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Identity

The Horse Girl is Back. Did It Ever Really Leave?

Horse girls are misunderstood, but they only really care about the opinion of their horse, anyway.

Few stereotypes are as immediately recognisable as the horse girl. 

Even before the internet, horse girls were prominent in literature, film and TV – from the Saddle Club’s famous trio to Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet. When I was younger, a horse girl was someone – usually a pre-teen – who was obsessed with horses. For the most part, horse girls were presented as generally white, middle class, unable to talk about anything but horses, incredibly annoying and, ultimately, cringe. While it has been a long time since I interacted with a “young” horse person, I suspect parts of this definition still ring true. The genre itself is a certified honeypot, guaranteed to capture the hearts of children, set up franchises, prompt sequels, and is almost always certain to make shitloads of money.

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Perhaps one of the internet’s purest measurements of cultural capital, Urban Dictionary, gets cruelly specific with the descriptors of a horse girl: “will ‘gallop’ on the track during gym class”, “wears t-shirts with horses on them and tapered denim pants”, and, a personal favourite, “will look down on you because you are not a horse”. 

But the defining characteristics of a horse girl have been waxing and waning in recent years.

In 2018, the Twitter zeitgeist clung to “horse girl energy” as a way to describe someone who is “blissfully clueless about the world”. There didn’t even need to be a horse involved; this was less about horses and more about who you were as a person. It was the hypothetical antithesis to “Big Dick Energy” – a direct rebuke of what was deemed cool by the patriarchal status quo. The horse girl was a mythical figure who dared to say: “No! I will not shut up about the thing I love just because you say it is ‘cringe’”. And even while being bullied relentlessly for it, the horse girls stood their ground. 

Now, the internet is flooded with discourse on the horse girl’s purported rise. But did it ever really fall? Not a runway goes by without a gracious smattering of horse girl aesthetics, whether they emerge in innocent nostalgia for the greener pastures of adolescence, or in kinky looks that bastardise the refined uniform of the equestrian sport. And, as with many subcultures in these strange times, the grown-up horse girl community has found a home on TikTok. 

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Of course, the more that people bully you for liking horse riding, the further you lean into it.

Hundreds of videos under the “horse girl” hashtag feature conventionally attractive riders in cute, figure-hugging gear, doing dance trends with their horses or mucking about with friends in the stables. The biggest TikTokker in this realm is Erin Williams, an international dressage rider for Great Britain. With a staggering 3.9 million followers, she’s the definitive example of how horse girls are using the app to make riding hot again.

It doesn’t stop there, though. HorseTok is a strange place. There’s an entire genre of horse-themed “thirst traps”, where stomachs sway and hips grind seductively on leather saddles, with captions like “horse girls do it best”. Simping over Spirit the stallion is quite common – even on “normal” or only slightly horny Tok – but horse girls mostly simp over their own horses. Videos declaring “he’s the only man for me” and “my dad’s not the one you should be afraid of” are all over the internet. The top-ranking horse girl videos feature bikini-clad, in-saddle coordinated dance routines – clips that make it difficult to keep defending horse girl culture, not so much because of the thirst traps themselves but rather the abject heterosexuality of it all. 

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Speaking with a former horse girl, Ella, I am pleased to find this is not the rule. “I’m sort of on ‘gay, super-pretty aesthetic horse girl’ TikTok,” they said, linking me to Fiona Snapple and Emmie Sperandeo.

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But of course the queerification of horse girl fandom is on TikTok, home of lesbian cottagecore, forestcore and cowpersoncore. Where else would it be? Compared to the insinuating poses, “riding” innuendos and occasional “pick me” energy of hetero HorseTok, this flip side of the genre is wholesome, inviting and deeply comforting.

The Jumping Like A Horse TikTok account is a bold example of horse girl energy on a very public forum. The videos – where the creator runs on all fours like a horse, clearing 1.3 metre jumps – are at once unsettling, enraging, fascinating and impressive. This is about loving something deeply and doing it proudly for the world to see, despite how utterly bizarre it looks to outsiders. This is peak horse girl energy.

As a former inner-city horse girl, the culture’s return has me feeling nostalgic. 

For most of my life, my parents assured me I would grow out of my obsession – but I was ruthlessly determined to do the opposite. I had big dreams of owning my own horse one day, training it up, forging a deep bond and competing in the Olympics. I just had to figure out how to become rich and force my family to uproot to the countryside. It was all totally feasible.

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Here’s how the horse girl fandom typically takes someone over: you’re not so much born a horse girl as you are completely indoctrinated into it. Horse-loving is instilled in girls from an incredibly young age; things like My Little Pony and The Saddle Club cultivate a deep obsession with this pastoral lifestyle fantasy. Of course, the more that people bully you for liking horse riding, the further you lean into it. Horse girls are misunderstood – but they only really care about the opinion of their horse anyway.

I was fully indoctrinated by horse girl fiction. From Black Beauty to the Thoroughbred series, I read it all. I would bring my tattered copy of The Black Stallion with me everywhere, cradling it to my chest so people would immediately know I was that girl. The horse girl canon is rife with particular tropes, perfectly put together to inspire a vice-like grip on any young kid looking for something to be interested in. 

In these books, you learn that horse girls are not like the other girls. They’re constantly ridiculed for their chosen sport. Thus, refusing to care about what people think of your horse obsession is a foundational piece of all of this. By the time I started volunteering at the local children's farm in exchange for riding lessons, the wealth of knowledge I had built from my years of reading made me absolutely insufferable

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But then high school humbled me, and I finally did grow out of it. My absurd amount of horse knowledge remains latent, mostly useless, somewhere at the back of my brain. A decade of pure rote learning, ages four to fourteen. I sometimes wonder what I could have achieved if I’d allotted my time elsewhere.

The horse girl is an aesthetic, an attitude and a lifestyle, and its return to mainstream fashion is evidence of a growing movement seen online and in our personal lives: We don’t give a fuck about what you think. The cultural shift away from the male gaze and towards the absurd and wholly camp is thrilling, and finding new inspiration to try outlandish ways of dressing has been made possible by creators on platforms like TikTok and Youtube.

Another horse girl I spoke with recently, Eliza, said the mainstreaming of the subculture is mostly to do with models Gigi and Bella Hadid, whose viral Instagram pictures with their horses continue to capture hearts and imaginations worldwide.

“Honestly, I’d almost entirely chalk it up to the Hadids. Bella being on trend while posting horse videos definitely changed things,” Hay said. “But also COVID probably affected it too. People began to idealise the pastoral and rural, connecting with nature and escaping the city.”

This much is obvious: the horse girl fantasy represents an ideal, especially when it comes to access. The truth is that horseback riding is incredibly expensive, and therefore a very privileged sport. Last year in the United States, the equestrian community was challenged by young equestrians to confront the white privilege, gatekeeping mentality and racism it has always harboured. 

During 2020, when people everywhere struggled with loss of income or straight up lost their livelihoods while the affluent complained about having to isolate in their mansions, there was a certain gaucheness to rich people dressing like rich people. But luxury fashion houses have weathered the pandemic and come out at a monetary surplus. Following this, the tropes of rich people's aesthetics have bounced back into fashion, and the equestrian look comes along with the return of “polo”, “preppy” and “tennis at the country club” – evergreen trends, constantly resurfacing in the fashion cycle.

In the fashion world, the horse girl aesthetic spans a spectrum from classically chic to gloriously unhinged. On one end, you have the Hadids: passionate horse girls hanging out at their mom’s huge ranch and outfitted, of course, in luxury riding gear. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the chaotic horse girl: high camp and mysterious. The girls who get it, get it. The girls who don’t, don’t. Kim Petras’ full Collina Strada look at this year’s Met Gala was one example of the modern horse girl. Tiny Jewish Girl’s never ending quest to blow her audience’s mind with her outlandish personal style is another.

But the unfortunate gendering of “horse girl” belies the universal appeal of the sport. It has led to the harmful stereotype that horse riding is just for girls, and reminds us of the disproportionate mockery that has always been levelled at anything enjoyed by non-men.

The horse girl’s return is thus a victory for the cuties everywhere who choose to gallop to the beat of their own drum. And if to fear cringe is to become cringe, then to embrace horse girl is to become free.

Follow Arielle on TikTok and Instagram.