Horses have played an important role in history and are often associated with legendary figures. For this blog post, I compiled 9 famous historical figures and the horses they rode into glory on.
Did you know that George Washington’s horse was named Nelson? The warhorse had a white star on his forehead, and he helped the general win many battles.
And did you know that Abraham Lincoln had three favourite horses while president? One of them, Old Bob, was used for town rides around Washington D.C. Another, called Mesquite, was given to him by General Grant as a gift from the Union army after they won the Civil War in 1865.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s horse was named Marengo, and he was a small grey Arabian. He got his name following the Battle of Marengo in Italy, where Napoleon Bonaparte was victorious in 1800.
Napoleon later rode the horse to victory again when he defeated the Austrian Empire at the Battle of Austerlitz.
Napoleon’s horse was wounded eight times but continued to carry the emperor in three major battles. Marengo survived the retreat from Moscow; however, When Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo, he was captured and taken to England.
At the old age of 38, Marengo died; his skeleton was preserved and later displayed at the National Army Museum in Chelsea.
Napoleon is said to have loved horses more than women. He once said: ‘In the presence of a horse, all propriety and restraint disappear.’
Bucephalus (Alexander the Great)
Bucephalus was a large stallion with a white blaze on his face. He was a gift to Alexander from this father.
The horse’s name is derived from the word Boukephalos, which means “ox-head” in Ancient Greek, and its appearance may have resembled that of an ox or bucephalous in Latin.
Bucephalus had a fiery temperament that made him difficult to ride – he refused to be mounted by anyone other than Alexander, who had trained him since his childhood.
The legend of Bucephalus began with the fiction that the horse and Alexander the Great were born simultaneously.
Accounts state that Bucephalus died after the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC. In commemoration, Alexander built the city of Bucephala (Boukephala).
Copenhagen (Duke of Wellington)
Copenhagen, The Duke Of Wellington’s horse, was an Irish chestnut gelding that stood 15 hands. The horse was named after the British victory at the Second Battle of Copenhagen.
He was the most famous horse of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. However, Copenhagen was challenging to handle and unwilling to be ridden if not accompanied by another horse of his size. As a result, he was often ridden by an outrider who stayed close and kept the horses apart.
The Duke of Wellington and Copenhagen were together in many battles, and the Allies always emerged victoriously. When Napolean’s Wars came to an end, Copenhagen remained in Wellington’s stables.
Wellington said of Copenhagen, “There may have been many faster horses, no doubt many handsomer, but for bottom and endurance I never saw his fellow.”
Genitor (Julius Caesar)
Julius Caesar’s horse was named Genitor, so named in honour of Caesar’s father. The horse became as famous as the Roman General himself.
While crossing the Alps on his way to Italy during the Gallic Wars, it was Genitor who carried Caesar.
When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, he did it on the back of Genitor and pronouncing his famous phrase “Alea jacta est” (The die has been cast).
One of Caesar’s most impressive feats was his riding ability. Since childhood, the historian Plutarco says that he trained on horseback with his hands crossed behind his back to improve his balance.
As a result, his legendary sense of balance enabled him to stand upright on a horse even during battle.
Algonquin (Teddy Roosevelt)
This is not a tale of war horses, rather a cute story about Teddy Roosevelt, his son Archie and a tiny pony.
One of the more endearing White House pet stories involves a pony bestowed by Secretary Hitchcock on nine-year-old Archie, the fifth of six Roosevelt children.
When Archie was recovering from the measles, he asked his mother if he could visit his pony. Mrs Roosevelt’s told her son that he couldn’t venture to the White House stables as he was still unwell.
A Whitehouse footman came up with a cunning plan: he would bring the pony into the house using an elevator. Archie was ecstatic when he saw his friend and let out a loud whoop.
The pony and Archie attracted a large following of White House photographers. “Algonquin is a very good-natured, though spirited little beast,” the Post went on to report. “And when carrying his youthful master, the two are a picture calculated to inspire an artist.”
One Washington, D.C. columnist, wrote, “The question now agitating the mind of the groom in charge [is] whether Archie will ride in the boxcar with Algonquin or whether Algonquin will be accorded a section of a Pullman with Archie.”
Dilu (Liu Bei)
The Chinese Liu Bei has been celebrated and romanticized in history. He founded his state, Shu Han, in the Three Kingdoms period. His horse ‘Dilu‘ was also famous, according to the historians of the period.
In one story, it’s told how ‘Dilu’ saved Liu Bei by leaping across a wide river. Liu Bei wDilu rushed forward until he was halfway across and then jumped.
If he hadn’t done so, Liu Bei would have been captured by his enemy. A rare story where horses are revered for their bravery rather than simply being a tool in war.
After Liu Bei’s lucky escape, he presented Dilu with a silver saddle and gold bridle.
Traveller (General Robert E. Lee)
General Robert E. Lee was a famous general during the Civil War, and he served with the Confederate Army. Lee had two horses, one named Traveller and the other Little Sorrel. He developed a deep bond with both horses. Although, Traveller was his beloved and most trusted mount.
Traveller is arguably the Civil War’s most famous horse. Following the war, Lee and Traveller visited Washington College in Lexington, Virginia.
The old General was annoyed that veterans and college students who wanted a souvenir of the famous horse had plucked his tail like chicken!
A funeral procession for General Robert E. Lee witnessed Traveller walking behind Lee’s coffin, the saddle of its rider draped in mourning cloth.
Babieca (El Cid)
Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (El Cid) became famous in the 11th century for his exploits during the Reconquista.
He was born of a noble Castillian family. When Rodrigo came of age, he was told that he could choose any horse from his uncles’ stables to raise as his own. Much to his families surprise, Rodrigo picked the weakest colt in the stable – his uncle called the choice ‘Babieca’ – meaning stupid in Spanish, the name stuck.
As Rodrigo grew to become a fierce warrior, Babieca developed to be an obedient warhorse. Andalusian horses are sturdy, elegant animals that are known for their athleticism, intelligence and loyalty. Grey is the most common colour but can also be found with coats of other colours. They have long manes and tails, which add to their majesty.
During the siege of Valencia, El Cid died in battle. His men feared they would lose without him leading them. So they strapped his corpse onto Babieca, and El Cid led his army into battle one last time.
El Cid and Babieca – a loyal horse and fearless rider, are still remembered today in Spain for their deeds.
Sir Briggs (Captain Godfrey Morgan)
Briggs was a champion steeplechase horse, name after a family servant. Captain Godfrey Morgan purchased him in 1851.
During the Crimean War, Morgan commanded a squadron of 17th Regiment of Light Dragoons; the Regiment led the legendry “Charge of the Light Brigade” on October 25th 1854, during which 370 horses were killed.
Following the battle, Briggs was unofficially knighted ‘Sir Briggs’ after showing extraordinary bravery, including taking a sabre wound to his head.
Briggs survived the gruelling conditions of a war in which many other horses died from hunger and exhaustion. He eventually died in 1874, commemorated with a memorial in Tredegar Park (his owner’s home).
You might be wondering what the point of this blog post is? Well, in all honesty, none. I just wanted to share some interesting information about famous historical figures and their horses with you!
If you’re interested in more articles like this one, check out our other articles on the site.