Buffy: We won't! (whispering to Giles) Aim for the horsies.
In any combat situation with people riding horses on one side, and ranged weapons on the other, some of the bullets (arrows, etc.) are going to hit the horses. After all, real bullets don't have anyone's name on them, they're addressed "to whom it may concern", and a horse makes a mighty big target. It's pretty inevitable that some of those horses are going to get hit and fall down, probably further injuring themselves.
The problem is this is very hard to fake in live-action film and TV barring CGI or similar advanced effects. Training a horse to fall down on cue is hard and training a horse to fall down at a gallop is nigh-impossible. During the 1920s and 1930s, movies often did horse fall stunts with tripwires, with fatal results for many of the horses. Actually shooting a horse is, of course, cruel, expensive, wasteful, and probably illegal, but is sometimes done where the law doesn't prohibit it.
Come to think of it, the "expensive" and "wasteful" parts make this a Justified Trope in some situations; they've got a pretty good resale value if you manage to kill the rider instead.
The result is that you can watch dozens of Westerns and never see a horse get shot, no matter how many riders are shot off of them. Because people tend to be sensitive to cruelty against horses, this trope also appears in non-live-action fiction.
See also Automaton Horses, where horses are invulnerable to a lack of non-combat care (that would do a lot of harm a real horse). As this trope is very common, the examples on this page favor aversions.
- Averted in Berserk, where not even horses are safe from being killed horrifically, like everyone else.
- No horse is safe in Sword of the Stranger, especially evident in one gloriously violent battle where a horse's legs are sliced off mid-run to bring down the rider.
- An interesting case in Attack on Titan. The Titans, the primary antagonists of the series, solely target humans and ignore all other organisms. However, horses are the most likely to get injured or killed since Titans are so damn persistent when trying to capture and devour humans and a human's only chance of escaping a Titan is on horseback. In fact, horses used by the Survey Corps are specifically bred to outrun titans. The Female Titan took this Up to Eleven, when she charged up to a riding soldier and punted him and his horse, sending them flying football fields away.
- The Arms Peddler: Garami's cart is pulled by a zombie horse, which can take huge amounts of damage without stopping.
- In the 1950s Western tale "The Unmasking of Johnny Thunder", Johnny is trying to get at a villain. He is entrenched at the top of a hill, so Johnny can't easily shoot him or get near him without being shot. So, Johnny deliberately falls off his horse, leaving one foot in the stirrup, so the horse can drag him to the top of the hill. Johnny is shielded by the horse and the fact that he's approaching the villain feet-first. It apprently never even occurs to the bad guy to shoot the horse.
- Averted in the French comic book series Zorn et Dirna, where the childrens' father, an anti-heroic Blood Knight cuts an enemy rider's horse clean in half from front to back with a single horizontal strike from his cleaver-like polearm, with very graphical depiction of the poor beasts' innards pouring to the ground. The kicker ? Since the story takes place In a World... where nobody can die unless their head is severed (and then again, a victim's soul will simply take refuge inside their killer's body), the horse survives it.
- Averted completely in Tex Willer: shooting the horse is a common tactic in a chase (both for the chasing and the chased party), especially when one or both factions don't want to actually hurt the other, and the only times it doesn't happen is when the chaser wants to steal the horses.
- Averted in Braveheart in a rare moment of historical realism;note the horses get as much of a nasty shock as their riders when the Scots down (historically nonsensical) taunts and pick up very much more lethal stakes. The depiction was so graphic that the film-makers were actually investigated by authorities to see if any animal cruelty had occurred. (For the record, it hadn't, the horses were mechanical.)
- Another example shows William Wallace with a bit of Combat Pragmatism. In the heat of the Battle of Stirling, Cheltham charges Wallace on a horse. Wallace taunts him as he does, then merely slashes Cheltham's horse across the face before decapitating him.
- Averted in the 1989 Henry V. During the Battle of Agincourt, several horses (and their riders) are brought down in graphic fashion.
- Averted in most recent East Asian movies, because they actually have very decent animal trainers, but also because they have huge horse resources and one or two dead horses doesn't bother the company too much.
- Averted via CGI in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
- Although it was sometimes oddly done, since in several shots of the charge on Pelennor you can clearly see that the rider and horse die simultaneously, from a single arrow, before falling to the ground.
- Averted in Lonesome Dove.
- Played with in The Magnificent Seven. Britt shoots a bandit off his horse at long range. After Chico compliments him, he demurs: "I was aiming for the horse."
- In the big fight scenes, however, there are several instances of horses falling down from being shot, or being dragged down. They appear to be well-trained stunt animals.
- In both film versions of True Grit, Rooster's horse is shot during the final shootout and subsequently collapses on him, trapping him underneath it.
- This trope is especially noticeable at the climax of The Last Samurai. The samurai launch a final charge that is halfway between a Last Stand and a Desperation Attack, only to be cut down by a group of Gatling guns. The director essentially said of this scene "I want it to seem like they're running into a wall of bullets." However, while all the samurai are hit multiple times and every last one is killed, all the horses are unharmed, and not a single one gets hit by a bullet.
- Likewise in the film adaptation of War Horse. A successful cavalry charge comes to an abrupt end when the fleeing German troops man their Maxim guns, whereupon riderless horses are shown streaming past the position. Of course that's not to say horses weren't shot, but to shoot the riders they'd have to pretty much shoot through the horse as well, given they were firing upward from ground level.
- This was probably done more for a nice symbolic shot more than anything else. It was also notably the only use of CGI in the movie (as it would've been unsafe and cruel to get the horses to ride past several machine guns). Elsewhere in the movie we do see horses die, but this is due to exhaustion rather than in-battle (with one horse being executed off-screen when it is too tired to go on).
- Averted in Conan the Barbarian where several stunt horses take a tumble. This led to animal rights protests outside the theater, until the director showed them how the shots were done.
- The Magnificent Seven (2016): Chisolm rides his horse through the glass door of a restaurant with it seemingly suffering no ill effects.
- Averted in For a Few Dollars More. Colonel Mortimer's Establishing Character Moment has him shooting the horse of a wanted man who's fleeing him. When the man picks himself up and tries to shoot Moritmer, the latter calmly kills him with another well-aimed shot.
- Averted in P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath series, especially in volume 6, Honors Paradox.
- A Song of Ice and Fire's battle scenes have numerous descriptions of people having horses cut from under them, and even attackers deliberately targeting them. Don't tell that to Sansa Stark, though, she's disillusioned enough as it is.
- In fact, numerous characters ranging from amoral Blood Knight Jaime Lannister to Ser Duncan's grandfatherly mentor in the prequel stories advise against even naming the horses one rides into battle, so you don't get too attached to them when they inevitably die. None of them take their own advice, and they all treasure their horses.
- Ser Balman Stokeworth is charged with arranging the death of Ser Bronn of the Blackwater. As Bronn is a recently-knighted mercenary, Ser Balman challenges him to a joust, assuming his greater experience with tourneys will enable an easy victory. Ruthless Combat Pragmatist that he is, Bronn sends his lance into Balman's horse, then finishes him off with a dagger as he lies crippled.
- Similar to the example with Ser Balman and Bronn above, in The Hedge Knight Royal Brat Aeron Targaryen deliberately aims for his opponent's horse in a tourney. In this case, it has nothing to do with Combat Pragmatism and everything to do with Aerion being a vicious sadist who is practically impossible to punish for his misdeeds, being a Prince and all.
- In The Dresden Files, Harry finds himself facing down the Knights of the Summer Court, mounted, charging him, and very angry. The Knights are all of a significantly higher caliber of magic than he, so he can't just blast them. He stops their charge by averting this trope, and raising an invisible wall about two feet high. The fall doesn't kill the Knights, but it negates a huge advantage.
- Averted in just about every major battle scene of The Reynard Cycle. To date there is only a single named horse that has managed to live through more than one book in the series, outliving even its owner.
- Averted in 20 Years After, when the musketeers frequently force their horse to rear up and take a bullet shot at them. At least one character has a horse land on his leg, but fortunately is not seriously injured. And then there's all the horses that die during a chase sequence, whether in combat or simply collapsing from exertion.
- Averted in Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown, in which a valuable warhorse is gravely injured (it's said that he should have been mercy killed, but he was the king's and generally a Cool Horse, so the army takes an extra forever to get home so they can go at his pace). Said horse's eventual (very, very eventual!) rehabilitation is a major plot point.
- Discussed in All Quiet on the Western Front as the soldiers hear horses dying on the battlefield and are more shocked about that than their dying human colleagues (they're used to humans dying in spades at that point).
- Commonly averted in the works of Bernard Cornwell, but an in-universe example (of sorts) occurs in 1356, in which the Sieur Roland, a champion of numerous tournaments, faces an opponent on the battlefield for the first time. His opponent is very surprised when Roland targets — and kills — his horse, instead of trying to knock him off it. Roland's comment: "This isn't a tournament."
- Casually averted in one of Robert E. Howard's "Dark Agnes" stories (possibly Blades for France), in which the protagonist aims for a cloaked rider but instead hits the horse completely by accident. Of course, it's only in this way that she learns of the conspiracy driving the plot of the story.
- The Redemption of Althalus: Inverted when the protagonists defend a region against an army that's Born in the Saddle. Their fortifications and battle tactics specifically target the horses under the correct assumption that killing them would leave the warriors crippled, out of their element, and emotionally devastated by the loss of their beloved mounts.
- Averted and discussed in the Firefly episode "Heart of Gold." Before The Siege at the climax of the episode, Mal advises the whores to shoot the man, not the horse, because a live horse without a rider will be a distraction to the enemy, while a dead horse is cover. In the aftermath, you can see some dead horses on the ground.
- Averted earlier in the series when a Villain of the Week tried to take cover behind her horse during a gunfight. Mal simply shot the horse and it fell right on top of her.
- Thoroughly averted in Game of Thrones. In a first season episode, we see The Mountain decapitate his own horse with a single swing of his sword for failing him during a joust. In the Battle of Winterfell in Season 6, Jon Snow is shot off his horse and other horses crash into each other during the ensuing melee.
- Referenced in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when horse-riding knights pursue the Scoobies - after a suggestion from Spike, Buffy assures Willow they won't hurt the horsies - then tells Giles to "Aim for the horsies". We don't see any horses hurt though, although one is run off the road.
- Averted in Band of Brothers. Lt. Winters men ambush a German horse-drawn supply cart. The horses can be seen rearing and whinnying in fear as the bullets fly, and a wounded horse is shot after the ambush is over.
- In Warhammer ordinary horses (and most other similar sized mounts) are effectively invulnerable; a mount has its own attack but in combat only the rider can be hit and if he is killed then both rider and mount are removed. Thus it is impossible in the rules to, for example, unhorse a knight and have the knight stick around and fight on foot. In fact, cavalry units generally have an extra Wound than infantry, so horses even make their riders more invulnerable. In some versions of the fluff, it is noted that a "killed" cavalryman may have simply lost his horse, dismissing a knight without his steed as ineffective.
- Averted by the "dragoon" unit type in Warmachine, which starts out as a cavalry unit. After it takes a certain amount of damage, it becomes a footsoldier (with the player actually replacing the "mounted" miniature with the "unmounted" miniature).
- Dungeons & Dragons: The game addresses the problem of high-level characters riding mounts with a fraction of their hit points by allowing players to make a ride check to negate any attack made to their mount.
- In the jousting match in Defender of the Crown, subverting the trope by hitting the opponent's horse costs you the land you conquered.
- Averted in Red Dead Redemption and its prequel, where you will likely lose a good many horses to gunmen, large falls, or vicious wildlife. There's nothing to stop you from shooting enemies' horses out from under them, either; indeed, it's often easier without Deadeye or auto-aim to hit a pursuer's horse and leave him scrambling to run after you instead of trying to shoot him while both of you are moving. Heck, towards the end of II, Arthur Morgan's horse gets shot while he and John Marston are escaping from the Pinkertons on their trail.
- Averted in Shadow of the Colossus in which a stomp from one of the Colossi sends both you and your horse flying and you take damage. The horse will limp for a while and then stay out of the way until called again. The game averts this in an even meaner way when Agro falls into a ravine while throwing Wander to safety. The ending shows the horse hobbling back to the central temple, at least.
- In many RPGs, like Ultima IV and Exile III, your horses are of no interest to enemies, and aren't even seen as creatures in the gameplay mechanics.
- Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, where horses are just transportation when you are riding them, and just an immobile block when not ridden. In games featuring enemy cavalry, this trope tended to zigzag. Sometimes, such as in Dynasty Warriors 4, attacking the enemy horsemen would knock them off their horse, whereupon the player would have to continue to fight off the now dismounted cavalry who would never remount. The player could also take such riderless horses for themselves. Other times, as in Samurai Warriors 2, both horse and rider would fall over and die when their shared life bar ran out, but only striking the rider actually diminished the aforementioned life bar, probably for balance reasons.
- Averted in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion; horses can be fought and killed just like any other creature in Tamriel. They can even be killed whilst being ridden, and it's not uncommon to kill your horse while running down a too-steep incline if you aren't careful. The only (non modded) exception is Shadowmere, an invincible horse given to you for completing the Dark Brotherhood quests. Like every other invincible NPC in the game, she can still suffer a Non-Lethal K.O..
- The horses in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim also are killable by the enemy, and a tough enough monster or opponent can kill it right out from under you. However, Shadowmere is also nigh invulnerable (technically just having very rapid health regeneration) in this game, and with Dawnguard you can also summon an invulnerable undead horse named Arvak.
- Subverted to a degree in Mount & Blade. Horses can be knocked out, and if this happens there is also a chance they will be lamed. Being lamed temporarily lowers a horse's stats until it heals again (which can take weeks) but won't kill it unless it's already lame.
- Sunset Riders: in the riding sections, the bullets just pass through the horses and only the riders can be hit. Except for stage boss "Dark Horse": a few bits of plating allow his horse to stop any bullets that hit it.
- Averted in the "Old Wounds" level of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Friendly horses can and will die during the mission, and near the end of it Mason's horse is run over by a tank.
- The Total War games avert this. When a mounted unit goes down, the horse goes down with them in the earlier versions. However, mounted units also have a higher chance of "healing" casualties, representing the rider surviving the death of the mount and simply taking up another horse for the next battle.
- Subverted in the later games; some horses die when struck by bullets or arrows or when caught in explosions. Other times, however, merely the rider gets hit, and the horses ride safely into the sunset... occasionally dragging the dead or dying cavalryman along with them.
- Your horse in Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life and Another Wonderful Life is one of the few invulnerable animals. You don't need to feed it, you can ride it for hours, and it can't get sick or die. Averted in other Harvest Moon titles though.
- Horses in Minecraft are no less mortal than any other mobs in the game. They can easily fall from too high places, stumble upon cacti, fall into lava or get in the way of exploding Creepers. Good thing they have Regenerating Health though.
- Kingdom Rush Vengeance averts this with the Cavalier enemies. They're horse-mounted Paladins with a surprisingly weak amount of health since Vez'nan's dark army units actually attack the horse. When the Cavalier loses all its HP, the horse dies and the much more durable Paladin dismounts.
- Epona from The Legend of Zelda series is invulnerable to damage in most of her appearances, though this is notably averted in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild where she (and every other horse) are just as killable as any other non-NPC in the game. Fortunately, the Horse God Malanya can revive them.
- Vaarsuvius of The Order of the Stick averts this to prevent a charging enemy from using his Mounted Combat Feats.
Vaarsuvius: Thrice-cursed Spell Resistance! It's almost like the universe is trying to deliberately force some form of arbitrary equality between those of us who can reshape matter with our thoughts and those who cannot.
General Chang: Zap the horse, then.
Vaarsuvius: Why? It hardly seems to be doing that much-
General Chang: So he can't use his mounted combat feats on us. Hurry!
- Averted in Moonflowers. When Alima Song's group is getting chased by The Wild Hunt, the FBI agents who help them out deliberately aim for the horses. It's noted that even if a bullet doesn't land, the horses still get spooked into accidentally trampling each other, and when Aine McCallum drives the group's car into the mob, she takes out almost thirty of them at once.