If you’re a horse lover with an interest in history, this article is for you! When writing our recent post, Best Horseracing Movies of all Time, we got thinking about the most famous horses of all time. Who were they? Who were their humans? What was their story?
Most Famous Horses of all Time
The horse-human relationship has had thousands of years to flourish. Over the course of time, some horses have been remembered amongst billions for their bravery, iconic status, unique story or success on the race track. Let’s take a look at some of these horses and find out what they were all about.
Alexander the Great’s horse, Bucephalus, is likely the most famous horse of all time. Bucephalus’ story is that he was presented to Alexander, rearing at anyone who approached him. Alexander’s father dismissed the horse, believing him completely untameable.
Before he could be sent away, Alexander recognized that the horse was just afraid of his own shadow. He turned the horse toward the sun’s glare. He was then able to mount Bucephalus and remained the only one who could ever do so.
Bucephalus accompanied Alexander in many battles and was his faithful companion until Bucephalus’ death in 326 BCE. He is described as possibly a Thessalian breed, extremely large and black with a white star on his brow. Alexander named an entire city “Bucephalus” after his beloved companion.
Seabiscuit is one of the most famous racing horses in history. Foaled in 1933, he was destined by his thoroughbred breed to become a racehorse. At first, he made little progress – he was thought lazy, temperamental and unfit for the racetrack. He also performed poorly in his early races, so he wasn’t thought to have a bright future ahead.
His owner, Charles Howard, changed strategies and hired trainer Tom Smith to train Seabiscuit up. Smith selected John “Red” Pollard to jockey the challenging thoroughbred. Over time, Smith’s methods paid off – Red and Seabiscuit rode to victory together in many races.
Seabiscuit came to be regarded as a champion and an icon to many Americans. His success on the racetrack proved inspirational and he became a torch of hope for people throughout the Great Depression. Seabiscuit passed away at the age of thirteen in 1947.
Marengo was Napolean Bonaparte’s horse. He was an Arab stallion, described as light grey and small in stature at only 14 hands high. Despite his small size, Marengo took part in many battles and, most famously, accompanied Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo.
When Bonaparte was defeated at Waterloo, Marengo moved to the U.K. with his new owner, a lieutenant colonel. He is said to have died at the old age of 38. Marengo’s skeleton is on display at the National Army Museum in London, in the Battle Gallery. To date, it is one of the most popular exhibits at the museum.
Trigger was the equine star of many American Western movies, in which he starred alongside Roy Rogers. He was a palomino and originally went by the name “Golden Cloud”, possibly a reference to his coloring. Roy Rogers renamed Golden Cloud “Trigger” due to the horse’s speed.
The duo became synonymous with each other, and it was rare to hear Roy Rogers’ name without “Trigger”. Trigger starred in 82 movies and lived to the ripe old age of 30. His body was a museum exhibit for quite some time before being sold to RFD-TV.
#5: War Admiral
Another famous racing horse, War Admiral was the winner of the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, the Preaknesse Stakes and the Belmont Stakes). This thoroughbred seemed destined for greatness from the very start. His father was the renowned Man o’War, who is also remembered as one of history’s greatest racers.
Unlike Seabiscuit, War Admiral showed promise from the beginning. One of his quirks, however, was that he was afraid of the starting gate at the races. This is something that continued throughout his career. He finally went head-to-head with Seabiscuit in the Pimlico Special, in which Seabiscuit triumphed.
War Admiral ran and won two more races before retiring. He died at age twenty-five in 1959 and to this day is remembered as one of history’s most prominent race track champions.
#6: Bamboo Harvester (Mister Ed)
Bamboo Harvester was the star of the beloved 60s comedy series Mister Ed, in which he portrayed a talking horse. Mister Ed was famous for his wisecracking and witty retorts when conversing with his owner, Wilbur Post. The series ran from 1961 – 1966.
Bamboo Harvester was mixed breed — American Saddlebred and part-Arabian. He was a palomino with a white stripe down his nose and a sleek, well-kept golden mane – the ultimate Hollywood horse! He apparently had a liking for peanut butter, something the Mister Ed crew used to their advantage when getting him to “talk”.
Bamboo Harvester sadly passed away from health complications in 1970. He is remembered as one of the most famous and beloved horse stars.
#7 Sergeant Reckless
Up until this entry, every horse on this list has been male. Now, it’s time to honor a very courageous female horse! Sergeant Reckless was a U.S. warhorse and took part in many battles throughout the Korean war. She played a trusted and massively important role – having been trained to deliver ammunition and carry injured soldiers to safety.
Sergeant Reckless was so dedicated that even as shots were being fired around her, she continued carrying supplies across rice paddies and up mountains without humans guiding her. Despite taking a few bullets herself, she remained undefeated and survived her service as a warhorse.
Sergeant Reckless received the honor of numerous awards for bravery and earned a big place in the public’s hearts. She lived up to her name, her show of valor earning her a promotion to Sergeant. She is one of only a handful of horses in history who have been given a military title.
Comanche was also a warhorse, serving in the U.S. army — most famously in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1976. Born wild, Comanche was captured and purchased by the army, eventually capturing the attention of Captain Myles Keogh. Keogh decided to ride Comanche in battle.
Comanche survived the U.S. army’s terrible defeat at Little Bighorn, despite his injuries. He was retired as a battle horse after this event and lived out the rest of his days as a decorated war hero. He died in 1891 at the age of 29 and received a military funeral, like Sergeant Reckless.
You can still see Comanche’s taxidermied body at the KU National Museum, where he is one of the most popular exhibits.
#9: Beautiful Jim Key
This horse’s backstory is a little different from the other horses we’ve talked about. Beautiful Jim Key was actually a performing horse said to be able to read, spell and do math. His owner, veterinarian Doctor William Key, said that he trained Beautiful Jim Key with kindness and patience.
The duo became a symbol for animal rights as a result of Doctor Key’s passion for animal welfare. His dream was to normalize kindness to animals, and the pair traveled around together trying to get people to pledge kindness to animals. More than two million people did.
Doctor Key died in 1909, an icon and trailblazer in the animal rights cause. Beautiful Jim Key died a few years later in 1912.
Secretariat was another racetrack champion who gave the performance of his life in the Belmont Stakes race. Here, he beat out his competitor by 31 lengths and the race went down as one of the best in history.
Secretariat showed great promise early on, finishing in fourth place in his first-ever race. As predicted, he went on to become a champion. Despite slowing down somewhat in his latter racing career, he ran to victory at the Canadian International Championships, his last ever race before his retirement.
He was euthanized in 1989 due to laminitis, a serious hoof condition, at nineteen years old. His legacy lives on both in and outside of the horse community.
Most Famous Horses of all Time: Sum-Up
- Many horses’ stories have survived through history to be told today. The most famous horses are known for their triumphs on the tracks, heroism in war and performance skills.
- Some of the most famous war horses include Bucephalus, Marengo, Sergeant Reckless and Comanche.
- Famous racing champions include Seabiscuit, War Admiral and Secretariat.
- Horses known for their performing ability include Trigger, Bamboo Harvester and Beautiful Jim Key.
Most Famous Horses of all Time: Final Thoughts
It’s wonderful to read such stories of valor, skill and most of all, the companionship between horses and humans. Of course, the horses mentioned in this post represent but a handful of the “horse-some” (pun very much intended) horses whose stories we can read about today. We can’t wait to read even more
We hope that this post has been informative and has piqued your interest in “horse”-story! What’s your favorite famous horse? It’s got to be that brave lady, Sergeant Reckless for us…