The Cool Horse is a mainstay in fantasy works everywhere. They may be normal, or of a different color but you'd be hard pressed to find a fantasy world without it. They are proud and noble beasts, carrying their masters into battle, or off into the sunset once their work is done. Many times they are a character in their own right, with as much praise and respect as their human (or non-human) rider.
However, some steeds are not content with just any master. These beasts, be they horses, dragon, giant yellow birds or what have you, decide for themselves who is worthy enough to ride them and who is not. They may be a Unicorn, a Hellish Horse, a Sapient Steed or just extremely proud. Whatever the reason, these horses simply cannot be broken by just anyone.
In short, the only ones who can ride such steeds are those that they choose themselves.
Not always a sign of The Chosen One but it often is. If multiple people can in fact ride them, then it is only because the steed has decided that each of them are worthy. In most cases such steeds will allow others to ride them should their master wish it. However, in the most extreme cases, this steed's chosen rider really is the only one who can.
If they're a normal horse (or the equivalent), they often have a reputation for being stubborn and difficult. If they are a magical or mythical creature, expect their choosiness in riders to be a staple in the legends surrounding them.
Please note that this trope refers to a steed that specfically chooses, or at least seems to choose a rider of its own accord. Examples that would fall under this trope include:
- A single unique creature that only Alice can ride
- A group of such creatures exist but Alice can only ride the one that chose her
- Alice or Bob could ride the steed in question, but only because it finds both worthy to do so.
Examples such as a steed that is particularly stubborn but could be "broken" by anyone, or the Proud Warrior Race being the only ones who know the "secret" to taming the creatures would not fall under this trope. Please be mindful of this when adding examples.
Subtrope of Cool Horse and sister trope to Only the Chosen May Wield. Related to Sapient Steed which often goes hand in hand with this trope. Compare Only I Can Make It Go, which has to do with cars. Compare/Contrast Bond Creatures and Familiar for creatures with a similar bond that is created through more magical or psychic means. Not to be confused with You Must Be This Tall to Ride. See here for those who are unable to ride.
- In Dragon Ball, the kinto'un is a semi-sentient magic cloud that Only the Pure of Heart may ride. (That trope was originally called Nimbus Privileges, after a common dub name for the kinto'un.) Goku, Chi-chi, and Gohan are its most common riders.
- The Fruit of Evolution: While searching for a steed, Seiichi comes across a talking female donkey named Rurune who is extremely violent and won't let anyone ride her. He manages to tame her by grabbing her by the hind legs when she tries to kick him, throwing her up in the air and putting her back into her pen like a helpless baby, making Rurune accept him as her master.
- Eureka Seven: Renton and Eureka are the only ones who can pilot the Nirvash. In one of the video game tie-ins, Nirvash allows Sumner to pilot it so that it can be reunited with Eureka.
- Likewise, the only person who can pilot TheEND, is a girl named Anemone.
- Kokuo, Ken-oh/Raoh's steed in Fist of the North Star, is portrayed as being very selective in who it lets try to ride him. That it is also huge also doesn't help matters. Only two other people earned enough of his respect to ride him: Juza and Kenshiro, the latter having defeated Raoh/inherited his legacy.
- Overlord (2012): Albedo tries to ride a Hellish Horse called a bicorn, the Evil Counterpart to a unicorn: two horns instead of one, black instead of white, and as it turns out, can only be ridden by non-virgins (it just trembles and refuses to move). Particularly embarrassing for her because she's a succubus.
- Pokémon: The Series:
- Pokémon: The Original Series: In the episode "The Flame Pokémon-athon!", it is stated that Ponyta's (and most probably also Rapidash's) fiery mane burns anyone who he/she does not trust. Ash (who's supposed to be riding Lara's Ponyta in a race) gets burned the first (and second) time he tries to touch Ponyta, but eventually the two learn to work together.
- Pokémon the Series: XY: Although not a mount, Ash's Froakie is said to leave any trainer that doesn't live up to its standards, and had done so multiple times before it finally met Ash.
- In Zoids: New Century, Liger Zero is stated to go beserk when any other warrior (save Bit Cloud) tries to pilot it.
- Lucky Luke has Jolly Jumper, who will do painful or embarrassing things to anyone trying to steal him. Once an annoying mountie tried to confiscate him, but Luke tells Jolly to "take him to the end of the world". Jolly gladly does so, and in the next scene the confused mountie is in an icy field, asking a penguin "Have you seen a horse?"
- Thorgal's horse, Fural. In the second volume, after getting rid of Thorgal, the chieftain of the Viking village holds a contest for who can keep himself on the horse's back for at least a few seconds, and of course all challengers end up tossed off immediately. Then Thorgal himself (in disguise) participates in the contest, and Fural becomes calm. Since Thorgal specifically wishes to lose, he stealthily wounds Fural with a sharp flint stone to get the horse agitated.
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: Rainbow and Stardust are a pair of horses with intelligence that gets them compared to humans and they run as wild horses and refuse to be captured or ridden most of the time, but allow Diana and Etta to ride them after the women save Rainbow after the stallion was shot by criminals.
- Hope for the Heartless: Avalina's horse Mitternacht used to be ridden only by the knight who owned him. After the knight died, the horse refused to allow anyone to approach him. When Avalina slowly got through to him, he accepted only her as his rider afterwards, allowing others to ride him only by her will.
- In Barbie and the Secret Door, Princess Alexa is the only one allowed to ride the Queen Unicorn.
- Avatar: The Ikran are dragon-like creatures that the Na'vi use as mounts. Every Ikran chooses its own master, and only then if the one they choose can best them in combat and tame them.
- Worth special mention is Toruk, who is said to be untameable by even the strongest of Na'vi. Jake manages to do so.
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the traumatic events which lead to the death of Prince Théodred cause his horse Brego to become completely wild and possibly mad. Only Aragorn is able to soothe the beast and ease his troubled mind; he then turns Brego loose, but the horse finds him later and serves as his mount for the rest of the series.
- An interesting take occurs in the first The Love Bug movie. Herbie, the titular vehicle is a living car that moves on its own, has emotions, and even speaks to some degree (albeit only through use of his horn). He decides for himself who he'll let drive him, and anyone he doesn't like could just as easily be thrown out of the seat.
- Transformers: While Sam Witwicky is looking for a car to buy for his birthday at a used car dealership, the dealer explains to him that ‘the driver doesn’t choose the car, the car chooses the driver’. Though in this case, it’s because the car in question is a sapient Transforming Mecha, named Bumblebee, who was tasked with protecting Sam.
- Gib the Water Horse in the Arcia Chronicles is less of a horse and more of a sentient force of nature, so he is extremely picky about whom he allows to ride him. Specifically, the only human he has ever allowed close to him is Rene Arroy, who just happens to be an old seadog as well as an experienced horseman.
- The Black Stallion series has both the Black and an island horse named Flame who are so wild that only the two young men they've formed a bond with can ride them. In The Black Stallion and the Girl, the Black accepts gentle Pam Athena as his jockey, but even then he doesn't give her full control.
- In Taran Wanderer, the fourth book in The Chronicles of Prydain, this trope comes into play when Taran's beloved horse Melynlas is stolen. He's able to prove that the horse is his when Melynlas refuses to cooperate for any rider except Taran.
- In The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Ranyhyn are horses with enhanced intelligence, speed and endurance. A person can go to the Plains of Ra where they live and offer himself to them. If a Ranyhyn considers that person to be worthy it will allow him to ride it.
- Dinotopia: Only a Skybax's rider can even get close, and the creature itself chooses when the rider has proven himself or herself as worthy to be made an apprentice and later a master rider.
- The titular Dragonriders of Pern are chosen this way. The dragons form an empathic bond with a particular human, who is then shanghaied into the life of a dragonrider. The bond is so strong that riders of dragons who mate often wind up having sex as well whether they have a relationship or not. There are some cases (such as Holth and Moreta) in which a dragon will temporarily allow someone other than the rider they are attached to to ride him/her, which usually requires approval from that dragon's usual rider (and possibly from the temporary rider's usual dragon) and for the dragon involved to either like the temporary rider (such as Ruth agreeing to let Brekke or Sharra ride him without usual rider Jaxom being along on that trip) or be convinced that the situation requires it. This is rarely undertaken lightly, as substituting dragons and riders carries an extreme risk: because dragons never outlive their riders and riders rarely outlive their dragons, any misfortune that befalls a mismatched dragon/rider pair will result in four casualties rather than the usual two.
- Inverted in Everworld — no horse, whether normal or sapient, will allow a witch like Senna to ride it.
- The Gandalara Cycle by Randall Garrett. Sha'um are giant ligers that select one person to bond with telepathically, and typically only carry that one person. One additional passenger can be carried, however it depends on both the bonded's rider mood and the sha'um itself, (If you're a rival to the rider, or the sha'um doesn't outright like you personally, then you're outta luck). The protagonist sha'um will willingly allow his rider's love interest, (being somewhat of a Shipper on Deck for the two), as well as a close personal friend to ride, and even carries the friend without his bonded in an emergency situation. Also, if you're already a rider, you better not even think of riding another sha'um but your own without permission.
- Early in the Gor series it is established that only natural tarnsmen are able to ride war tarns (giant birds used as cavalry), and even then if a tarn doesn't like a particular tarnsman it could just as easily rip him to shreds. In later stories the craft of tarn domestication is further advanced such that any trained rider can ride any tarn.
- Harry Potter: Hippogriffs choose who they will allow to ride them. As Malfoy finds out, insulting one is a good way to get sent to the hospital.
- The Companions of the Heralds of Valdemar series are magical white horselike beings which bond to a particular human rider. The Companion always chooses the human, never vice versa. Being Chosen by a Companion makes someone one of the titular Heralds, who have Psychic Powers and serve as a combination of Mounties, rapid messengers, Circuit Judges, military scouts and special forces, and Search and Rescue service, among other things. Heralds are considered to be intrinsically incorruptible, because the Companions don't Choose people who would take bribes or the like. Because of this, it is required that the ruler of the country be a Herald, and no one who has not been Chosen by a Companion is eligible to be ruler or heir.
- In Exile's Valor, Prince Karathanelan assumes the Companions are just distinctively-colored horses and heads off to Companions' Field to break one of them to saddle. The only reason he survives to the novel's final fight scene is because Caryo goes easy on him.
- Companions will only bear someone other than their Chosen in an emergency, or if that person is a very great friend of their Herald. They also only Mindspeak with each other and their own Chosen, even though most can make their thoughts heard by anyone. Companions who habitually break these rules are rare, and are considered somewhat eccentric.
- Shin'a'in warsteeds from the same universe may be outright dangerous to strangers approaching, let alone trying to ride, them. There's no magic to that, though; it's merely a combination of selective breeding (giving them a desired, breed-typical temperament) and training. For practicality reasons Tarma and Kethry have their horses, Hellsbane and Ironheart, trained so that each will accept either of them to ride it.
- In the Hurog duology, the protagonist's love interest is given a horse. She mounts it, and suddenly everyone cheers. She is then told that this horse has only been ridden by the protagonist and his little sister, and usually accepts no other rider. The horse seems to be entirely unmagical, and the woman in question is rather embarrassed, because everyone takes her to be the chosen one ... which in this case means the one destined to marry the protagonist. She likes him, but she is a fighter and spy, and marriage is not on her to-do list. She feels she has to refuse him so that he can marry a proper housewife.
- In Legend of the Animal Healer, the Animal Healer is identified by the power to ride a white giraffe.
- The Lord of the Rings has Shadowfax of the Mearas. Even the Rohirrim were not able to tame him. Gandalf however, was able to subdue him quite easily, and Shadowfax served as his steed from then on.
- The Messenger Series: Only the current Messenger is allowed to ride Favour, and only because he permits it. The first time Rose approached Favour, she didn't realise what was going on and she speculated about whether he belonged to someone or whether he could be tamed. She is driven to her knees before him in fear and shame for having such thoughts about him. He, not his riders, is the one in control.
- Protector of the Small has a mundane example in Peachblossom. He's a gelding with a foul temper and generalized misanthropy after having been abused, and Daine has to persuade him to let Kel ride him. Kel is the only person who can do so (he'll kick or bite anyone else) until Tobe, who has horse magic and can communicate with him like Daine does.
- In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Red Hare, a huge Cool Horse so named because "it can run fast as a hare and is colored red", only ever allowed Lu Bu and later — after the Lu Bu's disposal — Guan Yu to ride him, as no one else could tame him.
- This seems to be how dragon riding works in A Song of Ice and Fire:
- While not as intimately connected as the Starks' direwolves, each dragon is connected to a specific driver, who has to qualify to some nebulous criteria which aren't fully established, although various theories are advanced involving legendary bloodlines, magical dragonbinding horns, and more mundane bonding rituals. Also, if you are a rider of a specific dragon, you'd better not try to approach another one: the criteria are not interchangeable. Dragons also bond for life; until that dragon's rider dies, it will not follow other people's commands.
- A plot point is how Daenerys Targaryen struggles to rein in her three dragons. By A Dance with Dragons, she has successfully mastered Drogon, but because one person can only command one dragon, this means that the rest of her dragons (Rhaegal and Viserion) will always be wild if she keeps them to herself. A vision in A Clash of Kings suggests that Daenerys must find two other riders to tame them ("The dragon has three heads").
- The original reason why the Targaryens, and the Valyrians before them, practiced incest is because they believed it would preserve their ability to ride dragons. However, having Valyrian blood is not a guarantee for a successful bonding, as Quentyn Martell (whose ancestor was a Targaryen princess) finds out the hard way.
- The Stormlight Archive: The Ryshadium, a breed of horses that pick their riders. Dalinar and Adolin each have a Ryshadium mount, larger and smarter than other horses. Their antagonist, Sadeas is frustrated that he is unable to have a horse as fine, despite his great wealth. An offhand mention in the second book implies that the Ryshadium originally belonged to the Knights Radiant, and millennia-old worldhopper Hoid is pleasantly surprised when he discovers them. There's a scene in Words of Radiance where for plot reasons Dalinar's Ryshadium needs to carry Adolin for a short while and it apparently took a lot of convincing.
- The War Gods has the Sothoii Coursers, the descendants of magically altered horses. They are as intelligent as humans as well as being larger, stronger, faster and having more endurance than any natural horse. Some of them will enter into a psychic bond with a human (who are called Windriders). Like the Heralds and their Companions, the Windriders are respected by all Sothoii, and are guaranteed to be honorable (as the Sothoii see it anyway). Coursers won't associate with anyone who isn't.
- Played straight in Wildwood Boys by James Carlos Blake — Quantrill rides the most meanest horse in whole regiment. And he is quite fond of that dog-killing and people-biting big roan. Even names him "Charley".
- This was a big part of Fury. None of the men who tried could tame the black horse, though they usually were abusive, but the orphan boy could ride him.
- In Dinotopia, the Skybax played this up more than in the books, choosing their riders after training was finished.
- Only Xena could ride the second Argo, although the horse did allow Joxer to keep her in his corral, because he had taken care of her dam, and presumably her as a filly.
- The Unicorn is a magical horse-like creature depicted in various mythologies. It is said that only a maiden is capable of capturing and taming it.
- Centaurs, horselike creatures but fully sentient, do not like being ridden on by people but will, when the situation requires it, carry a human on its back to safety or to alert others, etc.
- Pegasus could only be tamed by use of a magic bridle provided to Bellerophon. Even this was not enough to prevent Pegasus from throwing Bellerophon off when he tried to fly to Olympus (although in one version Zeus sent a horsefly to bite Pegasus midair, causing him to buck and throw off his rider). No one else ever rode himnote .
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Early editions had Warhorses which a Paladin could befriend. Each Warhorse/other mount (often they were some kind of Cool Steed) is specifically bonded to a particular Paladin, and won't respond to others without their master's order.
- Dragon magazine #149 "Dragon's Bestiary" article. The Kiita is a horse-like creature that chooses its rider based on specific criteria. The rider has to be one of the Good alignments (Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good), more intelligent than the kiita, and a member of the monk, cleric or ranger class (chosen in that order if there is more than one potential rider).
- 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms Elves of Evermeet supplement. Moon-horses live on the Isle of Evermeet with the elves. A moon-horse decides for itself if it will act as a mount for a particular elf.
- Exalted has demigod horses (sired by Hiparkes, the god of their species) who, on top of being stronger and faster than any ordinary horse, have magic with which they can throw off unwanted riders. If a God-Blooded horse is being ridden, it is because they have accepted that rider as a partner, not a master. Even Rhianna, one of the Solar Exalted, had to diplomatically convince one to serve as her mount (mostly by arguing, "Look, if you don't let this happen, the horsebreakers will kill you for being useless to them").
- Final Fantasy XIV has themed mounts which drop from each expansion's Extreme trials bosses. By the final patch of the expansion (X.5 or so), if the Warrior of Light has collected all of them in a set, they can go to take on a quest that allows them to meet the Wandering Minstrel who gifts them that expansion's biggest mount.
- Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII has the Angel of Valhalla, a white Chocobo spoken of in legend in the Wildlands that can only be tamed by its one true master. This of course turns out to be Lightning. Justified since the angel is actually the reincarnation of her Eidolon, Odin.
- Aloy is the only person in Horizon Zero Dawn who can ride Machines. This is because she's figured out how to override their code with a device she scavenged off a dead Corruptor, effectively taming them. Since no one else knows how to do this, no one else can ride.
- By the time of the sequel, this is no longer true, as there is a tribe of reel Tenakth who also have access to machines. The developed the skill from Sylens, who learned it from Aloy by watching her focus. Aloy also gives mounts to some of her allies.
- It is revealed in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II that only the Awakener can pilot a Divine Knight. However, secondary contractors are allowed inside the Divine Knight but cannot operate it as Alisa finds out in her bonding event.
- Link's steed Epona in several incarnations of The Legend of Zelda may be this.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, she is described by Ingo as being a "wild horse". The only ones she seems to be friendly with are Malon, who raised her, and Link.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Epona is empathic with Link from the very beginning. Link loses her after entering the twilight the first time, but when she returns in Kakariko village she is seen bucking off several bokoblins who try to capture her, only calming down when Link captures her.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Giant Horse (a dark, aggressive horse that is hinted to be a descendant of Ganondorf's stallion) is described like this. And it is very difficult to tame and ride, yet Link can prove his worth to do so (which is also necessary to complete a sidequest).
- Ninja: Shadow of Darkness: The Sky City level ends with a boss battle against a winged T-Rex, which you have to whittle his health down to a small fraction... at which point a cutscene will show you taming the beast and riding it to escape the city.
- Exiern has Tiffany's unicorn. It will only allow Tiffany to ride it; whether this is due to her status as The Chosen One (although chosen for what, no one quite knows) — as revealed in The Wild North story-arc — or whether it is due to the traditional qualification for unicorns (something that would definitely disqualify Princess Peonie), we just do not know.
- Dora the Explorer: Don Quixote's horse Rocinante will only let knights ride him; therefor Dora the lady knight is the only one who can ride. When Boots tried to ride with him, he is harshly knocked off.
- In Spirit: Riding Free, Spirit (like his eponymous sire) is too rebellious to be broken by any methods available to Miradero's settlers. In typical Intelligent Animal fashion, he allows Lucky to ride him, because they established a rapport before he was caught and he knows she had nothing to do with his capture. Of course, any sort of saddle or paddock is out of the question — they ride together, because they're kindred spirits, but Lucky knows she does not own him.
- Voltron: Legendary Defender: When the Paladins arrive at the Castle of the Lions and awaken Princess Allura, she explains to them that only the Lions may choose their paladins. While the Green and Yellow lions stick to their chosen paladin throughout the whole series, the Black, Red, and Blue lions each choose a different paladin at one point in the series.
- The Black Lion at first chooses Shiro to pilot it. But in Season 3, after Shiro ‘disappeared’ in the Season 2 finale, the Black Lion then chooses Keith to pilot it.
- The Blue Lion, which was the first lion that the paladins discovered, only allowed Lance to pilot it, before choosing Princess Allura as its new Paladin, when the Red Lion chose Lance as its new paladin.
- Bucephalus was a stallion of excellent breeding, being sold for a rather exorbitant price despite being considered largely untameable. A young Alexander the Great was able to tame and ride him, but no one else ever could.
- Which he supposedly could do by noticing the horse was afraid of his own shadow, and riding it directly into the sunlight.
- The joint German/American MBT-70 was a deconstruction of this trope: It was the most advanced tank in the world for a long time after it was produced, but the complications regarding its intricate control scheme meant that the only people qualified to operate it were educated Engineers and COs, certainly not enough for a weapon intended to replace the entirety of the two armies' prior models.
- There was apparently a way to get your horse to do this in ancient times. Basically it involved beating the horse whenever someone tried to ride it, unless a 'code word' was given. Eventually the animal would not let anyone ride without the 'code word', for fear of being beaten. Thankfully, this practice has fallen into disuse.