mr. Ed until 1966, and passed away in 1970.
Famous Horse #14: Secretariat (1970 – 1989)
Secretariat is one of the most famous racehorses of all time. He was a powerful chestnut Thoroughbred standing at 16.2 hands, and after getting a slow start in his racing career, went on to set (and still currently holds) the records for the fastest time in all three races of the Triple Crown. In fact, his performance in the Belmont Stakes in 1973 is considered to be the greatest race in history after he won by an impressive 31 horse lengths.
Secretariat retired at the age of 3 and went on to sire over 650 named foals. Though he did produce several stakes winners, his career as a stud is best recognized for his production of champion broodmares.
Famous Horse #15: Frankel (2008 – )
Frankel is a British racehorse that, as of 2011, was considered to be the highest-rated racehorse in the world. He won 14 races during his career and won every one of them, earning him the nickname of “The Unbeatable Wonder Horse.” He has gone on to become the current leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland, with a stud fee of over $335,000 as of the year 2023.
Learning More About These Famous Horses
The world wouldn’t be where it is today without the help of horses. For centuries, Equines played a vital role in the advancement of civilization. It’s nice to look back through history and learn about some of the roles horses played! Whether it was a horse like Nelson, carrying George Washington into battle, or Seabiscuit, giving people hope in times of struggle, horses will always play an important role in the lives of humans!
Knowing the famous horses mentioned in this article can help you when it comes to playing horse trivia. Want to see how you will do? Click here!