J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings built the foundation of the modern fantasy genre. Dwarves, elves, orcs, wizards, kings, warriors, quests, dungeons, and yes, even dragons. I love The Lord of the Rings. But you know what it doesn’t have?
Even one single goddamn unicorn.
Though the three books in the Lord of the Rings trilogy have some fancy horses, and even a very prominent horse-loving girl, it never quite puts the pieces of a Horse Girl Story together.
But the Lord of the Rings has become Horse Girl-worthy, and the reason has everything to do with Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy.
The Lord of the Rings is neither horse-y nor girl-y
Yea verily, Shadowfax is a cool-ass horse. He’s descended in a direct line from Felaróf, the steed of Eorl the Young, the first king of Rohan, who was said to be able to understand the speech of men. That makes him one of the Mearas, an ancestral line of Rohanian equines who are said to be like to horses as elves are like to men, and may only be ridden by a king of Rohan.
On top of all that, Shadowfax was thought to be untamable, until he met Gandalf. Here’s how ardently Tolkien allows Gandalf to describe the most sacred tenet of the Horse Girl story, the golden and beautiful moment when a wild horse bestows a priceless gift — its trust — on a special person:
Never before had any man mounted him, but I took him and I tamed him...
That’s it. That’s the whole description.
Shadowfax is extremely cool — but he is essentially a very fancy, wizard-only fast travel system, an answer to the problem Tolkien faced when he realized that Gandalf needed to get from one end of his carefully planned map to the other in a completely unrealistic timeframe.
Gandalf is surely no Horse Girl, but what about Éowyn? Éowyn is a girl, and as the princess (well, the niece of a king without heirs) of an entire Horse Girl nation, she is closely associated with horses. However, the books do not show her in a strong bond with any particular equine, making Éowyn’s Horse Girl status a purely semantic one. Windfola, the steed she rides to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, went mad with fear the moment the Witch-King of Angmar arrived, threw both his riders, and bolted not just away but out of the story entirely.
The biggest Horse Girl Energy in the Lord of the Rings is Sam’s relationship with Bill the Pony, who he nurses back to health after Frodo purchases Bill from cruel masters for much more than his actual worth. And while Bill and Sam do reunite in the end, the Fellowship sets him free before they enter Moria and he isn’t seen again for hundreds of pages.
There simply aren’t enough horses, or enough people who form strong bonds with them, in the Lord of the Rings for it to truly be Horse Girl Content. But that’s not to say that folks who were both Horse Girls and Lord of the Rings fans weren’t excited about The Two Towers hitting theaters 2002. If memory serves, I stitched a white horse to a green tank top to wear to the theater, a sartorial interpretation of the banner of Rohan.
But let’s be clear on this: It took the transformative power of cinema to truly make Tolkien’s masterpiece into a Horse Girl story.
Aragorn ❤️ Brego 5eva
The Two Towers did serve up a great horse/human romance, but just not from the corner anyone would have expected. Instead of getting treated to the deep bond between the Rohirrim and horses, we got a different pairing: Aragorn and Brego.
You won’t find a horse called Brego anywhere in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In the books Eomer still loans Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli two horses, but the steeds are named Hasufel and Arod. Aragorn gives Hasufel back to the Rohirrim a book later, when Elrond’s sons show up shortly after the Battle of Helm’s deep with (among other things) Aragorn’s actual horse, Roheryn.
Aragorn and Brego were an invention for the screen, a bit of plot logic necessary to one of the trilogy’s weirder detours from the actual story of the Lord of the Rings books. The Two Towers has a tangent in which Aragorn is presumed dead after a fight with some warg riders and drifts down a river on his back while either vividly hallucinating, or psychically conducting, a conversation with Arwen. When he reaches shore, he is found by loyal Brego, the only creature in the world who had faith that he was still alive. Brego gently, tenderly lies down next to him, encourages him to mount up, and then ferries him back to the plot.
Here’s the thing to know about this bit: Actor Viggo Mortensen is absolutely gaga for horses, and it is obvious in every single scene he shares with the horses that play Brego. Reader, I am begging you to examine the way Viggo Mortensen plays Aragorn like he is one hard cut away from making out with his horse at any given time.
Now, in the scope of Horse Girl Media, Aragorn and Brego are at the same level as Sam and Bill the pony — it’s definitely there, but it’s not the driving force of the experience. But this isn’t just about Aragorn and Brego. It’s about Viggo and Uraeus.
Viggo Mortensen is a giant Horse Girl
Fans who were suckered in by Horse Girl Aragorn and the opportunity to ogle many many pretty horses running fast — whether it was Arwen’s steed, Asfaloth, horses made of water, or the steeds of the Rohirrim — did what any fans of the Lord of the Rings movies did.
They dove into the extensive and entertaining suite of special features on the DVD editions of the movies, and discovered a hidden treasure trove of information that retroactively imbues the Lord of the Rings movies with Horse Girl Content.
For example, Mortensen apparently had something of a way with horses on set. Asking a half-ton animal to lie down inches from the actual face of your film franchise’s face isn’t any crew’s idea of a good time. But as the folks behind the camera sweated their way through the scene where Brego coaxes a wounded Aragorn onto his back, Mortensen’s trust was rewarded with the shots we see in The Two Towers.
The actor so adored the horses he worked with on set that he bought two of them, Uraeus and Kenny, and became friends with Jane Abbott, stunt rider and horse trainer on the production. As a part of the “Horse Department,” Abbot was tasked with helping to turn a handful of inexperienced animals purchased for bargain prices into actors that travelled well, wore odd costumes, and could execute commands in the face of yelling crowds, heavily costumed riders, smoke and rain machines, flaming torches, and every other strange thing that might crop up on a film set.
She was also one of two riding stunt doubles for Arwen, and in the process fell head over heels in love with Florian, the Andalusian/Lipizzaner mix stallion who played Asfaloth in The Fellowship of the Ring. “He’s the dream horse,” she told New Zealand’s Scoop Independent News in 2001 “every little girl’s dream horse to play with and have fun.”
Unfortunately, she knew she would have to part with him at the end of production, since as a fully trained animal actor, he was now worth more money than she could afford to give. That is, until Viggo Mortensen purchased Florian and gave him to her, because Viggo Mortensen isn’t just an honorary Horse Girl. He’s a Horse Girl ally. This is literally a Horse Girl Story.
Horse Girls built the Lord of the Rings movies
Did you know that when you put out a casting call for New Zealand extras who own their own horses and are willing to camp out over night for the chance to be in a Lord of the Rings movie, you wind up with a lot of women?
Boom. Hey, Lord of the Rings-loving Horse Girls? Basically any horse-riding Rohirrim extra more likely to be a Horse Girl than not. Given the amount of time that waves of Rohirrim pour over the screen during those films, that’s a significant increase in girlyness compared to Tolkien’s original work.
Horse Girls made the Lord of the Rings movies possible, and that makes them Horse Girl Content.