One of the more interesting trends I’ve noticed over the last few years is the cultural backlash against “horse girls.” From TikToks depicting awkward teens who won’t shut up about horses, to youtube videos laughing at horse girl meme pages, to tweets referencing the very specific genre of movie directed at horse girls, it seems that the internet has a collective fascination with the bizarre culture surrounding equestrian sports.
As an equestrian myself, and as someone who used to fit just about every single one of these “horse girl” stereotypes, I’ve long wanted to write something about this phenomenon. Time spent immersed in this culture has given me a pretty good understanding of horse girls. Plus, time spent away from the sport and involved in different internet communities has given me a bit of perspective on that culture.
So today, this is what I’m doing. Fangirlish is all about celebrating fandoms and the people in them, so I’m going to look into the fandom surrounding horses. I have scoured the internet for memes for, by and about horse girls. I have revisited some of the horse girl media that shaped my childhood. I have cast a critical eye on the culture I grew up in. Today, I am finally asking: what is a horse girl? Why are they the way that they are? Why is it so easy to make fun of them? And, most importantly, do they deserve it?
What is a horse girl?
A horse girl is someone whose entire personality revolves around horses. She’s usually a pre-teen or teenager. She usually has braces, and is indifferent to fashion trends and completely unaware of how uncool she is. Her bedroom is covered in pictures of horses, her wardrobe is full of clothing with horses on it, and she probably collects model horses of some kind. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of different horse breeds, only consumes media about horses, and is pretty much incapable of holding a conversation without tying everything back to horses. If it sounds like I’m being pretty heavy-handed with the stereotypes here, I just want to clarify that this is a very accurate description of me as a kid.
The less charitable stereotypes about horse girls include the idea that they want to be horses, want to have sex with horses, or constantly smell like horses. Common horse girl activities include hobby horsing and jumping like a horse.
I should also clarify that you don’t actually have to ride horses in order to be considered a “horse girl,” and not everyone who rides horses is a “horse girl.” This stereotype is specifically about being a very awkward pre-teen girl who is extremely obsessed with horses.
Horse girls are also almost always white, wealthy and conservative. Equestrian sports – some of the most expensive sports to get into – are rightfully categorized as elitist, and their athletes as out-of-touch mean girls.
The Horse Girl Canon
One of my favourite articles from the last calendar year is a piece published on Polygon called “The Horse Girl Canon,” which goes through the books, movies, TV shows, toys etc. that every young horse girl seems to be into. What I love about this article is that I’m familiar with every single item on the list. I could also add at least ten book series, which really isn’t something I should be bragging about on my blog. From classics like Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Misty of Chincoteague, Black Beauty, and The Black Stallion, to stuff that I always considered niche, like the online horse breeding game known as Howrse where I created my first ever internet profile, there’s clearly a specific genre of media directed at this very niche target audience.
What I find really interesting about this genre of media is how strong the tropes are. Most of these books, movies and TV shows feature a wild horse being domesticated by or at least forming a bond with the main character. A really common trope is the horse that can’t be controlled by any human but eventually comes to love and trust the main character. A lot of these stories also feature a sort of “mean girl” character as an antagonist. This character is almost always incredibly rich, and she always treats her horses badly and/or isn’t actually a good rider. She wins all the competitions because her parents can afford to buy her fancy horses and pay for good trainers, but she isn’t a “real” horse girl. Did I mention that she’s pretty and vain? The main character, on the other hand, can barely afford her horse, doesn’t care about her appearance, and isn’t the flashiest rider. What she does have going for her, though, is that she Actually Cares about her horses. She doesn’t need money or high-quality training. She’s able to take a badly behaved and barely trained horse and turn it into a champion. She is, to put it simply, Not Like Other Girls.
I didn’t notice it when I was a kid, but looking back, it’s really easy to see how these types of stories have influenced horse girl culture to the point where the “horse girl” has become a type of person that almost everyone has encountered at some point in their lives. Horse girls grow up dreaming of either domesticating a wild horse, reforming an injured or traumatized horse, or generally forming a “special bond” with a horse that trusts them. I actually hated competing in equestrian sports as a kid, and quit pretty early on, but I loved training horses for other people and took a lot of pride in being able to ride the horses no one else liked. I felt a sense of superiority over the pretty girls at the barn who were super concerned about the positioning of their hands but couldn’t sit through a bucking spree. I never made the connection until I started writing this piece but, yeah, that definitely comes from reading so many horse girl books as a kid.
Beyond that, though, the “not like other girls” stuff is a huge part of horse girl culture. In my experience, a lot of equestrians really seem to resent the implication that you have to be rich in order to ride horses. Most of the memes on horse girl pages are about how equestrians spend all their money on their horses and nothing on themselves. Girls who wear makeup, put effort into their appearance, or spend their money on luxuries are derided as “not real horse girls.” This definitely plays into that “mean girl” trope that I mentioned is so popular in horse girl stories. I think this is also where you get a lot of the memes about being dirty or smelling like a horse. From an outside perspective, yes, it seems really weird that anyone would want to wear a t-shirt proclaiming that they smell like a farm animal, but a lot of horse girls pride themselves on not caring what other people think.
I can’t exactly write a piece examining horse girl culture without touching on the memes. Horse girl forums were the first online communities I ever took part in (again, I cannot stress enough the extent to which this was my entire personality), and honestly, the memes haven’t changed much in the decade since then. They all have a very specific energy, and looking at them with a bit of distance… look, there’s no other way to put this. This feels distinctly cult-like.
I already touched on the prevalence of “not like other girls” memes and the insistence that horse girls are Actually Poor, but really, most of these memes are just aesthetic, almost cottagecore-esque pictures of horses (sometimes with a pretty blonde girl), overlaid with quotes about the special bond between horse and rider, or the passion we all share for this sport. That famous quote about how “there is nothing better for the inside of a person than the outside of a horse”? That’s not some obscure accidental innuendo Ted Cruz once tweeted. That quote was hung up on the wall at my riding stable. Just… look at these memes and tell me they don’t feel aggressively white, aggressively heterosexual and aggressively republican.
… why are horse girls like that?
So I’ve gone over the core literary influences on horse girl culture and what this culture looks like today. However, I haven’t answered the question of why so many young girls get sucked into this culture, or the question of why none of them can ever shut up about it.
Here are some theories based on personal experience.
- The level of commitment
Horseback riding isn’t really something you can do just for fun during your free time. It has to be your entire life. Owning and caring for horses is a full-time job. Even if you’re just taking lessons once a week, you usually have to drive a long way to get to the barn and spend a significant amount of your time doing barn chores. If you want to compete, to lease a horse, or to work with a project horse and actually make progress, you need to ride more than once a week. Also, as the memes will tell you, it’s an incredibly expensive hobby. If you’re not filthy rich, you do pretty much have to either figure out how to make a living off of riding or funnell all your money into taking care of your horse.
- The sport is very misunderstood
One of the most popular jokes about horse girls is that they love to go on long rants about how difficult their sport is. Take, for instance, this tik tok, which I cannot watch because it is a perfect depiction of me as a teenager and I cringe so hard watching it:
I get how this kind of behaviour is extremely annoying, but I also understand where it comes from. Obviously, any sport is going to be subject to misconceptions by people who don’t play it, but equestrian sports feel especially misunderstood. If you’ve been on one trail ride and think you know what riding is about, no, you don’t. It takes a lot of physical strength to manage a horse, and I finish most lessons drenched in sweat and both mentally and physically exhausted. To give you perspective, when I was both riding and playing hockey, I could ride after playing a hockey game, but I could never play hockey after a riding lesson. I couldn’t do anything after a riding lesson, really, except lie in bed. Like, not to be a Horse Girl™, but it’s a lot more than just sitting on a horse, and it is pretty annoying to be constantly told it’s not a real sport. I think that’s where a lot of the defensiveness comes from.
- Horses are just very cool
I know I’m biased here, but a lot of horse girls just find horses cool and are really proud of how much they know about them. It’s also a sport that grants really young girls a lot of responsibility and independence. At just ten years old, I could already be trusted to venture out into a field to catch a thousand pound animal, groom and tack it up all on my own, and warm up by myself. I was learning how to read a horse’s body language, monitor its health, and, of course, direct its movement. The sport requires physical strength, assertiveness, confidence, and control over your emotions. You have to be quick on your feet, aware of your surroundings, and very self-sufficient. The sport taught me skills that I still use in my day-to-day life. Yeah, I was proud of that as a kid.
So why are they always the butt of the joke?
I’ve noticed that memes about horse girls can usually be divided into two categories, and they sometimes overlap.
On the one hand, we have this image of a young, attractive white girl who constantly rhapsodizes about the “special bond” she has with her horse. She shares pictures of beautiful horses in fields, usually accompanied by very strange quotes about the bond between horse and rider. She’s also, of course, very rich, and usually has strong republican vibes. At least, she has strong “I could not care less about politics and have no knowledge of the world because all I think about is horses” vibes. I’ve seen a lot of tweets comparing this type of horse girl to guys who hold up fish in their dating app profiles, or student athletes.
“Horse girl energy” has also emerged as a way to describe someone who’s a bit of an outcast and is really into some niche interest. It’s kind of hard to explain, but “horse girl energy” definitely transcends horse girls themselves.
I, personally, find this joke very funny, because I think it’s extremely accurate.
However, most of the horse girl jokes I see on TikTok take a different angle. These jokes typically make fun of cringy pre-teen girls for never shutting up about horses. Users will pull their hair into a ponytail, don a tie-dye shirt, speak with a lisp or at least put on some kind of voice that I guess is supposed to convey how weird the character is, and monologue about horses. This type of mockery isn’t necessarily directed at girls who ride horses; the most frequent targets seem to be girls who talk about horses a lot, girls who teach themselves to run like horses, and girls who do hobby-horsing. These girls are generally made fun of for being annoying and/or unselfaware.
Interestingly, a lot of the hatred for horse girls seems to come from other equestrians. When I searched “horse girl” on TikTok, I was kind of surprised to find that most of the videos making fun of horse girls were from equestrians trying to distance themselves from the stereotype, which is a sentiment I’ve encountered in equestrian spaces before. The general idea is that horse girls are ugly and weird but equestrians are cool and sexy. Good for them, I guess?
Personally, I’d much rather be friends with the horse girl.
What’s funny to me is that I haven’t noticed anyone trying to reclaim this stereotype, or light-heartedly making fun of their past selves for being really into horses, in the vein of, say, the Twilight renaissance. Like, these days I think of my obsession with horses similarly to how I think of my middle-school obsession with YA novels and bad TV shows. It’s kind of embarrassing, but ultimately harmless and funny to look back on. Was I cringe? Yes. But who cares? I was having fun.
Horse girls are easy to make fun of, and I do understand the impulse to laugh at them. I also think it’s fair to criticize equestrian sports for their racism and elitism. I certainly understand how awful a lot of horse girls can be, and with a bit of perspective, I can also understand how weird horse girl culture is.
However, looking through these social media posts, I have to admit that a lot of it just feels like bullying young girls for being passionate about something. Yeah, there are girls who never shut up about horses and yeah, it is kind of annoying, but there are also boys who never shut up about dinosaurs, or bugs, or sharks. Horse girls make their sport their entire personality, but so do a lot of football players and hockey players. Trust me, I’ve worked in summer camps before. Kids are just like that.
Also, I know that a lot of the stuff these girls say about horses and riding often ends up sounding like an innuendo. Sometimes, it does kind of sound like they want to have sex with their horses, and it can be funny. But most of the girls who say these things are literal children. Making bestiality jokes about ten-year-olds is really weird. A lot of us have to deal with these types of jokes from a very young age, and it makes us very uncomfortable. Please stop. There are so many more jokes you can make.
Personally, I would much rather make fun of the girls on TikTok desperately trying to establish a distinction between equestrians and horse girls than the girls who film themselves jumping like horses. One is bullying kids for being cringe and the other is indulging a quirky hobby that keeps her active and doesn’t hurt anyone. Horse girl culture is weird and a lot of horse girls suck, but really, we should let kids be cringe. It’s fine.