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The Urban Myth Behind London’s Horse Statues


Erecting statues to commemorate great monarchs, leaders and war heroes and their horses is a long-standing British tradition. As well as a nod to history, these monuments are popular tourist attractions, but could there be more to these tributes than meets the eye?

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In London, where over a dozen horse-and-rider combination statues can be found, stories of a secret design code which reveals how the rider of each horse died are still popular.

How to Read the Secret Code

It’s pretty easy just look at the horse’s hooves. One leg off the floor means the honoured figure received critical injuries during a war or battle and probably died soon after as a result, while if only two hooves are touching the ground it depicts a man who died during active conflict. Those whose horses are lucky enough to have all four hooves firmly on the floor survived the skirmishes and died another way.

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Fact or Fiction?

Statistically, you could expect some of the statues involved to conform to this tale. However, further examination reveals some gaping holes in the story, which is now generally acknowledged as an urban myth and not true at all.

For example, figures sculpted on horses with one hoof raised include Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, who never fought in a war, and Edward VII, who died of nothing more than old age. To be fair, William III, whose horse has two hooves on terra firma, was injured when he fell from his horse, but it had tripped over something, not fought in a battle!

There are several horse statues which have four feet down and their riders lived long lives, but not all saw conflict, so that’s not really trustworthy evidence either.

Alongside these historical pieces, London now has many modern horse sculptures displayed on the streets for the public to enjoy. Tributes to our own much-loved animals are also becoming increasingly popular, making it easy to commission a bronze horse sculpture of your own pet from specialist artists such as http://www.gillparker.com/.

There may be no special hidden meaning behind the design of the horses’ feet in iconic London horse-and-rider statue combinations, but it’s a harmless tale, and like many urban myths there probably was once a credible kernel of truth in there somewhere.

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