So first let past the horses black and then let past the brown.
Quickly run to the white steed and pull the rider down,
For I'll ride on the white steed, the nearest to the town,
For I was an earthly knight, they give me that renown.
Back in the days before any kind of engines existed, horses provided man's primary method of transportation. This is reflected in Hollywoodland portrayals of period pieces such as Medieval European Fantasies
or works that take place in The Wild West
Given the importance of cavalry in the history of some of the world's greatest empires, horses were often a sign of status; poor people could not afford a horse. Moreover, the color
of the steed's hair coat serves to emphasize one character who is in a higher standing than the rest: the White Stallion
is a type of Cool Horse
which serves as a ride for a character usually in a position of leadership or seniority. Chances are, if the work has a large group of characters who routinely ride horseback, only one
of them will be riding a white horse, usually The Leader
, the Knight in Shining Armor
, and royalty.
This is Older Than Feudalism
, going back to The Bible
. Several Eurasian religions and mythologies have associated white horses with the sun, fertility, divinity and other such themes, so they are often the symbol of an All-Loving Hero
or The Chosen One
. Light Is Good
and all that. The rider might be exhibiting Horseback Heroism
This trope is justified in that true white horses are fairly rare, and as such they're more expensive. In fact, most of the "white stallions" you'll see on film and television are actually grey horses whose hair coat has gone completely white. However, for the purpose of this trope what's important is that the horse allows this particular rider stand out from the rest, regardless of its genetics. Little fact: a "true" white horse must have unpigmented (pink) skin (otherwise, it's actually a grey) and most pink-skinned white horses are actually pale cremellos (horses have no true albino gene). Adding to the rarity, white horses are sometimes born with a fatal birth defect called Lethal White Syndrome that affects the digestive tract. White foals must always be closely watched because of this.
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- The man in the Old Spice commercials is seen on a white horse, backwards.
Film - Animation
- Altivo from The Road to El Dorado, who belongs to Miguel, a thief. Justified in that he originally belonged to explorer Hernan Cortes.
- Taking into account that Miguel is one of the two protagonists of the film and certainly heroic, while Hernan Cortes serves as an antagonist, the trope is still played straight, although it zigzags a little in the beginning.
- In Shrek 2, this is what the Happily Ever After potion turns Donkey into.
- Disney has a fair share of white/grey-white stallions, most of which get badass names. Among them are:
Film - Live Action
- In the 2004 film King Arthur, the titular character rides a white horse, as expected. The trope is subverted, however, as Galahad and Tristan also rode white steeds.
- In the 2010 version of Robin Hood, Robin acquires a white horse early on and rides it around for the remainder of the movie. Justified in that the horse once belonged to King Richard.
- In The Last Samurai, Katsumoto rides a beautiful pure white horse.
- In the 2005 film version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter Pevensie, aka High King Peter, rides a white horse— a unicorn at that. It's the only white equine seen at the battle of Beruna.
- The eponymous king of Henry V rides a white horse in the 1989 Branagh film. The horse somehow manages to stay sparkly white while the human cast spends much of their time covered in mud and blood.
- Guinevere, Lady of Leonesse and Queen of Camelot, in First Knight is the only rider whose horse is white. Lancelot rides her horse on the way to rescue her.
- The Duke of Kate and Leopold rides down a purse snatcher through Central Park on the back of a horse that he borrowed from a carriage ride. It just so happens that the horse is white.
- In almost every depiction where the color of the horse is discernible, the horse Lady Godiva rode on is white.
- The Fair Folk often ride white steeds.
- In Slavic mythology, Baba Yaga sometimes has three horseman, one of them being white to represent dawn.
- The Bible: The first of The Four Horsemen rides a white horse, and is thought to be either an actual victorious military leader or an Anthropomorphic Personification of Conquest itself.
- Binky, the pale horse of Death from the Discworld series.
- And Binky is white, not grey, since normal rules don't apply to him. "Not as white as chalk, which is a dead white, but certainly as white as milk, which is alive."
- In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the White appropriately rides a very particular white horse named Shadowfax. In the books Shadowfax is described as being gray or even silver and shining; The Film of the Book goes for a more straightforward white.
- The book does have several horses that are explicitly described as white. Glorfindel's horse Asfaloth is one, to better contrast the steeds of the Black Riders. The banner of Rohan shows a white horse on green, being a depiction of Shadowfax's ancestor Felaróf who carried the first King of Rohan into battle. Finally Théoden's horse is named Snowmane and while the book never says the rest of him is white, too; the film chooses to make him so.
- In Robert E. Howard's The Hour of the Dragon, Conan the Barbarian is given a white horse to make his escape.
- Played with in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar stories. The Heralds ride what appear to be magnificent pure-white horses, but these are actually Companions — guardian spirits in the form of a horse. They are also Mindlink Mates with their Heralds and have human-level intelligence and psychic powers.
- Their hair stays white even if you attempt to dye it for camouflage or disguise. This little oddity is caused by large amounts of magical power (the guardian spirit itself, in this case) and shared with very powerful mages.
- Athansor in Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. He's implied to be some sort of angel in equine form.
- The grey-white Cool Horses in Mary H. Herbert's Winged Magic, which turn out to be magically disguised Hunnuli.
- In Emily's Runaway Imagination, Emily's family has a white(-ish) work horse whose coat Emily tries to bleach bright white with Clorox so her cousin visiting from the city will be impressed.
- In the Chronicles of the Kencyrath series by P.C. Hodgell, heroine Jame has two white mounts. Bel-tairi is a Whinno-hir, an intelligent, nigh-immortal beast, dainty of stature, sure-footed and dependable; she's Jame's mount for regular travel. Death's-head, however, is what Jame rides into battle; he is a white rathorn, an armored, carnivorous unicorn. Both are quite symbolic.
- In John C. Wright's Count to the Eschaton, the frozen Knights In Shining Armor have white horses as their steeds.
- In Living Alone by Stella Benson, Richard rides a white horse as he inspects the bean rows.
- A Song of Ice and Fire. Daenerys Targaryen receives a magnificent silver horse (though it's a mare, not a stallion) as a wedding gift from her husband Khal Drogo, ruler of a nomadic Proud Warrior Race called the Dothraki. As Dothraki don't name their horses, she simply calls it her silver. In the Game of Thrones TV adaption, Silver dies at the beginning of Season 2 while crossing the Red Waste, though the book counterpart is still alive.
Live Action TV
- On The Andy Griffith Show, the Darling family were quite superstitious, which Andy used to his advantage when he became unwittingly engaged to Charlene. The marriage was cursed if the bride and groom see a man wearing black riding a white horse from east to west. So Barney tried to ride by on a white horse, but had trouble controlling the horse.
- Game of Thrones: As part of his regal image, King Renly Baratheon rides one in "Garden of Bones." His lover Ser Loras Tyrell will later charge into battle in "Blackwater" on Renly's white horse to better enhance the illusion that he is King Renly's ghost.
- The Lone Ranger's horse Silver.
- Interestingly enough, Silver was played by two horses, both of which where true whites.
- On Merlin, Lancelot is the only knight of the Round Table who rides a white horse.
- Morgana also rode a white horse before her Face-Heel Turn. When Guinevere becomes Queen, she has a white horse.
- In Malcolm in the Middle, when the Hal takes the boys to the Grotto for a weekend, they first see Francis when he dramatically rides up on one of these.
- In the Telephone song "Cendrillon", a group of one hundred men on white horses comes to Cinderella to take her children away. (The Prince has left her for Sleeping Beauty and now he wants his children back.) A subversion, since the men on white horses represent a bad thing in this case.
- The Taylor Swift song "White Horse".
I'm not a princess, this ain't a fairytale
I'm not the one you'll sweep off her feet
Lead her up the stairwell
...Now it's too late for you and your white horse
To come around.
- The country song "Suds In The Bucket" by Sara Evans.
When her prince pulled up - a white pickup truck
Her folks shoulda seen it comin' - it was only just a matter of time
Plenty old enough - and you can't stop love
She stuck a note on the screen door - "sorry but I got to go"
- She-Ra: Princess of Power had Spirit, who turned into the winged Swift Wind.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has several white ponies in positions of power.
- Princess Celestia, a white-coated Winged Unicorn God-Princess of the sun, as mentioned in the description.
- There's also Rarity, a white unicorn mare with upper-class ambitions.
- Prince Blueblood, a white unicorn who currently is the page image for Prince Charmless.
- Shining Armor, Twilight's brother and the Captain of the Royal Guard, is a white unicorn.
- Fancy Pants, who is considered to be the most important pony in the social circles of Canterlot.
- "What color was Napoleon's white horse?" Napoleon Bonaparte's horse is best remembered as white due to Jacques-Louis David's 1800 portrait of him. In reality, Napoleon owned and rode over 150 different steeds during his life; many of them were light-coated Arabians, usually greys or greyish-whites. He did, however, own a pure white Norman called Intendant (aka "Coco"), which was the one he used for parades and other such state functions, going with this trope. There are five different versions of Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Napoleon crossing the Alps. Bonaparte is not pictured riding a pure white horse in any of them.
- Incidentally, Napoleon really crossed the Alps on a more practical mule.
- There's also a story about Napoleon invading Hannover (which George III of England also ruled) and swiping a whole stable full of cream-colored horses. George was so pissed off he switched to black horses.
- The most famous painting of Charles XI of Sweden has him riding a white horse at the battle of Lund (its name was Brilliant and was a gift from the French). Interestingly enough a famous poem about the occasion claims it was black.
- Amedeo Guillet, "The man on the white horse", who led his Amhara cavalry against British troops in East Africa, riding his white horse Sandor.
- There is a story that lampshades/defies the trope: An native man scoffs at the "civilized" man for choosing a white horse as it is rather noticeable. Combat and other activities are best done with as little to draw attention to yourself as possible. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.
- King William of Orange, a Dutchman who was invited to take the British throne when Britain ran out of acceptable Royalty, fought a war in Ireland against James, the Stuart Catholic pretender to the throne (a man unacceptable as king of England because of his Roman Catholicism). Protestant William defeated James' Catholic army in a Curb Stomp battle at Boyne Water. William wore the Orange of Holland and rode a white horse. these have since become iconic to Irish Protestants, especially in the North. The image of the orange-sashed William on his white horse can be seen evereywhere in Protestant and loyalist areas of Northern Ireland to this day. He is also responsible for the Orange in the Loyalist Orange Lodges, and the Orange in the Irish Republic's tricolour.