Horse and human

Man in harmony with horse

Dora’s information about how New World

pagans thought horse and rider was one person ..they thought it must be a god (Sc 7)

is symbolic of Alan’s obsession with horses. By achieving union with them he literally and metaphorically ‘rises above’ the constraints of his provincial and isolated life.

Alan envies the ease with which the cowboys, in the many Western films he saw, rode without constraint:

They’re free. They just swing up and then it’s miles of grass.. (Sc 13)

He feels that they share his reverence for horses. However, he is scathing about human attempts to impose human vanity on what horses can achieve and to take the credit for it, as symbolised by Dora’s grandfather ‘Indulging in equitation’.

Alan realises that a bit and bridle cannot be avoided in order to ride, but contrives one for himself too (‘the Manbit’) so that he may share in the horse’s experience. Otherwise he uses no tack, so that nothing divides him from Equus. At the climax of his ride in Scene 21 he cries, ‘Make us One Person!’ The image of Alan embracing Nugget, which is foregrounded as the first line of both acts of the play, is also symbolic of this desire for union.

Erotic physicality

Since the horses on stage are either humans or puppet/masks, the written text emphasises their physical reality. The first time Alan mounts Trojan, he recalls the physical sensations it leaves him with:

There was sweat on my legs from his neck. .. His sides were all warm.. (Sc 13)

When he rides Nugget and the other horses at night, he experiences physical discomfort (‘Little knives – all inside my legs.’ Sc 21), but this almost seems a prerequisite for the erotic excitement experienced whilst riding:

I’m stiff! Stiff in the wind! .. Mane on my legs, on my flanks, like whips! .. Feel me on you! .. I want to be in you! (Sc 21)

It is perhaps Alan’s awareness of the intense physical intimacy he has shared that makes him so alert to the physical intensity of the vengeful horses, when he bestows his affections elsewhere. The sound amplification makes their presence very real to him (if not to Jill) behind the ‘locked door’ at the back of the barn.

Horses, poetry and power


An elevated attitude towards horses is first conveyed to Alan by his mother, with her tales of Prince and the conquistadors. This is emphasised by the exalted language of references to horses in the King James Bible. Dora and Alan allude to Job 39:19-25 which passage poetically emphasises the power of horses. Dora also begins for Alan an association of horses with the risen Christ depicted in Revelation:

11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. 12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. .. 14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations Revelation19:11-15 (KJB)

The elevated language and the power inherent in the imagery is deeply attractive for Alan. The horse becomes, for him, a replacement object of worship when his father’s intervention robs him of the focus on Jesuscrucifixion

Power - and its demise

Since his first ride Alan was also captivated by having ‘All that power going any way you wanted.’ (Sc 13). He is proud that, despite an initial struggle, and resistance from the horses, he ‘mastered’ them and overcame their harsh ‘Straw law’. The power he harnesses enables him to get a symbolic revenge against the ‘Hosts of Pifco’ and their ilk. Through riding Alan achieves freedom from his parents and their rules and narrow-mindedness, as well as from the responsibilities and consumerism of modern society.

When Dysart sets Alan free from the hold of Equus, he can only do so by filling the void with the ‘Normal’. The noble epithets for horses are replaced by derogatory terms such as ‘gee gees’ and ‘nags’. The substitution for their vivid life force is a tame ‘metal pony’ (scooter) on which Alan may ‘trot’ but no longer gallop. Devoid of Equus, Alan’s future life is described by Dysart as ‘safe’ and ‘without pain’ but at the cost of also being passionless, tethered, shrivelled and trampled (Sc 35).

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