How many horses can the capacious memory of man hold in his mind? How horse-rich are we, in other words, and why do we remain ignorant of larger horse issues? Let’s ask ourselves this question repeatedly until we fall down from exhaustion or die from some other problem.
All jesting aside: how have we stayed away from discussing this issue? There are thousands of mouths thirsting for horse news, and we have so little information to give them.
Friends, in a world where horse news grows more crucial by the day—where, indeed, with the disappearance of cars, we will be in presence of all-horse traffic soon enough—what can we learn from our ancient ally and sometime bitter rival in God’s favor, the horse?
I unilaterally decided journalism required more horse features. How did I arrive at this conclusion? Intuition. Science tells us lots of different “facts,” but the answers we will never know. My rampages across the fields of possibility at last landed me at a dream that became a promise which morphed into idea—an idea like every vaccine and FitBit—a solution whose time had come: a list of the all-star fictional horses. No more goofing around with real horses and their ludicrous, diva-like demands. These would be the horses of legend.
It’s long past time for this to occur. We have Grammy Awards, after all, and from what Tumblr tells me, that’s not even a real award show, just a collection of animated GIFs playing over and over again with all-caps words like FIERCE and SLAAAY KWEEN imposed over them.
Do I watch these? I do.
Is it time for a similar program dedicated to the noblest art, horses?
Hell to the yes.
BATMAN: THE HORSE, FROM MR. SHOW
There was a late-nineties sketch comedy program, Mr. Show, which aired on HBO. One of their best skits was a mock-commercial for a billiards player, Van Hammersly (Bob Odenkirk), who teaches everything under the sun, including the grotesque folly of man, through the tricks of pool. Impulse be damned, I would buy this collection of hints if it actually existed, and was not an idea assembled by the weird TSA-high-risks at Mr. Show. In one shot, Van Hammersly is reenacting the 1974 Kentucky Derby by rolling billiard balls along the green felt. Like an Oscar winner rattling off all the names for God in their acceptance speech, Van Hammersley reads off the names of the noble steeds which ran in this fictional competition:
Van Hammersly: It’s 1974, March 15th, and horseracing history is about to be made. A hot muggy day, all the horses are at their gates—let’s run the race, shall we? First of all, Mr. Fasthorse comes down his gate real slow-like. Not like his name at all!
[hitting balls into pockets]
Van Hammersly: Papa’s Delicate Condition and Krystallnacht almost trip over each other! Get your bets in, gentlemen, because Batman: The Horse isn’t waitin’ around for anybody! Nice ‘N’ Sticky says, “What about me, boys?” Next up, Stinkfinger. Next to her, If Mandy Patinkin Was a Horse comes in. Bringin’ up the rear, Ol’ Felcher! And that’s how the race was run!
For me, the most memorable is Batman: The Horse, who sounds to my ears like a real engine of oat-devouring destruction, who is probably still aching over his parents being shot in Horse Crime Alley, thereby leaving him as Rich Orphan Horse Bruce Wayne.
If none of this is making sense—if the idea of Batman being a horse is just too much to even parse—why, just think of how long human Batman on our world has been in development (P.S. the answer is forever, since 1939) and maybe you won’t judge the delightful fun-astronauts at Mr. Show for throwing this brief aside into a clever skit that has given many a stand-up a reason to put down the gun and continue the art of living in this pun-drenched and radiation-loving globe of ours.
True, we never see Batman: The Horse, but the lack of an eyefest doesn’t mean this is a feel vacuum. Batman: The Horse’s verbal shadow looms bigly and gross and delightful over the rest of the comedy series, like Marlon Brando falling from a high place into a civilization comprised of hungry dogs.
BILL THE PONY, FROM LORD OF THE RINGS
Are ponies horses? No, science shows they are basically smaller, meaner versions of horses. In my vast books of audacious animals showing scrubs who’s boss, the horsefolk of The Lord of the Rings have always held immense, disturbing sway. I’m not saying that horses and their desires are the stars, but I am saying without them this film would be a filthy hollow of decayed bones and crushed New Zealand garage parties and whatever Australians use in place of man-blood.
Have you ever given more than two seconds of thought to how the fire trap tragedy of Middle Earth would hold together without our behooved and strangely uncommunicative friends? This is a world where dragons and trees can talk, but not horses. What, do you think you’re too good for us now? Is that it?
Bill the Pony is described in one Tumblr meme as “THE BAD ASS PONY TO EVER PONY.” And that’s accurate, because Bill is the old pony who could, who survived the War of the Ring.
When you first meet Bill in the early pages of Lord of the Rings, you’re upset: why is Our Hero Sam, the badass new god, putting up with this aged quadruped? Let’s face facts: most of this book is songs and walking punctuated by Tolkien talking about women with grey eyes. The books are not starved for irrelevant details. And yet Prof. Tolkien starts right in by telling us that Bill the Pony is a hard-living, overpriced pony when we first encounter him—just utter horsey garbage that Edward R. Murrow would throw a Molotov cocktail at:
It proved to be a bony, underfed, and dispirited animal; but it did not look like dying just yet.
Several pages later we discover that was a lie. BUT WHAT’S THIS
and last came Sam leading the pony, which was laden with as much of their baggage as they had the heart to give it; but already it looked less dejected, as if it approved of the change in its fortunes.
Bill is no man’s Stan. Like Rambo, he was not made for your city ways and clever pantaloons. Bill is wild, like Altamont and Charlie Sheen’s dream journal. Many pages later, we find:
... they divided the greater part of their baggage among the four of them, and put Frodo on the pony. In the last few days the poor beast had improved wonderfully; it already seemed fatter and stronger, and had begun to show an affection for its new masters, especially for Sam. Bill Ferny’s treatment must have been very hard for the journey in the wild to seem so much better than its former life.
Frodo gets stabbed on Weathertop for taking what isn’t his—the One Ring—which, after all, is just trying to get home. But what’s this? Who comes to the rescue? Is it Strider, Mr. “My heart dwells in Rivendell?” No.
... before long Frodo was able to ride again. Bill Ferny’s poor old pony was developing an unexpected talent for picking out a path, and for sparing its rider as many jolts as possible. The spirits of the party rose again. ....
... The stay in Rivendell had worked a great wonder of change on him: he was glossy and seemed to have the vigour of youth. It was Sam who had insisted on choosing him, declaring that Bill (as he called him) would pine, if he did not come.
`That animal can nearly talk,’ he said, `and would talk, if he stayed here much longer. He gave me a look as plain as Mr. Pippin could speak it: if you don’t let me go with you, Sam, I’ll follow on my own.’ So Bill was going as the beast of burden, yet he was the only member of the Company that did not seem depressed.
The Fellowship has ten members, son. Try this trick and spin it. Frodo equals Ringbearer. Right? Good, good. Now who carries Frodo? Bill. Bill the Pony. Therefore, by the transitive properties of mighty logic, Bill is a Ringbearer. And yet does he go to the Grey Havens? No. It slips Tolkien’s mind. Let’s just say someone is marginalizing somebody, and that somebody is Bill the Pony.
Bill does not steal valor. Bill is valor. Later, the Company will leave Bill outside the Door of Khazad-dûm with tentacle monsters, while they run inside Moria to find safety, cowering inside the hill.
‘It will be short of murder, I hope,’ said Gandalf. He laid his hand on the pony’s head, and spoke in a low voice. `Go with words of guard and guiding on you,’ he said. `You are a wise beast, and have learned much in Rivendell. Make your ways to places where you can find grass, and so come in time to Elrond’s house, or wherever you wish to go.’
Oh, Gandalf, do you know nothing? “Short of murder,” please. Bill the Pony is murder, when he chooses to be.
Bill even gives one of the bad guys in the “Scouring of the Shire” a serious blow to the back.
‘What! My Bill?’ cried Sam. ‘Well, I was born lucky, whatever my gaffer may say. There’s another wish come true! Where is he?’ Sam would not go to bed until he had visited Bill in his stable. ...
.... Bill Ferny flinched and shuffled to the gate and unlocked it. ‘Give me the key!’ said Merry. But the ruffian flung it at his head and then darted out into the darkness. As he passed the ponies one of them let fly with his heels and just caught him as he ran. He went off with a yelp into the night and was never heard of again.
‘Neat work, Bill,’ said Sam, meaning the pony.
Neat work, indeed.
A palomino horse named for a part of a gun. Roy Rogers’ horse. A star onscreen, a star off-screen, a poet, a gem, a trooper, a beast of merit, a best friend, a confidant—this horse would have been the Man if he had been the man; he remained a horse, much to his credit.
A horse so badass they named a concept, “War,” after him. And then fought battles after him. To this day, scholars are divided: was he the cause of, or the result of war? We may never know, but we will always remember his many quips.
SIGGARD FAMILY HORSE, THE HORSE THEY EAT AT THE BEGINNING OF THE WALKING DEAD
Implying you could ever forget this charmer. Rick, showing the same strategic genius that keeps so many people alive, leads our hero down I-85, until what remains of the poor Falcons fandom devours this great creature. Way to go, Grimes. Why don’t you hold up some more signs outside of Keira Knightley’s door? To me, Siggard Family Horse, you are perfect.
ETREYU’S HORSE, ARTAX, FROM THE NEVERENDING STORY
I understand this is a trigger zone for our readers; Artax is alive and well and living in secluded retirement in Reno, with Luke’s Tauntaun and the horse from Equus. Let’s pretend this never happened and move onto
Basically a member of the horse tribe: he/she/it even has a saddle. Yoshi has an island all his/her/its own (according to canon, Yoshi are asexual). Does your fancy hoof-creature own their own real estate? Have they competed in Mario Kart? No? Maybe you shouldn’t throw shade, lest ye be the receiver of shade in turn. If you’re going to disqualify Yoshi from the equine family because he/she/it lays eggs, well, you might as well as blacklist me from the family equestrian. Let’s listen to what Wikipedia says on this topic, hmmmm?
During the development of Super Mario Bros. 3, Miyamoto had a number of sketches around his desk, including an image of Mario riding a dinosaur. Takashi Tezuka, a Mario series developer, speculated that Miyamoto’s love of horse riding as well as country and western themes influenced Yoshi’s creation.
Note well, plebs. And I’m writing this list. I say he/she/it stays.
MR. ED, THE HORSE THAT TALKS, FROM THE PROGRAM OF THE SAME NAME
No. No. Just no. I typed this, but I cannot go through with it. This half-assed equine gimmick machine was old news during the time the CIA was assassinating Third World leaders, and he’s bottom pajamas now. That’s a term I just cooked up meaning the worst. No.
BAD HORSE, FROM DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG
If anything, Bad Horse is the horse we never knew we always needed when we didn’t know what horsing was. Was it “mare” coincidence that he came along during a low moment in our national life, to show us spring time still existed in our hearts?
No, for he did none of those things. Bad Horse, for those poor souls who have never been near the Internet and been gifted with hours of brain-numbing Hitchhiker’s Guide references, is the Big Bad of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” a 2008 musical comedy-drama miniseries—whatever Wikipedia thinks that is. Bad Horse, leader of the Evil League of Evil, appeared during the interstitial period of 2008, when the Writer’s Strike prevented Joss Whedon from his usual creative process of killing off hundreds of beloved fictional characters. So he made this instead.
There’s also some humans in the movie, but it’s Bad Horse’s show. The eponymous equine is a supervillain that Dr. Horrible must impress to become an honest-to-God bad guy; he’s the Ariana Huffington of crime.
In one of the two songs sung by his minions, Bad Horse is said to be the Thoroughbred of Sin; the worst of all horses; a mare-maker and tear-gifter.
Let’s ask the question hanging in the air: is he the Satan of horses? Well, I wouldn’t call most animals “the Satan of (Species Name),” since that seems hugely irresponsible, to be throwing around Devil analogies like that. Keep in mind, only one species came up with the Devil, and it wasn’t the naked mole rat.
Bad Horse commands murder, Bad Horse mandates crimes, Bad Horse goes too far but we love him for it, and that says something about us. Fun fact: the name of the “actor” who played Bad Horse was Dobber. Additional fun fact: Dobber is an Australian name for a snitch. How can this be squared with Bad Horse’s outrageous defiance of the laws of God and man? Perhaps he is telling on someone—us, humans, and our unspeakable love for the foul. Well done, Bad Horse.
I’ve never seen this show, but it gets in on my list by meme-strength alone. Everyone in my field of vision, at all times, adores this show and gets tattoos which have vast, Talmudic significances I don’t comprehend. Right now, I am certain they are whispering, just out of my earshot: “Is he a Horseman? Has he seen the Horseheaded man?”
In other words, have I seen this show? The answer from Yours Truly is inevitably “Neigh.”
Look, I know very well all of you are speaking of BoJack when I’m not around. Maybe I should talk about things you don’t understand, like the werewolf breeding cycle or how many bicyclists are swallowed by sea-beasts every year. That would end your precious BoJack fun right away, wouldn’t it? Yeah, that’s what I thought. On with the show.
SHADOWFAX, ALSO FROM LORD OF THE RINGS
He taught us the meaning of speed.
HORSE, THE DRUG KNOWN AS HEROIN
If Shadowfax taught us the meaning of speed, the drug heroin teaches millions the meaning of Requiem for a Dream. Arguably, after Bad Horse, this is the horse that has arguably taken the most lives and the most illegal of horses. Produced in the Golden Triangle, the drug heroin, or “horse,” as sweaty L.A. guys in fedoras call it, is an opiate which does its thing on humans and has for millennia, if this lengthy chronology I’ve recently received from Scientology has any resonation at all.
KITT, FROM KNIGHT RIDER
Okay okay okay, shut up, look, I know what you’re saying but this is basically a living creature that a human being rides on, and like most horses it can talk. Deal with it. There’s enough horsing around to get everyone to heaven these days. KITT is a horse now, just as you are a kind of animal. Why not? As a horse which was essentially a horseless carriage, which, we all agree, is a kind of horse, KITT won our hearts over the years as a machine build for conversation and speed, and, more to the point, furthering David Hasselhoff’s career.
I didn’t go to two hours of an online seminar to get my PhD in doctorology just to let a world without horse lists exist. I’ve sent several hand-scrawled letters to important publications letting them know I’m totally in the loop for interviews about horse knowledge, but for some reason—not throwing names around here—Trump would be the name to use—the assembled wisemen of the press seem uninterested in hearing my mind-thoughts about horses and how they work, both in the ground and in our hearts. Nevertheless, I remain dedicated to this art; both in life, and in death, these majestic reptiles are the literal and figurative glue that ties our nation together.
Jason Rhode is on Twitter.