Horses are majestic and fearless creatures. These creatures possess grace and freedom that inspires both envy and admiration. These are just some of the characteristics that captured the imaginations of artists and poets for generations.
In songs, horses often represent pursuit and freedom. But, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a horse is just a horse.
Here we have compiled 15 of the best songs about horses that use these animals literally and as symbols. Hopefully, by the time you get to the end, you’ll have more appreciation for these animals. Read on!
1. “Wild Horses” By The Rolling Stones
When we talk about songs that mention “horses,” you’ll come to think of The Rolling Stones. They released “Wild Horses,” one of their most beloved ballads, on June 12, 1971. The band included the song on their 11th studio album, Sticky Fingers.
Mick and the boys wrote “Wild Horses” about life on the road. The song deals specifically with a desire for a home base.
The band was experiencing severe tour fatigue by the time of the writing, and the lyrics reflect a longing for stasis. However, the themes of missing a loved one and melancholy reverberate with many listeners.
2. “Goodbye Horses” By Q Lazzarus
American singer Q Lazzarus released “Goodbye Horses in 1988. But the song gained widespread recognition thanks largely to Silence of the Lambs. This song got prominently featured in the movie during a pivotal sequence.
“Goodbye Horses,” a philosophical treatise, is a perfect example of dark, dreamy synth-pop. Writer William Garvey claimed that the titular horses represent Hindu’s five senses.
Musically, “Goodbye Horses” fuses goth, synth, and new wave influences into a somber, memorable dance track. It is so connected to Silence of the Lambs in the popular consciousness that even parodies of the film incorporate the song.
3. “A Horse With No Name” By America
The British-American rock band America struck gold with their first and most successful single, “A Horse with No Name.” The song came out in 1972 and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Two paintings inspired the song. One painting by M.C. Escher features a horse, while the other by Salvador Dali is of a dry desert.
“A Horse with No Name” expresses a longing for escape from the modern world and the hustle and bustle of city life. The song details a journey through the desert on the titular horse, separated from responsibilities.
4. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” By U2
Irish rock band U2 released their 1992 track “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” as the fifth and final single off Achtung Baby. Though the band didn’t initially like the song, it became beloved among fans and charted worldwide.
“Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” is a torch song about a toxic relationship. Bono sings about how impulsive and dangerous his beloved is. An instance showing this is when she steals because he needs cash. She also lies to him because it’s what he wants.
The lyrics express the classic “no one will ever love you as much as I do” sentiment present in so many pop songs.
5. “Fastest Horse In Town” By Sturgill Simpson
The year 2019 found Sturgill Simpson continuing his long tradition of being unclassifiable. The outlaw country rabble-rouser released “Fastest Horse in Town” from the album Sound & Fury.
Quite simply, the song ponders the cost of fame. The singer reminisces about the simple life he missed while he tours and pursues success. He has become a money-making machine for record labels and faceless executives.
He identifies with the titular fastest horse in town, stating that when the animal is wounded, its owner executes it. He’s certain that if his music falters, the industry will kill his career.
6. “Bring On The Dancing Horses” By Echo & The Bunnymen
Our next song, “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” was recorded specifically for John Hughes’ teen flick, Pretty in Pink. This was also the band Echo & the Bunnymen‘s only new release from their album Songs to Learn & Sing.
One way to look at what the song means is through the lens of a broken relationship. It features fictional characters, Jimmy Brown and Charlie Clown, stuck in metaphorical prison with no way out.
In the chorus, the singer sings, “Bring on the dancing horses, headless and all alone.” This may be his desire for a new beginning and healing. And while breakups are painful, the pain will eventually fade.
7. “Chasin’ Wild Horses” By Bruce Springsteen
Our next song with “horses” in the title is one from Bruce Springsteen. He is known in the music industry for his working-class, blue-collar anthems. He turns his unique, man-of-the-people perspective westward with “Chasin’ Wild Horses.”
The wild horses that Bruce chases are metaphorical. The singer explains that since his youth, he’s been drawn to impossible pursuits. He made wrong and impulsive decisions. But going against his nature was futile – like chasing wild horses.
As he ages, the goalpost moves. He settles for not focusing on the negative, then not fixating on an elusive romantic partner. These pursuits prove impossible, and he is once again on an equine hunt.
8. “Black Horse And The Cherry Tree” By KT Tunstall
In 2004, KT Tunstall made a grand entrance into the pop music scene with “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” The Scottish singer released her uniquely American-sounding song from her debut album, Eye to the Telescope.
“Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” is about getting lost and making a choice. The latter might require you to gamble or let fate decide. Sometimes it requires that you listen to what your heart says.
In the song, Tunstall injected moments from her personal life. For example, she had a run-in with a horse in Greece. The line “And my heart had a problem… So I stopped it dead for a beat or two” refers to a heart murmur when she was a baby.
9. “Only The Horses” By Scissor Sisters
By the time Scissors Sisters released “Only the Horses,” they were already a well-established band. The song is the first single off Magic Hour, their fourth studio album.
Listening to the song’s lyrics brings a melancholy feeling. The singer details plans for one final night with a friend or lover.
While the song seems to speak about an apocalypse, it could also represent the final night of a relationship. It’s about reaching a point of no return and enjoying the moment right before the end. And even if it’s the final moment, the singer recognizes it as “the best place I’ve ever been.”
10. “High Horse” By Kacey Musgraves
Pop-country princess Kacey Musgraves strayed from her comfort zone to resounding applause with her 2018 song “High Horse.” This disco-dance track is from her successful crossover album Golden Hour.
Lyrically, the song destroys the most annoying guy at every party. The singer cheekily describes how this John Wayne wannabe irritates everyone who knows him. He’s condescending, insulting, and superior. He thinks he’s cool, but every time he opens his mouth, he “kills the buzz.”
She encourages him to get lost and to take his high horse with him. If he thinks he’s better than everyone else, he has no business sticking around.
11. “A Horse In The Country” By The Cowboy Junkies
The alt-country band Cowboy Junkies began quietly and consistently releasing great music in 1986. By the time they released “A Horse in the Country” in 1992, the band had a passionate fan following.
This song with “horse” in the lyrics reflects the singer’s life of dissatisfaction. She recounts how time has passed her by and how mundane life has become. She still loves her husband, but he doesn’t excite her anymore.
Meanwhile, she keeps “a horse out in the country,” which alludes to the other man. “One day, I’ll saddle up and the two of us will ride away,” she tells of her plans of leaving her husband.
12. “All The Wild Horses” By Ray LaMontagne
The American singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne writes songs from a bygone era. His traditional Americana tunes sound like they should get sung around a campfire in the desert. Like his 2003 song “All the Wild Horses.”
The brief song’s few lyrics celebrate untamed horses, but they could easily be about women and relationships. The singer lauds women who do not let men run their lives. He tells women not to allow their partners to control them or to make their world revolve solely around them.
The singer further says, “as for the clouds, just let them roll, roll away.” This could mean a bump in the road or challenges that we face. He consoles the women that these soon will pass.
13. “Three White Horses” By Andrew Bird
A multi-instrumentalist, Andrew Bird is largely known for his superior violin playing. However, “Three White Horses” displays his other great strength: ominous and vaguely cryptic lyrics.
Bird states that the three white horses in the title mark the path of the dead. Lyrics-wise, the song tackles death and saying goodbye. It reflects the pain of saying goodbye in the line, “Tell me what’s so easy about coming to say goodbye?”
Despite the sadness in the lyrics and melody, Bird provides consolation by saying that all you need is “somebody when you come to die.” Still, the lyrics don’t shy away from the harsh reality of mortality and the loss of those we love.
14. “Chestnut Mare” By The Byrds
American rock band The Byrds helped shape the face of modern rock and roll. Their 1970 song “Chestnut Mare” embodies their signature fusion of Americana, alt-country, and straight rock.
“Chestnut Mare” outlines the singer’s attempts to pursue and befriend the titular horse. The “prettiest mare” he’s ever seen is untamed and is usually by herself. He makes a promise to himself to catch it and give it his brand. In other words, control it.
The Byrds are known for their lyrical theme of nature and freedom. It’s safe to say that “Chestnut Mare” is an analogy to man’s desire to conquer the natural environment.
15. “Ballad Of A Runaway Horse” By Emmylou Harris
Our last song on the list is “Ballad of a Runaway Horse” by Emmylou Harris, one of country music’s defining figures. Though this is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Ballad of the Absent Mare,” Harris’ soulful voice provides a mirror for listeners.
“Ballad of a Runaway Horse,” tells the story of a cowgirl pursuing her escaped steed. She traverses great distances and “tracks him all night, she tracks him all day.”
The song shows us the connection between the singer and her mare. Metaphorically, it could symbolize the pursuit of a partner or of a greater purpose. But whether the song is, a metaphor or a simple story is open to listener interpretation.
Summing Up Our List Of Horse Songs
Without a doubt, horses are beautiful creatures. Whether they’re just standing or galloping, they exhibit grace and elegance not seen in other animals.
And even for some of us who haven’t encountered a horse personally, seeing them in photos and on TV still stirs the same feeling of awe.
In the songs above, horses represent some noteworthy characteristics that we can emulate. So let us be like horses, to be free and untamed.