These horses not only cause nightmares, they sometimes arenight mares.
Want to emphasize how badass a hero or villain is? Simple, give them a truly monstrous looking horse!
Standard fare include wings, red eyes, horns, fangs, and split hooves (sometimes claws). Horses that are nothing but skeletons are also popular choices for The Undead to ride, and sometimes the horse can appear either to be Wreathed in Flames or leave burning hoofprints. Usually either truly untameable or ridden by villainous characters, but sometimes subverted into being tamed by The Hero.
As these days horses are kept mostly for recreation and are often seen as something like oversized pets for little girls, the idea of scary and dangerous horses might seem a bit silly, as they lack any claws or fangs. But make no mistake, an angry or panicked horse can be truly frightening and easily kill a man with its hooves.
Many examples were inspired by the horse in the painting ''The Nightmare'' by Henry Fuseli, which in turn was based on the "Mare", a goblin or Horny Devil that sat on a sleeper's chest and gave them bad dreams.
Often goes hand in hand with Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as well as The Wild Hunt.
A Sub-Trope of Cool Horse.
A Sister Trope to Hellhound.
Contrast Unicorn (which are sacred).
No relation at all to Hellish Copter, nor to Undead Horse Trope.
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Anime and Manga
D's horse in Vampire Hunter D in at least one incarnation is actually some sort of cyborg, but can appear pretty monstrous. A memorable caption in Anime Insider had someone ask D what was wrong with it, and all he could say was "I don't know."
According to the light novels his horse is a perfectly ordinary cyborg horse that can be bought from any livery stable in the Frontier, but D's influence will make it gallop faster and longer than any other, at least it's inevitable demise from the wildlife or from D riding it too hard.
A lot of playing with this goes on in Reign: The Conqueror, an Ćon Flux style animated story loosely based on Alexander the Great. Alexander's horse is a demonic horse, and at least half the main cast if not more expect Alexander to go the Dark Messiah route, which would make the horse appropriate, but Alexander ultimately rejects that route.
Alexander's horse, Bucephalus, really was an unstable horse, according to Plutarch. This was probably the first time he was described as a murderous horse.
When Hellsing's Alucard pulls out his Soul Slave Army it includes horses. Big, undead horses made of shadows and blood.
Later in the manga, supporting character Farnese has an unfortunate run-in with a demon-possessed horse that has a horrific penchant for human women. Unlike many of its peers, it comes fully equipped, because that's just the sort of manga Berserk is. She is only saved when Guts ends up flashbacking to Casca's rape during the Eclipse at that very moment, serving to set him off in a big way; needless to say, it ends very messily for the once-helpful steed.
Killbeat the lascivious and sadistic bicorn from Legendz. Unusual in that she never serves as a villain's mount, instead she's a major villain herself!
Nightmare, one of Doctor Strange's recurring foes, rides a gaunt black unicorn named Dreamstalker.
Caleb, the 19th century ex-slave turned Ghost Rider, has one of these as his ride, as do other Riders of the same rough era. As befits the Ghost Riders, these horses are usually on fire.
A Marvel villain called Dreadknight who first fought Iron Man early in the hero's career (and has been infrequently seen since, opposing the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Captain Britain) has a bat-winged flying horse called Hell Horse, which was sired via genetic engineering.
The '60s comic book of Ripley's Believe It or Not True Ghost Stories explored a few scattered legends of giantnote which means larger than a normal horse black horses, in a story entitled "The Devil's Steed."
The mounts of the Nazgűl in The Lord of the Rings look pretty monstrous (and later they upgrade to riding vulture/dragon "fell beasts") and have been specifically bred to withstand the Nazgűl's presence.
The Caretaker/old Ghost Rider in the 2006 Ghost Rider movie, as per the comic, transforms his horse from an ordinary steed to a burning horse skeleton.
The Scarecrow briefly rides around on a police horse in Batman Begins. Due to the hallucinogens covering the area, the horse (and The Scarecrow) appears to be demonic from the point of view of a young boy.
Ilmarinen the blacksmith from the Finnish film Sampo (better known as MST3K'sThe Day the Earth Froze) forges a horse so his buddy can plow an evil witch's field full of snakes. It comes out of the flames a bright and, err, rather fiery red. Yes, this film is based on a folktale, why do you ask?
In the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence of Disney's Fantasia, the evil spirits summoned by The Devil Chernabog ride various horrific sorts of supernatural steeds, from airborne goats and boars to horned skeleton horses. One of these horses makes a reappearance in The Black Cauldron.
In the Blind Dead horror series, the titular undead monks ride equally undead horses.
The undead gunslinger villain of House 2 rides a stop-motion skeleton horse to the climactic showdown.
Avatar has the pa'li and the ikran, and if you're too Badass to be satisfied with those there's the toruk and palulukan.
Odin rode a rare heroic example of one in Thor. His horse, Slepnir, is a giant black horse with eight legs. Considering it was shown inside of a pillar of exploding light, it invoked this trope quite a bit.
Spoofed a number of times in Discworld. Death tried to use a demonic horse, but his skeletal horse kept falling apart and his flaming horse kept setting fire to the stables. He eventually settled with the very un-Demonic pale horse Binky. The new Death in Reaper Man plays it straight, though, with a skeletal horse.
Also played straight with Boris from Going Postal. Though he wasn't anything supernatural, it was 10 pounds of angry in a 5 pound bag. Definitely the type of horse you'd describe as "hellish."
The unicorn from Lords and Ladiesseemed pretty because of its glamour, but if you looked closely (as Granny Weatherwax would tell you to) you would realise the fact that it was a large, angry horse with a huge horn. The "horses" ridden by the elves, meanwhile, are carnivores. We aren't told what sort of meat they prefer...
Anor (fangs, claws, eats meat) and the Horse with the Twisted Horn from Mary Stanton's The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West — fittingly enough, since these are the horse-world's equivalent of the Devil.
Susan Cooper novel Silver On The Tree. Will and Bran are menaced by a terrifying skeletal horse.
The Hrulgin (singular: Hrulga) of David Eddings' Belgariad universe definitely fall under this. They have claws and fangs, eat meat rather than grass, are intelligent but utterly insane, and travel in herds. Oh, and they're also evil. Enough so that even the team's designated horse-empath reluctantly had to give up on taming one. He did consider catching one of the foals and crossbreeding it with a normal horse, but abandoned the plan on realizing you don't want a carnivorous horse in a kingdom based on cattle drives. Oh yeah, and they're all black, but that almost goes without saying...
Interesting variation in the Old Kingdom trilogy — the skeletal, fiery horse being ridden by Hedge actually commits suicide by leaping into a river when Hedge is knocked off, because becoming a Hellish Horse put it into so much pain.
Karsa Orlong from Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen went and tamed a Jhag horse named Havok. Jhag horses have a tendency to eat people, so that is saying something.
The Dresden Files: Summer Knight has Harry making a voyage into Faerie and encountering a unicorn. But since this is the Winter quarter of Faerie, the unicorn has scales and a gigantic corkscrew on its head.
In The Riftwar Cycle, the Dark Elf leader Murmandamus rides a horse covered in red scales, whose mane and tail are living flame. Naturally, its eye glow red too.
In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath, rathorns (pronounced rath-orn, rather than rat-horn) are carnivorous armored unicorns matching many of these tropes, being fanged, double-horned (nose and forehead), red-eyed, and armored with ivory-like plates on head, neck, chest and forelegs. The armor plates continue to grow as long as the rathorn is alive, so the really old ones are also in constant pain and likely to smother in their own armor. They are notorious man-killers with really bad tempers, and are generally some combination of black and white, from all-black to all-white or various combinations.
In "The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention", Dorothy L. Sayers describes how Lord Peter Wimsey encounters a mysterious, silent "death-coach" drawn by noiseless, headless horses. Of course, Lord Peter had had a few...
It should perhaps be noted that in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving does not describe the Headless Horseman's "goblin horse" as being anything other than "a black horse of powerful frame," though it does have a tendency to vanish in a "flash of fire and brimstone."
Roger Zelazny character Dilvish the Damned spent two hundred years unjustly condemned to Hell. When he came back, he rode a fire-breathing, talking horse made of black steel and with cloven hooves. It also turned out to be capable of assuming human form. The "horse" was the demon who helped Dilvish escape Hell ... or maybe not.
In The Lord of the Rings, the Mouth of Sauron rides a huge hideous horse, with a face like a skull, and flames burning in its eye sockets.
In the Forgotten RealmsDrizzt novels by R.A. Salvatore, Jarlaxle has an obsidian figurine which he can use to summon a nightmare from the lower planes. Later on, he gives another figurine to his dwarf companion Arthogate, allowing him to conjure a demonic, fiery war pig hellbeast to serve as his mount. It should go without saying that this makes him the envy of every other height-deprived character in the series.
Equoids are large, carnivorous, sterile offspring of a different kind ofUnicorn. Yes, you can ride them, if you don't mind your saddle having a roll cage and protective mesh to keep them from eating you.
In Sheeps Clothing, the vampire Russeau uses vaguely demonic horses to pull his coach, because normal horses freak out at the presence of the supernatural.
Sleipnir from Norse Mythology, one of the oldest examples, had eight legs and other monstrous features, as well as a pretty sick origin. Despite this, though, it was a relatively gentle and well-behaved horse.
The Fairy Raed, also known as The Wild Hunt, has appeared in various forms in European mythology. Generally, the horses being ridden where huge and black, sometimes with demonic features, and together with their riders, who were either the damned or Fae, and hellhounds would hunt the living (or the dying, or the recently dead, depending on who you asked) and drive them to hell. Just seeing the Raed was bad luck, foretelling strife or plague. Depending on the time period and location, the leader of the Raed was either a lost soul or deity. Odin has been associated with the Wild Hunt.
The wild hunt as also appeared in numerous works over the years, including poetry, fantasy novels, and videogames.
Also appears in Celtic Mythology with the kelpie, who was a beast that appeared to be a horse with shark-like teeth; if anyone mounted it, it would take them underwater and drown and eat them. Kelpies are said to inhabit only running water.
Depending on the versions, it could turn into an attractive man/woman to make luring people into the water easier.
Similarily, Swedish folklore has the Bäckahäst, or Brook Horse, an otherworldly beautiful, but predatory, pale horse that instilled a nigh-irresistable urge in all children who saw it to ride it. For every child that got up on the horse's back, its spine would lengthen so that there always was more room for more riders, and every child that got up on it could also never get off again. Finally, the Brook Horse would leap into a river or a brook and drown all of its riders. It was often believed that the Brook Horse was an alternative form of the Neck, a fiddle playing spirit that would lure young women close to it with its music and then drown them, and some legends describe the Brook Horse as a pale horse with arms and hands, walking on its hindlegs.
Older Than Feudalism: The Eighth Task of Hercules was to steal the Mares of Diomedes, who had regularly fed them human meat. Some accounts say they could also breathe fire from their nostrils. At the end, Hercules himself killed Diomedes and fed him to his Mares. In some versions of the myth, the Mares became tame for the rest of their lives after devouring their evil master.
The Celtic Puca (or Pookah) is a less fatal version of this: It usually takes the form of a black horse with golden eyes and loves scaring people by taking them on unexpected midnight rides, but it never actually kills them and often leads people away from danger.
The Scots have the Each Uisge, or water-horse, a shapeshifting monster inhabiting bodies of water such as lochs. These monsters would often disguise themselves as fine ponies or horses and stand near the water's edge. Once a person mounted the water-horse, its skin would become inescapably sticky and it would plunge into the deepest part of the water, drowning the unfortunate victim, who was then torn apart and eaten (apart from the liver, which would float ashore.)
In Brazilian folklore, a woman who fornicates with a priest turns into a Mula-sem-Cabeça (Headless Mule). It's a dreadful black mule that has no head, but somehow, manages to spew fire from it's non-existent nose. It also has iron hoofs that make a horrible noise when the mule gallops. The transformed woman has to ride through seven parishes each night until she returns to the original parish where she sinned, or someone stabs her with a needle.
In Greek Mythology the sun god Helios has a chariot pulled by fiery horses - in case you missed that detail their names, Aethon, Aeos, Pyrois and Phlegon, will remind you, as they are Greek words and expressions relating to fire and light. Other sun gods of other Indo-European religions share the sun-chariot motif, but much on the steeds isn't specified, an exception being Surya, whose horse is seven headed.
The Nuckelavee of Orkney folklore was an evil, skinless horse with yellow veins and black blood, often merged with an equally grotesque human rider so that the two were one being. Nuckelavee would spread illness to crops, horses, and humanswith its poisoned breath. The only way to escape it was to cross fresh water, which it refused to approach.
In a popular legend from Italy, a sinner King is picked up by a fiendish-looking black mare who takes him to a ride across the whole peninsula, ending with the steed jumping with her rider in the Vesuvius.
Catalan mythology has Count Arnau, a sinful noble that was condemned to wander the Earth forever on a black horse that spills fire through the mouth and eyes.
Dungeons & Dragons has the Nightmare: a horse-like monster from the Lower Planes that is ridden by Blackguards and powerful Evil creatures. It has glowing red eyes, a blazing mane, burning hooves and fangs. Oh, and they can fly and teleport across the planes. Numerous later fantasy works have later copied the idea, many of them likely not realizing "nightmare" as a horse-thing was a silly pun rather than an actual mythological creature. (The "mare" of "nightmare" is actually a goblinlike creature called a "mara".)
In addition, Natara, Commander of the Infernal Charge of Avernus, has a black unicorn with bat-wings.
A Dragon article introduced the Equars, nine intelligent magical horses from the Outer Planes that represented different alignments. They included the handsome, black Banecourser (Lawful Evil); the sickly, ratlike Roasinante (Neutral Evil); and the monstrous red eyed Charnalbalk (Chaotic Evil).
Daemonic mounts in both games range from Juggernauts of Khorne, rhino-like critters made out of a combination of iron and hellfire, to Steeds of Slaanesh, unnaturally-captivating serpents mostly comprised of breasts and a really long tongue. At the outer reaches of this trope are the Discs of Tzeentch, which are exactly what they sound like; flying, fire-wreathed metal disks that sprout swirling blades around the outer rim in combat. The generic Daemonic Mount (with no associating to any one god) is usually depicted as some sort of ashen-coat horse (hellfire eyes are usually left up to the painter).
The Vampire counts in Warhammer have mounts called Nightmares, which fits this trope (the exact look of the Nightmare can vary, since it's cobbled together out of corpses, but it tends to be at least vaguely horse-like). There's also the Felsteed, which is a winged Nightmare (and, in previous editions, was named exactly that).
Also from Warhammer, special character Archaon rides a daemonic steed called Dorghar. Its other name? The Steed of the Apocalypse. It's basically a horse so powerfully evil that whoever rides it is foretold as the man who will finally allow the world to be consumed by Chaos.
Orpheus characters who have managed to become Orphan-Grinders can summon one of these as one of their abilities.
In Rifts, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride demonic horse-like mounts called Nether Beasts. Though Pestilence's Nether Beast looks like a giant beetle.
Exalted: The Abyssals and their Deathlord masters ride them. A particular Abyssal charm gives a horse (or yeddim, or...) more running power or fighting power, but inevitably turns it hellish (as in, becoming a Creature of Darkness).
The Heroes of Might and Magic series has Nightmares - essentially horses / unicorns FROM HELL! True to their name, their very proximity lowers enemy morale and their attacks have a chance to send the enemy running away in terror. The debuted in IV aligned with the Asylum faction, before becoming part of the Inferno faction in V.
In World of Warcraft, Warlocks can learn to summon and ride Felsteeds and Dreadsteeds. They have flaming hooves and evil red eyes, and glowing red cracks form in the ground beneath it when they're summoned.
The racial mount for the Undead is a skeletal horse. There are also two other hellish horses, The Huntsman's Steed and the Headless Horseman's Steed. Both are extremely rare (0.1% droprate) mounts that look like horses with flaming green hooves, burning eyes and green fire on their back. Bonus points for the Horseman's mount for being able to fly.
There's also Baron Rivendare's Deathcharger, a skeletal horse available from the eponymous boss in the "dead" side of Stratholme, at an equally rare chance.
In an early quest ("early" ignoring that the character's first 54 levels went by before the player is put in control) Death Knights gain an Acherus Deathcharger. Different color scheme, presumably different genealogy, different skin, but similar effect as the warlock mount. They also let out an ear-piercing shriek when summoned that can only barely be recognized as a neigh. Slightly different in that you catch the horse that gets horrifically converted into your undead mount yourself. You Bastard. For maximum comedy, steal the colt.
There is also Attumen's steed, not ANY better than your normal epic mounts, but it is a Bragging Rights Reward on its own as it has a very low droprate.
Then you can have Invincible, Arthas' Deathcharger, which can fly too, and slightly faster than common fliers. But most of its value comes from merely owning it, which shouts "I KILLED THE LICH KING ON 25-MAN HEROIC!".
The Demonic Invaders faction in the Warlords Battlecry series have a unit called the "Nightmare". They look like normal horses, except for the red eyes, the body covered with spikes and the fact that they lack skin.
So they don't look anything like normal horses, then?
Geryon from Devil May Cry 3 is a Hellish Horse boss. It's so Bad Ass that its drawn carriage can fire missiles.
The game averts a potentially hilarious subversion. When Ingo took over Lon Lon Ranch, he originally intended to give EPONA to Ganondorf. Imagine seeing Ganondorf riding possibly the cutest horse in the ranch.
Red Hare from the most recent Dynasty Warriors. Looks quite hellish in the official art for the game with Lu Bu, but quite gentle in the official art with Guan Yu.
Later horse-type enemies would have either ghastly, spike-covered, crescent-shaped helms that obscured their skulls, or simply had tentacles sprouting from their manes. The latter tend to be particularly vicious, and were often actual demons.
Night Mare from King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, is a black pegasus which Alexander has to charm with a concoction including sulfur, brimstone, and a hair from either Beauty or Cassima (fantasy horses like maidens) for the best-ending sidequest. It also eats deadly nightshade berries for lunch.
Pokémon: Ponyta and Rapidash technically, since they're on fire.
Red Dead Redemption Has a horse known appropriately as the "dead horse". In addition to being covered in claw marks, it's missing one eye, the lower jaw and half of its left front leg. It can be ridden, but not in normal game play, you have to use a edited save file or mod one yourself, but you can see it laying dead in the mission "Spare the Love, Spoil the Child" if you go to the cave, or in this YouTube video: .
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare: There's the Undead Horse, it appears when you whistle for your horse after it has died. It's faster and has infinite stamina, but it's much harder to control.
It also has the Four Horses of the Apocalypse. War has a flaming mane, tall and feet, Death causes zombie's heads to explode, Pestilence is Nigh Invulnerable and is surrounded by a sickly green cloud, Famine is trailed by a swarm of locusts.
In Dragon Quest IX, the first grotto boss is Equinox, a pretty Badass lookin' horse. He has powers related to darkness and hates humanity. In some of the higher-level grottos, one of the monsters that you can see running around is a recolor of Equinox.
For a while in the more recent updates of Dwarf Fortress, kicking was incredibly powerful. Biting still is. Horses can use both attacks. And if you embark in evil territory, you can get attacked by skeletal and zombie horses, which are much harder to kill than living horses... to say nothing of the potential for randomly-generated horse demons and Forgotten Beasts.
Shadowmere from The Elder Scrolls games is an immortal, possibly undead horse with sleek black fur and glowing red eyes, owned by an ancient order of assassins.
You can get two in Skyrim. Shadowmere returns, but you can summon a skeletal, blue-fire glowing mount in the Soul Cairn named Arvak.
Nightmare, an enemy from Ragnarok Online, is exactly this. It is a ghost horse that is immune to non-elemental attacks.
The Brook Horse, from Year Walk, is a pale, Sharp-Dressed Horse, halfway submerged in a river. According to folklore, it's is quite infanticidal and, as it happens, during the game it wants the player to fetch it four Mylings, souls of murdered infants, in exchange for a key... The Brook Horse would make quite the perfect mount for Slender Man.
In Girl Genius, shortly after Agatha joins up with the traveling band they unwittingly bring back a demonic horse that attacks the camp, and Lars is so terrified that all he can do is scream "Horse-horse-horse!" for several minutes while having a panic attack — at least, until the calming pie.
Horse! Pie! Horse! Pie! Horse! Pie!
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja has a creepy black horse which stalks Ben Franklin II after he is raised from the dead. It turns out the horse is his intended mount, since Ben was brought back to be a Headless Horseman.
Also, Sparklelord, although he was more of a motorbike or unicorn than a horse.
Bad Horse, the leader of the Evil League of Evil in Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is supposedly like this, according to other characters' descriptions, including having a terrible Death Whinny. Please note that he isn't a horse themed villain, as much as an actual horse.
Supposedly like this? He's the Thoroughbred Of Sin!
My Little Pony TV Specials: The pilot for the original series featured the Evil Overlord, Tirek/Tirac, a hellish centaur that kidnapped some ponies and turned them literally into nightmare horses for his own chariot.
Nightmare Moon from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a straight example, though instead of a demonic motif she has a shadowy appearance appropriate for a moon goddess, including black armor and a mane that resembles the Milky Way.
Luna's guards may also qualify. Not evil, but you wouldn't confuse them for any run-of-the-mill Royal Guard, what with their reptilian slit-pupiled eyes and bat-like wings.
"The Crystal Empire" introduces King Sombra, who is, in theory, just a very powerful and evil unicorn, but his flowing shadowy mane, glowing eyes and wickedly curved and pointed horn push him definitively into Hellish Horse territory.
Futurama plays with this by having a HoloDeck simulation gone wrong and the holographic version of Spirit, a pony Amy wanted but didn't get as a kid (because she had too many ponies already) turn bad and grows fangs — while Atilla the Hun was riding it.
Parodied with relish in (of all places) Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer. Stormy's horse Skydancer rages screaming through the clouds, causes lightning to fire off everywhere he stomps, snorts freezing rain, and has the obligatory Goshawk-red mad eyes and Bad Ass attitude. Starlite (essentially a Small Name, Big Ego magical horse) challenges him to a race, overtakes him, and ends the winter in the process. The infuriated Skydancer screams and foams and snorts... a tiny rainbow.
In Thundarr the Barbarian, the human heroes ride ordinary horses, while Ookla the Mok rides an "equort," something that looks likes a cross between a horse and a bug.
In a Simpsons episode, Mr. Burns tries to bribe Lisa with three beautiful ponies. When Lisa regretfully refuses, they reveal their true nature...
Truth in Television, at least in terms of behaviour: Zebras kill more zookeepers than any other animal.
Onagers (Asian wild asses or "half asses") had a similar reputation in Roman times. They gave their name to a type of catapult that was said to throw big rocks as far as a real onager could throw a man after kicking him.
And historic warhorses got trained to show this behavior, kicking their attackers.
There's a mustang statue on the drive to and from Denver International Airport. Drive by this at night and you can get a good idea of this trope. It's called El Mesteno, and to make matters freakier, it killed its sculptor.