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How Netflix’s She-Ra paid its respects to horse girls

Showrunner Noelle Stevenson says it was no accident

Swift Wind, Glimmer, Bow, and She-Ra Netflix
Simone de Rochefort has been producing & hosting YouTube videos for Polygon since 2016. She co-directed the upcoming documentary The Great Game: The Making of Spycraft.

In the second episode of Netflix’s She-Ra, our hero Adora sees a horse for the first time and promptly loses her dang mind.

The Horde’s competent Force Captain, the chosen wielder of a legendary sword, blushes and gushes over this magnificent beast. When she finally pets his velvety nose, the background drops away, leaving them in a swirling void of pink and sparkles.

The scene isn’t just hilarious, says showrunner Noelle Stevenson, but was also a way of conveying a key insight into Adora’s character.

“In the original show, Adora already had a horse when she was in the Horde and that was the horse that eventually turned into Swift Wind,” Stevenson said. But when plotting the reboot, that didn’t sit right with her. “None of the other soldiers have horses, but she does. So it made sense to me that she would meet the horse who would become Swift Wind somewhere outside the Horde.”

It was a reasonable choice that spiraled into horse girl madness.

It’s a recess thing

If you’re not a horse girl, this scene might be an educational revelation. Horse girls are those young kids who get obsessed with horses. You know the ones. They read books about them (The Saddle Club series, Misty of Chincoteague), watch movies (Black Beauty … and again, The Saddle Club series), and play horse games at recess. NPR did a short podcast about the phenomenon, and most of the participants said the appeal of horses was the independence and power that they offer.

Psychoanalysis aside, this scene in She-Ra accurately depicts how a horse girl sees a horse, Nature’s most majestic and volatile achievement. Horses are beautiful, and sensitive, and dumb as rocks, and frightened of life. They are like large dogs with sharp feet, and as a little girl I lived for them.

Removing horses from the Horde made Stevenson wonder how Adora would react to seeing one for the first time. What if our heroine was a secret horse girl?

“It’s her first time seeing a horse and suddenly she just becomes a little girl again, just like seeing the wonder of the world in this majestic animal that she had no idea even existed.”

Adora’s pure, gleeful response to seeing a horse also implies a certain grimness in her childhood. “It was just a way of showing that like there are all these parts of Adora that have been stifled by her upbringing and she’s getting her first exposure to them and having these huge reactions.”

Horses and glitter and princesses, oh my

She-Ra is a show that finds the joy in things that have been deemed trite by male-dominated pop culture: horse girls, makeover montages, princesses. In a later episode, Princess Glimmer and her best guy friend Bow are equally jazzed to get invitations to Princess Prom.

That’s one of the things that makes She-Ra so refreshing. It’s a show that’s drenched in glitter and rainbows, with a background color palette of soothing blues and purples. It appeals to an audience who likes these things, but never panders. She-Ra is a show about fighting evil, but also about unabashedly finding joy in things: whether that thing is lighting your ship on fire, or investigating ancient technology. Adora discovering that she loves horses is a natural extension of that.

In short, the show gets what it means to be young and to love something with all your heart. The horse gag is hilarious without being malicious. In the parlance of the Extremely Online, I felt very seen, which was just one of the reasons why She-Ra was such fun to watch.