Behold a White Horse - Color Mythology

Horses of the Four Seasons

The Eastern and Bedouin superstitions about colors stem from the most ancient times. In the Bible the prophets refer to them symbolically, as in Zechariah 6:1 - 7 and Revelation 6:2 - 8, where we find that the four horses of the Apocalypse correspond to the colors attributed to the moon in its various phases, and to the properties accorded the four seasons.

White Horses

White was the principal color of the new moon, goddess of birth and growth, representing the spring. White was symbolic of victory and success. White horses were symbolically sacrificed throughout history and have long been ceremonial favorites.

White Horse Sayings:



“ . . .Behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him; and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.”

“This is the mount of kings, because it brings good fortune and luck, and with it you are able to obtain what is necessary.”

Red (Chestnut) Horses

Red was the color attributed to the full moon, goddess of love and battle. Symbolically it represented summer. The red horses are said to be symbolic of war and bloodshed.

Red Horse Sayings:



“And there went out another horse that was red; and the power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another; and there was given unto him a great sword.”

“If thou has a dark chestnut, conduct him to the combat, and if thou has only a sorry chestnut, conduct him all the same to combat.”

“The good fortune of hoses is in their chestnut coloring, and the best [swiftest?] of all horses is the chestnut horse.”

Black Horses

Black was the color of the old moon, the goddess of death and divination. It represented harvest and fall, and was symbolic of deep calamity and distress, judgment and resurrection, as well as eternal life.

Black Horse Sayings



“And I beheld, and lo a black horse: and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.”

Good fortune is in al adham al akhrah [the pure clear black], with three leg markings and the right fore free; and he is the most precious of the blacks.”

Pale (Cream, Pinto Horses) Horses

The pale horse (lit. “green”) was a symbol of the terror of death and typified winter and barrenness. Some interpreters render the translation “piebald grey”, emblematic of a dispensation mixed in characters.

Legendary traditions and experience agree in according a decided superiority to coats of a deep and decided hue; coats of a washy or pale color have never been esteemed, and they judged long and broad white markings on the head, body, and legs to indicate a degeneration of the species and be signs of unsoundness.

Pale Horse Sayings:



“And I looked and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.”



“Fly from him like the plague, he is the brother of the cow.”



“Never purchase a bald-faced horse with four white feet, for he carries his shroud with him.”

Bay Horses

The bay was praised for his vigor, endurance, and strength. The ancients considered the ruby to be an antidote to poison, to preserve persons from the plague, to banish grief, to repress the ill effects of luxuries, and to divert the mind from evil thoughts. It was the alchemist’s term for the elixir, or philosopher’s stone.

Bay Horse Sayings



“The horse’s coat must be an index to his character"

“It is beyond all question that the Kumaite, i.e., red mingled with black appearing as a deep chestnut, is preferred by the Arabs to all others.”

If you hear that a bay horse fell from the highest mountain and was safe, then believe it.”

“Of all the horses in my armies, the one that has best borne the fatigues and privations of war is the true bay [al ahmar al assam]."

“If Allah causes thee to enter Paradise thou wilt have a horse of rubies, furnished with two wings, with which he will fly whithersoever thou willest.”

Grey Horses



Federuci Tesio made a study of color inheritance as related in his book Breeding Thoroughbred Horses . . . As to the color grey, Tesio remarks that “grey is not itself a coat, but a pathological discoloration of the only two basic coats which are the bay and the chestnut.”

Grey horses lose the pigment in their coats at an early age, either partially or completely. As we know, all grey foals are born either bay or chestnut (with the occasional rare exception); thus grey are to two distinct varieties, having white hairs on a bay background, or white hairs on a chestnut background.

According to Badjirmi, the Arabs divided the grey, al ashab, into seven subtypes. The most favored was al ashab al marshoush, “and he resembles the bird and is the strongest and tallest, and he is called al thobabi [fleabitten, also debbani].”

He also mentions in this section about al ashab al qortasi: “He is the one whose white is so intense so it is not mixed with any other color. And he resembles the white of al ghora [the star on a horse’s forehead], because it is the most intense and clearest white. And his skin is white [pale pink]. And he may have blue eyes or one blue eye. And if his eyes are black he is called ashab akhal. Other division of grey are al asfar, having seven sections, and al akhdar, having five; at total of 19 for grey. All these greys have dark skin, except the one mentioned above, who apparently belongs to the true white coat.”

Excerpts from The Classic Arabian Horse by Judith Forbis

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