The Noble Steed

The Noble Steed

This essay will be exploring the relationship mankind has developed with the horse, and past relationships that have existed between man and the horses that we have lived alongside for such a long period of time it is hard to date how far back this cohabitation has existed, as there is evidence within some of the earliest drawings by man that they was an involvement with horses dating back 32,000-35,000 years ago.

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This is the chauvet cave painting discovered in 1994 and thought to be the oldest known cave art. From

This essay will be looking at how the relationship and past relationships have shaped our views and how these have been reflected within the art world. Looking at how artists have descripted their personal relationships with them and why they have focused on horses within their artwork. Also exploring the was artists have represented animals through their artwork, putting across the animals status across to the audience.


We have adjusted over time to the idea that animals are a resource that we can control, breeding them in order to provide us with various needs such as food, working animals and companionship. As stated by John Berger on page 4 in ‘Why we look at animals?’ in About Looking, printed by London Bloomsbury, 2009.

“Men depend on animals for food, transport, clothing.”

This idea that Sue Packer demonstrates that we have no issues with using animals as a food source, this photograph taken from page 16 of her book Pets published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, Stockport 2003.

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This photograph displays the culture we have where we use animals as a source of food, it does this by showing the young boy dressed like a butcher, holding the tied up cow shows that he is in control. In the background there is other cows in the background shows that these cows are being farmed and not kept in isolation, they are kept at a distance from the boy, creating the idea that this is done to prevent attachment or because we think our species is superior.

However we seem to have developed a different relationship with certain animals and cannot come to terms with the idea of these animals should be used as food. This special relationship that we have developed with animals have become part of our culture and often displayed within all areas of art.

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Photograph is by Sue Packer’s taken from page 13 of her book Pets published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, Stockport 2003.

This photograph gives a sense that there is a bond between the horse and the young girl that are pictured here. It also displays how we no longer just use horses as an agricultural tool or a mode of transport but rather that this animal has been taken into our lives on a much more affectionate level. The expression on the girls face also shows how we take pleasure from having these animals in our lives, which they have become more than a resource but a form of enjoyment.

The special relationship that we have with horses has been recently brought into question due to the fact that horsemeat has recently been found in supermarket food this has caused outrange from the consumers. Why does this bother us more than any of the animals we more commonly eat?

This quote from the article in the Guardian written by Nell Frizzell, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Felicity Lawrence and Steven Poole from sums up the majority of peoples attitudes over the horse meat that has been labelled as beef in a large quantity of our shop bought meals, To find out that beef is now no longer a description of cow meat, but more of an umbrella term for anything with four legs and long eyelashes is quite something.’ It gives this idea that somehow eating a cow is acceptable but it is outrageous to eat a horse. There is an issue about being lied to about what the meat contains but this quote says that they felt deceived about the horsemeat itself appearing as a meat source. Yet in the past we were more than happy eat horsemeat no questions asked.

‘Soldiers and civilians all over the world ate horse meat as a matter of survival during WWI and WWII. In pre-war Europe, it was peasant food; food for the masses. Horsemeat appeared in American butcher shops from California to New Jersey. It sold for roughly half the price of beef. The troops’ need for protein was paramount. Horse meat provided a superior protein source that tasted better than Spam.’

This paraphrased paragraph is from last edited 8th June 2011 author unknown and expresses how it is only recently that this immoral view on eating horsemeat has become such a big deal just like it is only recently that we have developed this close relationship where we no longer depend on a horse for labor but rather choose our involvement with it.

Society may now feel it is immoral to eat horsemeat in the way we would a cow or a pig this could be down to horse’s being one of the main animals that have for quite some time had a place alongside mankind. Horses have also been beneficial to the development of trade and how man has gone about his daily tasks, in those days work was so much more demanding and was powered by horses as opposed to now where man is dependant on machines.

It is no wonder that due to how close man has lived to horses that this has encouraged many artists, who have taking a fascination in the structure of the horse, this probably also has something to do with how powerful but graceful they are.

Tim Flach has observed the shape and movements of horse’s as well as other animals from the same family such as donkeys, his passion for these animals is evident in his work, the fascination with these animals is nothing new as Dauphin’s speech within Shakespeare’s Henry V is so filled with admirations and passion for the animal in which he chooses to mount, it has been said by Kenneth Clark in Animals and Men page 36 that this passion is similar to that of a man and his motorcycle.

The bronze horses of St Marks attributed to the fourth century BC Greek sculptor Lysippos, was originally part of a monument depicting a quadriga used for chariot racing and shows that not only did the ancient Greeks admired horses for transport and agricultural purposes but also as a form of entertainment and sport, this is still evident in our modern cultures today and in this sense they are not treated as equals among us.

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Artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Stubbs and Degas are believed to have spent a great deal of time studying the structure and behaviour of the horses, which they then replicated through their drawings.

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This drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci shows the horses to be free, peaceful and not tied down by man. It also shows the horses in a way that could suggest that they are living as a solitary species, without human interference.

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This paining by George Stubbs titled Whistle Jacket shows the horse as a free and powerful animal by its stance and also the way the horse is painted without a saddle on its back takes away the idea that the animal has been dominated by man.

The painting below by Degas shows the relationship between men and horse’s in a sporting entertainment environment. It displays the way horses are often dominated by man and forced into becoming a source of entertainment for the human race in this sense it links very well with the horses of St Marks. The saddle and rains is a means of mankind’s control over horses and in a way degrading them and not treating them as equals as it takes away the animals freedom and makes them man’s slaves.

The idea of horses being enslaved goes back to the relationship with horses within agriculture so this degraded treatment to horses is something that is present within other relationships between man and horses.

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This painting by Degas stands out from the ones by Leonardo Da Vinci and Stubbs as it shows the relationship between man and horses. The way a horse is often dominated by man and forced it to become a source of entertainment for the human race, this links very well to the horses of St Marks. Where Leonardo Da Vinci and Stubbs both chose to recreate the natural beauty, movement and freedom of the animal on its own so that it is pictured to have no superior race.

The horse has also had a place in our world on a financial level, as it has been on several coins, this could be a way of showcasing how much we admire and value the horse within our world especially today where money is such an important element throughout our lives.

317-289 BC                  Philip II, King of Macedonia, 359-336 BC.

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The Greek coins showcased a verity of animals which gives us the idea that the relationship they had with animals was filled with admiration and respect for fellow beings this could tell us that the ancient Greeks were appreciative of the horses which they depended on so heavily for food and transport. This coin shows us that they defiantly appreciated the horse as a means of transportation. The way that the animal on these coins along with the monarchs tells us just how much the ancient Greeks respected the animals that they shared their world with.

This painting by Alfred de Dreux titled Bolting Horse, with a greyhound from page 56 of Edward Lucie-Smith’s book Zoo published by Aurum Press Limited, London first edition.

This painting is described by Edward Lucie-Smith as “a romantic image of freedom – a horse who has rid himself of his rider”, the horse is painted with a saddle on its back and tells us that it has been used to benefit man as the saddle can be seen as a sign of ownership over the animals life. However as this horse no longer has a rider upon the saddle the power of the horse’s gallop being captured within this painting really does give a notion of freedom.

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The dog that is running along side the horse is just as energetic in its gallop this is an interesting choice of animal to accompany the horse, as it is also an animal that has been living alongside man for a long time. Accompanying man in hunting and more recently being used as companionship it is also an animal we use as a source of entertainment in the form of racing.

The study carried out by Eadweard Muybridge, Animal Locomotion shown below carried out by time-lapse photography allowed observers to see faster than the human eye and marked the discovery of the movement of a horses gallop and how it does lift all four of its feet of the floor at the same time. This is yet another example of how horses have helped us in progressing our educational understandings in the same way we have used them to aid us in agriculture and transport.

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It is not just visual artists that have had this attraction and admiration towards horses, William Shakespeare has described horses in a manor that would suggest to the audience that he is also in awe of horses himself. Within his play “Richard the Third” he writes ‘A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!’ from ‘Richard the Third’, Act V, Scene IV, William Shakespeare, 1914 The Oxford Shakespeare. This quote on its own could be seen as Richard’s love for his horse meaning so much to him that he was willing to surrender his kingdom for the horse known as Surrey. However nice this thought might be, this quote is actually built up from actual facts. As Surrey is killed during the final battle leaving Richard III unable to flee resulting in the Earl of Richmond killing him leaving the kingdom to the conquer. This quote is the expression of the frustration we are all familiar with. The feeling that we have lost something we take for granted and are left in genuine need of.

The scene in ‘The never ending story’ where Atreyu tries to save Artax from the Swamp of Sadness captures a moving moment between these two characters, the settings for this scene backs up this heart braking moment. The dull shades of grey and black speak of sadness and loss by themselves, yet in doing this the colour pallet does not take away from the power within Atreyu’s speech. When Atreyu speaks the emotions are evident starting off slightly concerned growning into a much deeper sense of panic and pain, bring across the strong bond between Atreyu and his horse Artax. Telling the audience that this horse is not just a mode of transport that he is there for companionship as well meaning as much to Atreyu as a human would. Yet the way Atreyu says ‘Common boy’ says that Atreyu even though he had such strong emotional attachment to his horse still felt that he was still more dominate. This is down to the term ‘boy’ being used most commonly to a child in a patronising manor.

When Atrax starts sinking in the swap it is not just the panic in Atreyu’s voice or his words that speak of frustration and pain, but the chaotic motion with Atreyu’s trying his hardest to save Atrax from the swamp of sadness. Making this one of the strongest moments between a man and his horse through film. It manages to communicate with the audience in such a way that they start to feel the pain but not for loosing a horse, as though they are loosing a friend in the was Atreyu feels. Atreyu’s even refers to Atrax as his friend when begging him to try to survive and not let the sadness get to him, this backs up the other details that have come through but also really brings in the power of Atreyu’s facial expressions that tell the audience with no need for words how much of a bond this friendship has between Atrax and Atreyu.

With the final moments of Atrax’s life being played alongside the music played by Klaus Doldinger builds such a powerful tense moment, that the suddenly fades out. This effect really works to hit the audience of the power of the friendship bond that Atrax and Atreyu shared.

This whole scene speaks to the viewer of the importance of the relationship between the horse and Atreyu, which represents the modern feelings that many people now have with horses since we have no longer become dependant on them for transport or labour. The scene ties in very well with the photograph of the young girl and her horse from the book Pet’s by Sue Packer As they both speak very strongly about the relationship between a person and their horse.  This scene can be seen at:

What this essay has discovered is that there is an evident link between the relationship between mankind and animals and this influences our views, culture and attitudes to these animals.

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The photographer Elliott Erwitt seams to play around with this close relationship and the following photograph makes the viewer look twice at what the photograph is as it shows several pairs of legs from the waist down with one of these pairs belonging to a horse, but shot in such a way it seams human at first glance.

The relationships between the animals status have also become apparent during this essay as the art has heavily reflected the role the horse has played, and how it has impacted the development of mankind is reflected in the art culture that is it has inspired as stated by Steve Baker ‘because the status of animals, just as much as the image of animals, is inevitably a matter of representation.’ Steve Baker 1993 page 11

The reflection of the animal’s status has been spoken about with the chariot racing and how the accent Greeks chose to celebrate this by imprinting images of the quadriga on the reverse side of the monarch on the Greek coins. This chose in including the horse in the form of the quadriga on the same object as a monarch says that the horse was seen to have a high status. With status being erected and designed as a representation to celebrate the animals form and showing appreciation for ways horses have benefited mankind.

The unicorn similar in appearance to that of a horse is a highly symbolic animal that even though it is a mythical being has shown its influences on our culture and art.

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Kenneth Clark describes the tapestries of the ‘Hunt of the Unicorn’ as being ‘a symbol of purity representing Christ’ Page 38 of ‘Animals and men’ this idea that Christ is represented as a unicorn ties in with the Greek coins that places the quadriga at the same level as the monarchs as Christ is a highly celebrated figure just as the monarchs were to the Greeks.

The image above being one from the series of tapestries ‘Hunt for the Unicorn’ visually creates the idea of restraint and being trapped as the unicorn is shown to have a fence surrounding it. So this is contradictory to the statement made by Kenneth Clark that this unicorn is a representation of Christ as we see Christ as a symbolic figure that we can have faith and hope in. Where this images showing the unicorn imprisoned behind the fence it sends a different message of a lack of hope or reasoning.


John Berger, ‘Why look at animals?’, from about looking, London: Bloomsbury 2009, Page 4

Sue Packer, ‘Pets’, Stockport: Dewi Lewis 2003, page 16

Sue Packer, ‘Pets’, Stockport: Dewi Lewis 2003, page 13 last edited 8th June 2011 author unknown

Kenneth Clark, ‘Animals and Men’, Toronto: The Canadian Press 1977, First Edition, page 36

Edward Lucie-Smith, ‘Zoo’, London: Aurum Press Limited, first edition, page 56,97,AR.html

Richard the third, Act V, Scene IV, William Shakespeare, 1914 The Oxford Shakespeare

Elliott Erwitt, ‘Snaps’ London: Phaidon Press Limited, first edition, page 204

Steve Baker, Picturing the beast, Manchester: University Press 1993, first edition, page 11

Kenneth Clark, ‘Animals and Men’, Toronto: The Canadian Press 1977, First Edition, page 38


John Berger, ‘Why look at animals?’, from about looking, London: Bloomsbury, 2009

Sue Packer, ‘Pets’, Stockport: Dewi Lewis 2003

Edward Lucie-Smith, ‘Zoo’, London: Aurum Press Limited first edition,97,AR.html

Richard the third, Act V, Scene IV, William Shakespeare, 1914 The Oxford Shakespeare last edited 8th June 2011 author unknown

Elliott Erwitt, ‘Snaps’ London: Phaidon Press Limited, first edition

Steve Baker, Picturing the beast, Manchester: University Press 1993, first edition

Kenneth Clark, ‘Animals and Men’, Toronto: The Canadian Press 1977, First Edition


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