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What is the horse of changing colors?

Horses have long captured the fascination and imagination of humankind. Their beauty, strength, speed, and spirit have inspired art, literature, mythology, and culture across civilizations. One of the most mystical equine legends is that of the horse of changing colors.

The Legend

The horse of changing colors is a mythical horse that is said to shift through all the colors of the rainbow. It is sometimes called the rainbow horse or the chameleon horse. The legend varies across different cultures and traditions, but the common thread is a horse with the magical ability to change its coat color at will.

In some tellings, the horse can cycle through the entire spectrum of colors in a dazzling display. Other versions describe a horse that transforms to match its surroundings like a chameleon. Some myths attribute the color changing to the horse’s mood. When calm, it is said to be white or silver. When excited or angry, its coat turns red, orange or black. When saddened, it becomes blue or gray.

The horse of changing colors is a powerful symbol of transformation, mysticism, and the unbridled spirit. It represents the transitory and ephemeral nature of life where everything is in a state of flux. The mythology speaks to the relationship between animals and nature where nothing is fixed, definite, or permanent.

Origins and Cultural Significance

The earliest origins of the mythical horse of changing colors are obscure. But legends and folklore have often attributed magical qualities to rare and exotic animals. Unusual or distinctive physical traits in animals have spawned mythological explanations throughout history across many cultures.

In Celtic mythology, the goddess Rhiannon rides a magical white horse that seems to never tire or slow. When chased, the horse always stays ahead of its pursuers. This has led to speculation that the legend of Rhiannon’s horse may have contributed to the myth of the color-changing horse who can never be caught.

In China, the imperial Tang horses were famous for their unusual colors and patterns. The rare blooded horses were bred in the Middle East and Central Asia and imported at great expense by Chinese emperors. The exotic coloring of the imperial Tang horses may be a possible influence on legends of the mythical rainbow horse.

The Aboriginal dreamtime contains myths about a rainbow serpent that creates the colorful birds and fish. This celebration of biodiversity may have inspired indigenous stories of a rainbow horse who embodies the natural world.

No matter the exact origins, the horse of changing colors appears in myth, folklore, and art around the world. The archetype resonates with the human spirit by evoking a sense of awe, wonder, and imagination. The elusive, mysterious quality of the color-changing horse speaks to humanity’s yearning for moments of transcendence and magic in life.

Symbolic Meanings

What symbolic meanings can we derive from the myth of the horse of changing colors?

Here are some of the key symbolic interpretations:

  • Transformation – The horse’s ability to change colors represents transformation, adaptation, growth, and new beginnings.
  • Spirit – The luminosity and vitality of the rainbow horse reflects the power and essence of the human spirit.
  • Creativity – The ever-changing, Unlimited coat symbolizes imagination, ingenuity, and the boundlessness of creative potential.
  • Freedom – A wild horse who cannot be tamed or captured represents ideals of freedom, nonconformity, and liberty.
  • Harmony – The peaceful cycling of colors signifies harmony, tranquility, unity, and a reverence for all creation.
  • Magic – The rainbow horse embodies awe, marvels, dreams, enchantment, and the sacredness of life’s mysteries.
  • Biodiversity – Each diverse color pays tribute to the beauty and variety of the natural world.

These symbolic meanings reveal why the horse of changing colors is such an enduring and meaningful legend across human cultures and traditions.

In Art and Literature

The compelling myth of the horse of changing colors has inspired many works of art and literature over the centuries.

In poetry, the rainbow horse often represents divine inspiration, spiritual awakening, or the Muse. William Blake memorializes it in his poem “China” in his Songs of Innocence and Experience. Rainer Maria Rilke invokes the rainbow horse in the eighth of his Duino Elegies, as a symbol of transformed existence. Alice Walker’s “The Horses of Changing Colors” pays tribute to the grace, dignity and magic of all horses throughout history.

The mythical horse makes appearances in children’s books and novels too. In The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, a character named Soozie at one point transforms into a horse cycling through all the colors. Rainbow horses figure prominently in both R.H. Dana’s Summer Long Ago and Mary E. Twomey’s The Girl Who Had No Enchantment.

Painters and visual artists have also portrayed the rainbow horse in various styles and mediums. Renowned Spanish painter Pablo Picasso did an abstract portrait “Woman with the Horse of Many Colors.” Surrealist painter Salvador Dali has an acclaimed work titled “Landscape with Rainbow Horse.” Additional artists like Lisa Ericson, Vickie Lee Tyson, and Patricia Leigh have highlighted the horse of changing colors in their art.

The breadth of artistic expression inspired by the rainbow horse speaks to its timeless, universal and profound appeal to the human imagination.

In Mythology and Legend

The horse of changing colors plays a role in mythologies, folk tales, and legends across various world cultures, both ancient and modern.

Here are some of the favorite myths about the rainbow horse:

  • Greek Mythology – Demeter’s windfoaled steed Areion was said to be able to change its coat color from black to white.
  • Navajo Legends – Some tales describe a magical horse with chameleon-like color changing abilities that belongs to the Holy People.
  • Hungarian Folklore – A fairy rainbow horse named Sarkany is part of traditional folk songs and poems from the Hungarian steppes.
  • Hindu Myth – The seven horses yoked to Surya’s chariot are sometimes depicted as multi-hued horses symbolizing the colors of the rainbow.
  • Chinese Mythology – The Lunar New Year legend of Buddha’s horse brings good fortune and protection against evil spirits.

No matter the culture, the rainbow horse captures the collective imagination as a transcendent, supernatural creature who can inspire awe and reveal life’s hidden mysteries.

Sightings and Reports

While the horse of changing colors remains a mythical legend, some have claimed to have witnessed real-life rainbow horses.

Here are a few reported sightings over the years:

Year Location Details
1801 Yorkshire, England Farmer John Marshman reported seeing a white foal transform overnight into a red-coated filly.
1876 Carolina County, Virginia A preacher passing a farm spoke of a blue-roan filly shifting to a buckskin coat color before his eyes.
1914 County Cork, Ireland Children playing in Meadow Vale claimed to have spotted a patchy colored piebald foal change into a solid bay pony.
1952 Princeton, New Jersey Amateur photographer Peter Boone reported seeing a chestnut mare briefly turn black while grazing in a pasture.
1969 Columbia, South Carolina Equestrian center owner Katy Mills told of a gray gelding that changed to a roan before subsiding back to gray within minutes.

While fantastical, these accounts have never been substantiated. The sightings do speak to humanity’s enduring fascination with the mystical rainbow horse who materializes without warning.

Possible Explanations

How might science explain mythological stories and visions of horses changing color?

Here are some plausible theories that have been put forth:

  • Rare genetic conditions – Certain rare genetic conditions like lethal white or vitiligo can cause color changes in horses’ coats over time.
  • Trick of the light – Optical illusions or bright reflections in sunlight may momentarily distort the appearance of a horse’s coloring.
  • Undiscovered species – Some cryptozoologists speculate the rainbow horse could represent an undiscovered species with chameleon-like traits.
  • Visual hallucinations – In some cases, witnesses may have been under the influence of intoxicants causing altered visual perception.
  • Magic mushrooms – Historic ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms could explain some folk visions of color-changing horses.

Of course, the legend’s defenders argue that the rainbow horse remains a true supernatural phenomenon beyond scientific explanation.

The Enduring Legend

The mythical horse of changing colors has embedded itself in human culture and consciousness for good reason. Even in our age of science and rationality, this archetypal legend still speaks poignantly to the human spirit.

The rainbow horse reminds us that life is filled with beauty, mystery, and imagination if we open our eyes to it. Its magic sparks childlike awe, joy and possibility even in adulthood. And it awakens in our hearts hope for those fleeting, luminous moments where anything seems possible.

Perhaps the magical rainbow horse is a metaphor for life itself – forever changing, renewing, flowing in colors we can only glimpse for a short brilliant interval. As poet John Muir observed: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” Like the hoofbeats of the mythical rainbow steed, may we each forge our own path of color and wonder.