Friday, October 25, 2013

Haunted House of the Horse II

In honor of Halloween, I present to you a collection of the equine-related strange, interesting, frightening and gruesome. The stories you are about to read are real.
You've been warned!

The Nidstang


The Nithing Stake or Nidstang was the head of a horse set on a pole, sometimes complete with its hide and hooves. Ancient pagans believed turning the horse's head towards their enemies and carving a curse into the wooden pole would ensure death or disaster for those that opposed them. As it turns out, that ancient belief is still powerful-- cases of people raising Nithing Stakes continue to this day, especially in Iceland. One man raised a horse's head to protest a parliamentary decision involving the Kárahnjúkar dam project. Another erected one in order to threaten neighbors.

A horse's skull was also seen as a token of protection against witches, ghosts, wolves and evil magic, and was often mounted over stables, beehives and homes.

Sometimes horses were buried whole under the corners of stable buildings, or their bones hung from trees. Horse skulls were also sometimes placed under the hearthstones of fireplaces. Even when real horse skulls were no longer used, builders often carved horses into the wooden beams of houses.

 Knot Magic

Lots of superstitions have been associated with the intricate knots that appear in horses' manes. 

In early Europe, female spirits called mara were believed to ride horses, which left them exhausted and covered in sweat by the morning. They could could also entangle the hair of the sleeping man or beast, resulting in "marelocks," "mare-braids," martovor or "mare-tangles" in Swedish and marefletter and marelokker in Norwegian. Even trees could be ridden by the mara, resulting in branches being entangled. The undersized, twisted pine-trees growing on coastal rocks and on wet grounds are known in Sweden as martallar "mare-pines" or in German as Alptraum-Kiefer.

Shakespeare himself mentions the knots in horses' manes in Romeo and Juliet. He blames Mab, the Queen of the Faeries, for them:

"This is that very Mab That plaits the manes of horses in the night, And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs, Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes..."

In 2010, the UK experienced a panic over these knots, with people reporting them to police as evidence of criminal mischief. Some believed the knots were the work of horse thieves who had marked the horses as ones to be stolen later. Others thought the knots were witchcraft, and even speculated that occuplt groups were planning to sacrifice horses. Even the BBC was taken in! Of course, we know all of that is absolute rubbish... right?

Pit Ponies

Not so long ago, coal mines in several countries relied on horse power for pulling heavy carts underground. "Pit ponies" were sturdy ponies short enough to work in the low-ceilinged tunnels. To get a pony down into these tight spaces, they were often lowered by ropes down vertical shafts in a "sitting" position. Due to the difficulty of getting them in and out of mines, these ponies very often lived and worked most of their lives underground. Many died below ground from overwork, toxic air and accidents without ever having seen the light of day.

The mask above is protective headgear for a pit pony, who had to deal with falling rocks, crowded tunnels and pitch blackness.

Pit ponies still work in the dark in several undeveloped countries... and were used in the UK as late as the 1990s.

Horses Drowning for Eternity

On a certain street in Moscow, twenty horse heads strain to rise above the pavement. They are "swimming" upstream, battling a steep stone angle while water from a hidden fountain trickles down on them. Their bronze eyes rolling in terror, carved mouths gasping for air, the horses appear to be eternally drowning in concrete.

This disturbing "sculpture" apparently memorializes Russian author Mikhail Sholokhov, who won a nobel prize for his novel, "And Quiet Flows the Don." I have no idea how this sculpture does that-- personally, this just gives me nightmares.

Pegasus Device

Art by GirGunny

Last but not absolutely not least, I must pay tribute to the most gruesome thing on this list... the Pegasus Device in the Rainbow factory. Yes, we're talking about My Little Ponies. Don't be too quick to dismiss this terrifying story though! Let me explain...

The newest reincarnation of the Ponies we loved in the 80s is the "Friendship is Magic" franchise. Its excellent cartoons, with their quality animation, inside jokes and great writing, have attracted many adult followers. Known as "bronies," these men and women have created a whole world of fan-made pictures, comics, short cartoons and stories for a mature audience. One of these stories is the deeply disturbing "Rainbow Factory."
The story addresses the questions:
  • What happens to pegasus ponies who are unable to fly well?
  • What kind of distopian, thought-controlling world could produce ponies 100% dedicated to their country and to the strength of their race?
  • How do the pegasus ponies in Equestria control the weather?
  • Where do rainbows really come from? Surely such beautiful things could not be created without some kind of sacrifice...
The story has spawned several video and musical tributes. Here's the animated Rainbow Factory song, and here is a death metal version.

Art by AnScathMarcach

...aaaaand that's it for this blog post. Really, there's nothing I can give you that could top My Little Pony death metal.

If you're absolutely itching for more scary stuff, you can read last year's Haunted House of the Horse, or check out this gallery of terrifying images.

There are also tales of ghostly horses here and here.

Happy Halloween!


  1. In Sweden we sometimes still say "martova" for really bad tangles in the mane of a horse, for fun ;)
    I belive that in Sweden (I'm Swedish) the tradition was that you were supposed to kill the animal that had a maretangle, beacuse it was possesed by the mare.
    The mare is one of the thing a horseshoe turned with the ends pointing up over the doors of a building was suppoesd to protect you against (lots of older swedish houses and barns still have this for tradition).

    There is also some stuff about that the mare is the female version on a werewolf.

    Here is a photo of a martova that was collected in 1921 of a horse that people for real thought had been ridden by the mare:

  2. Ohhhh, spooky! Oh, and the My Little Pony thing? It's worse than you can imagine. But since this is a family oriented site (???) I'll stop here.

    And thanks! Happy Halloween everybody

  3. Huh, well if it were thieves putting them in manes, that would explain why my grumpy old gelding never gets them.....

  4. Spooky post and interesting :-) I never knew about the My Little Pony thing, that's bizarre, but I found this one day by accident and for some reason find it hilarious:

    Happy Hallowe'en!!!!