Horses are revered animals in the Lord of the Rings, even more so in the books than in the movies. The stunning scenes in the movies depict noble and beautiful horses faithfully serving the characters, and moviegoers know the names Shadowfax, Brego, Asfaloth, and Snowmane as well as some of the human characters are known.
Horses were a source of transport, status, and wealth for centuries, and the horses in the Lord of the Rings help tell an additional story about the people and elves associated with them. Author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the books to create a mythology. They were originally published in three parts, released in 1954 (The Fellowship of the Ring), and 1955 (The Two Towers and then The Return of the King). Collectively, the three parts are known as The Lord of the Rings and are popular throughout the world.
Although J.R.R. Tolkien was not an equestrian himself, he understood horses’ significance in mythology. He based the horses in his books on those of Celtic, Welsh, and Icelandic mythology, among others.
Many horses were used in the films, some had names in both the books and the movie, while others only appear in the books. Yet another group appears in both and is nameless, for example, the horses of the black riders. The horses play an important role in each hero’s journey and Tolkien expertly shares their significance in helping their riders achieve their goals.
Key horses in the books and movies include:
- Shadowfax – Gandalf’s horse
- Asfaloth – Ridden by Arwen in dramatic fashion in the movie.
- Brego – One of Aragorn’s horses
- Snowmane – The mount of Théoden
- Arod – The horse of Legolas
- Windfola – Éowyn’s horse
- Hasufel – Another of Aragorn’s horses
- Bill the Pony – Frodo & Sam’s pony when they set off on their quest.
Not all of these horses are featured in the movies, but below is some information on both the literary horses and the equine actors who played them in the films.
Shadowfax is a descendant of the greatest horses in Middle earth, the Mearas. He is extremely smart and even understands human language. Originally he was Théoden’s horse but proved too smart for him. Eventually, Gandalf chooses to ride Shadowfax, befriending and training him. Initially, this didn’t make Théoden happy, but then he ends up gifting the horse to Gandalf and the pair are inseparable through many adventures and battles.
Blanco, an Andalusian, played Shadowfax in two of the films. He was purchased by Cynthia Royal of California from producer Peter Jackson after the films were completed. Unfortunately, Blanco passed away in 2014 after a serious illness.
In the LOTR books Asfaloth is a grey horse that belongs to a male Elf named Glorfindel. He is one of my favorite equine characters because he acts independently to save Frodo. In the movies, Asfaloth and Arwen save Frodo after he has been stabbed by the Nazgûl, but in the books, Arwen doesn’t even appear in this part of the story. You can learn more about how Asfaloth appears in the books and in the movies in this post about Arwen’s horse.
In the movies Asfaloth was played by three different equine actors, all of them Andalusians. Florian (who was later purchased by Viggo Mortensen), Hero (this horse appears in high-speed chases), and Odie (in the scenes where Arwen is not mounted).
Aragorn rides the horse Brego in the movies and Viggo Mortensen plays Aragorn. This horse isn’t in the books. Instead, there is a Rohan king named Brego in the books, and it’s assumed this is where the horse’s name comes from.
Brego is originally the horse of Théodred, son of king Théoden. But, when Théodred dies in battle, Brego becomes wild and doesn’t let anyone else ride him. Aragorn has him freed from a stable, and then the horse finds the him later on and they become a team.
Uraeus, a Dutch Warmblood, played Brego. Mortensen purchased him, and two of the other horses in the LOTR movies when filming was complete. The horses stayed with a veterinarian in New Zealand who looked after them for Mortensen, who visited regularly. Uraeus had emergency colic surgery in 2007, but spent many more happy years on the farm in New Zealand before passing away at an advanced age in 2015.
Hasufel is Aragorn’s other horse in the LOTR movies Mortensen also purchased the equine actor who played Hasufel when filming concluded. A fun fact is that Hasufel is a large grey horse in the books, but Peter Jackson selected Kenny, a chestnut gelding, to play the horse in the films. Again, this horse didn’t originally belong to Aragorn but was a gift. Hasufel was Gárulf’s horse, but he was killed in battle. Next, the horse belonged to Éomer, who eventually gave him to Aragorn.
The horse has an adventure with Arod and Shadowfax, ending up with Gandalf, before being returned. The storylines of the horses and their adventures are subplots in and of themselves within the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and again prove the respect and importance horses to the mythology.
Kenny lived with Uraeus, the horse that played Brego, on the farm in New Zealand after Mortensen purchased him. Although he too has since passed away, Mortensen noted that the horses were mature when filming began and that the movies were filmed a long time ago now.
In the LOTR movies, Arod is a horse from Rohan who also lost his original rider. Éomer gives him to Legolas, who rides him through the Paths of the Dead, even though it filled the horse with trepidation.
Percy, a white Percheron-cross stallion, played Arod in two of the films. Gimli also rode him, so Percy’s larger size was helpful. Orlando Bloom played Legolas and called Percy the friendliest horse on the set. Bloom may have been biased! I was unable to find out what happened to Percy after the filming was completed. One hopes that he also enjoyed a well-deserved retirement, as his counterparts had.
Bill the Pony
Bill the Pony was owned by Bill Ferney in Bree. In the books, he has a mistreated and half-starved pony and is the only animal in town. He was sold to Frodo Baggins for 12 silver pennies and started a new chapter as the beloved pony of Frodo and his friend Samwise Gamgee.
In the LOTR movies, Bill was released before the party enters the mines or Moria since he can’t go inside with them. Sam gives him a fond farewell while Aragorn tells him that Bill will surely find his way back home.
In the movies Bill the Pony was played by two equine actors, one of whom wasn’t a pony. The first was Shane, a palomino Quarter Horse. He was chosen to make the full-size adult actors appear small when they stood next to him. The second equine actor was a Shetland pony named Rastus. He was used for scenes when smaller stunt doubles were used.
The three movies were released in 2001 (The Fellowship of the Ring), 2002 (The Two Towers), and 2003 (The Return of the King). Although these movies are decades old, and the books are even older, the stories and mythology created are timeless. As such, the horses are immortal to us too, and the epic parts they played are forever remembered. To many of us, Brego, Arod, Hasufel, and Shadowfax are household names that immediately conjure up an image of the incredible horses that played them in the films.