Dream Horses and Women’s Psyches

Yesterday I did a healing session with a friend, who is at a crossroads in her life and curious about her future (See www.ancestorsway.com). The visualization session focused on having a guide appear. She actually had many guides appear, in the form of animals—first frogs, then a bear, and a snake. Perhaps most remarkably, though, was the appearance of horses.

 Horse Visitations 

In her meditative state, my friend saw her beloved horse Skipper from childhood. She also saw her father’s roan mare with a white blaze, who had died traumatically. As her father was riding her, the mare broke her neck coming down from a jump. My girlfriend then sensed the presence of a herd of wild horses inviting her to live passionately and boldly. She experienced herself running freely, while enjoying the companionship of the other wild horses.

Another woman, my friend Karen, unaccountably found herself making sculptures, paintings, and drawings of horses as she was going through a traumatic and devastating divorce. She poured her soul into the artwork, and it gave her the strength to stand up for her daughter and confront her controlling ex-husband. Karen left her comfortable suburban home and moved to the country where she now has five horses and pursues her art.

I recently devoted four years of my life researching women and horses, even though to this day I have never owned a horse and have rarely ridden them. Horses have, however, visited me throughout my adult life in my dreams and visionary experiences. During a meditation experience, I sought the wisdom of the Great Goddess, when a gorgeous stallion appeared and mated with me. I had an experience of an ancient time when women and horses were sacred, sensual and free. The imagery was so dramatic and startling, that it led me into my research topic for my doctorate.


During the course of my research, I was visited by other horses—a white mare, and a herd of wild horses that I call the Horse Ancestors. A few weeks ago, I was visited by the presence of Brownie, a Shetland pony (See The Horse that Got Away Part III: Working with a Core Wound.) Our experiences are unique yet not unusual. Bestselling author Linda Kohanov writes about the Horse Ancestors, while two experts on women’s dreams, Karen Signell and Clarissa Pinkola Estés, have both found that horses are a common motif for hundreds of women.

 Dream Horses 

Who are these other-worldly horses that come to women’s psyches at critical times in their lives? These are the horses I call Dream Horses—the horses that live in our dreams, memories, artwork, and imaginations. Why do they come? Are they real or spirit? Are they a figment of our unconscious? Are they part of our personal unconscious, or of a wider collective unconscious?

Alice Walker has said, The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.”  

In just the same way, dream horses exist for their own reasons. We speak of dreams as if they are our dreams, as if they are possessions. This kind of possessive thinking is just enough to chase dream figures away and discourage any kind of meaningful dialogue or learning. Psychologist Carl G. Jung railed against people that would create dream dictionaries in their misguided attempt to pin down the meaning of different symbols.  

How to Work with the Imaginal

Dream horses and other dream figures are imaginal figures. Imaginal is a word coined by depth psychologists in an attempt to find some language that honors the experiences of dreams and myth. In our western rationalistic and scientific culture, an imaginary experience is one that did not happen, so it is devalued. If we can not see it or measure it, then it must not exist.  Use of the word imaginal is a way to insist that these experiences are both real and important. When we are in the midst of a vivid dream, there is no question that what we experience is real.

Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and the task of the sculptor is to discover it.” He knew that his job as sculptor was to guide the image out of the stone which had its own personality, needs and voice. This same sensibility and respect should be accorded dream and other imaginal figures. Like Michelangelo, we need to listen in to what wants to emerge.

Jung developed a method called active imagination for working with symbols, images and dreams that helps to build relationship with these mysterious figures. Honoring imaginal experiences through active imagination techniques of art making, journaling, dream drama, dialogue and other forms of creative expression is vital for a healthy relationship with the psyche. 

What Does It Mean? 

At the risk of being simplistic, the aforementioned stories of women’s encounters with Dream Horses show some common characteristics: 

  • Transition: Dream Horses want to help, and tend to come at times of change—they appear as guides, just as sure-footed horses can find their way in the dark.
  • Power: Just as we measure cars in horsepower, Dream Horses often lend their strength and energy to women.
  • Authentic Self: Encounters with Dream Horses often encourage women to follow their soul callings and passions.
  • The Herd: Visitations by multiple horses can bring a sense of belonging and dispel a sense of isolation.

 Dream Horse Exercise: 

If you would like a Dream Horse visitation, try the following exercise:

  1. Go to a quiet, safe place where you will not be disturbed, such as your bedroom.
  2. Light a candle to invite the presence of the Divine.
  3. Close your eyes while sitting in a comfortable position. Imagine you are outside, among a herd of friendly horses. One horse catches your eye. With your mind, invite it to come to you. In your mind’s eye, observe as many details as you can: color, size, age, personality, smell of the horse, the time of day, season and location.
  4. Thank your new friend for coming to you and be patient. See what happens. Perhaps you can “talk” together and you can ask questions. Maybe you will receive an impression or felt sensation. Some people, for example, just feel a sense of acceptance. Accept your experience without judgment. This is the start of a relationship, and relationships take time to build.
  5. Journal about your experience. Try drawing a picture and see what happens.
  6. Try this exercise more than once. You may get the same horse, or a different one. Trust your experience.

Finally, enjoy your Dream Horse experiences. They can be an unexpected blessing, especially during difficult times. I invite you to write to me about your experience (below).



12 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Karen Rose said,

    Hi Catherine! I love your site! The idea that horses, real or dream, can be strengthening gives me hope. I never thought of them as guides; I don’t know why I didn’t make that connection. I used to read fairy tales a lot, and one thing I noticed was that there was usually a guide, or helper, for each person on a journey (which was what most of the tales seemed to be about). I was desperately looking for my own guide, and I came to think I just didn’t have one. But that was the same time that I brought horses into my life. I didn’t get that they were the guides I was looking for, but maybe they have been. Strangely, the journey of learning about horses has been as tumultuous as every other relationship in my life. I’ve been in hospital three times since I owned horses! And never before, except for giving birth. Lessons come hard to me; it’s as though I need a near-death experience to teach me anything. Yikes. . . I would want to be around horses whether I rode or not. Just to look at them, occasionally touch them, is enough. Not quite, though. I would always want my own herd, horses I know. . . Working with a horse, like Stormy, is satisfying in a deep way, and I feel I get to know him more and more every day. Definitely a love thing. He is a fabulous horse, very willing and a quick learner. And so handsome! . . . On a different subject, do you know Alice Walker’s book of poetry “Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful”? Thanks, Catherine! I love your site and will try doing the exercise you suggest.

  2. 2

    1horsedreamer said,

    Hi Karen–Psyche is an amazing corrective. Even if you did not view the horses as guides, they filled your imagination anyway and apparently filled that function.

    Re: Fairytales–I think it is an amazing thing that we have the fairy tales with the man on the horse coming to rescue the princess. It has made me wonder if the horse was necessary in order for the prince and princess to be together. What function does that horse serve? Certainly there are women that would trade their husband for a horse in a heartbeat!

    You may want to read Allen Chinen’s Once Upon a Midlife which has a whole different spin on fairytales that feature mature women (often rescuing the men) from many different cultures. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and enjoy those horses…Catherine

  3. 3

    1horsedreamer said,

    PS See my next blog posting for my comment on Alice Walker’s book title. Catherine

  4. 4

    1horsedreamer said,

    Karen-Oops, the reference to Allen Chinen’s book that I especially recommend to you is: Waking the World: Classic Tales of Women and the Heroic Feminine. The other book is good, too, but I think you will find this one especially interesting.

  5. 5

    z8alia said,

    I have been looking for information about dreaming of horses, and am glad to have found your site. This week I had a very vivid dream about horses. I was being shown by someone or something a beautiful mountain. It was a telepathic communication. The mountain was fairly large – could be compared to Mount Everest. As I was admiring the beauty of the mountain, all of a sudden I heard an earthquake. The mountain began to split open and out of the mountain hot magma began to seep out.

    As I took a closer look the magma was actually many beautiful “fire horses.” Their manes were beautiful kaleidoscopes of red and orange – with molten golden bodies. It was a very large herd, and I realized that it wasn’t an earthquake I had heard – it had been the thousands of galloping hooves as they ran out and down the sides of the mountain. As the horses came closer to where I was (figuratively – I wasn’t next to them, but rather able to view them from a distance) they became the horses as we know them here on earth (beautiful shiny coats of hair and radiant eyes). Different breeds – but thousands of beautiful and happy horses galloping out of the mountain. As they came out of the mountain – I could feel them sharing their energy with me. Something was telling me telepathically that the horses were sharing their energy with me and that this dream was important and had to be remembered. It was a very powerful dream.

    My father is Blackfeet and I shared this dream with him. He relayed that horses have been talking to him through dreams for many years. It seems that they are sharing their presence with me now. If you have any feedback about my dream, I would appreciate it. Thank you for listening.

  6. 6

    1horsedreamer said,

    Dear Fire Horse Dreamer–Thank you so much for sharing your powerful dream imagery with me, and with the site. This is a very powerful dream indeed!!! Sharing the dream is itself a blessing to the rest of us. There are many of us that are having these powerful experiences right now on the planet.

    I recommend that you draw or paint your dream–you may even want to make several images. As you do so, you may be able to remember more details and information.

    I also suggest that you “dialogue” with the dream image in the following way: Use your dominant hand (if you are right-handed, that is your right hand) to write a question to the horses. Then, shift the pen to your other hand and write a response. Go back and forth, using your dominant hand as “you” and your non-dominant hand as the voice of the “other,” in this case of the horses.

    It is helpful to start by thanking the images. For example, you may want to write, “Thank you, horses for visiting me and sharing your energy me.” Then, ask your question. You may want to try questions such as:
    “Why are you here now?”
    “Is there something you want me to do?”
    “How do you want me to use this energy?” or
    “What kind of energy have you given me?”

    Feel free to use these questions, but even better are your own questions. Go back and forth as you get answers and comments from the horses until you feel “done.” Then thank them again and see if they have any last things to share with you. This is a powerful technique from art therapist Lucia Cappachione.

    There are lots of other dream techniques. The important thing is to be respectful. You know the meaning of the dream better than anyone else. Make sure that any meanings to the dream suggested by others feel right to you in your body. I suspect that you will come back to this dream throughout your life, and there may be many meanings that reveal themselves over time. Please write me again and let me know what you find out. Catherine Held, PhD

  7. 7

    trossina said,

    I had the wildest and most real dream about horses Friday night (dec 30, 2007).
    I always loved horses, went horsebackriding since I was 12, and only stopped because I did not have enough time (I am italian and started in Italy). This is not the first of my horses dreams but the most vivid and colored one.

    I dreamt about Red Appaloosa horses, running in a field, me in the middle.
    I was calling them and they were coming to me. A voice was telling me not to be afraid, and I was answering
    that I indeed was not at all because I had been there several times and I was very familiar with

    This is a very transitional period for me. I just ended a 3 year relationship because there was no future
    and I think I was right!

    Any suggestion?

    • 8

      1horsedreamer said,

      My apologies for not responding sooner. It would be interesting to find out what has happened to you since you posted this just over two years ago. My teacher Lionel Corbett, who writes about the psyche and the sacred, said that psyche brings us these dreams and other sacred experiences as an antidote to what ails us. In your case, I can only imagine how comforting it must have been to get this powerful affirmation from the red Appaloosa horses that you did not need to be afraid. Indeed, you received a horse blessing!

  8. 9

    celticbard1 said,

    Dear Catherine:
    This site is so lovely and the dreams so powerful. I have been a dream woman and journal person for many years. Thought I would share this dream that came to me many years ago as I turned 50.

    Having grown up in a large family with many brothers I was frequently taunted about my size (large), and my bright red hair and freckles. My body image of course was dented and I tried numerous diets to be thin enough to be petite and pretty.

    Imagine my surprise when one night in my dream a beautiful white horse appeared before me, nodded at me to climb aboard. I felt great question but slipped atop this mare.

    She moved slowly from room to room in my old home. Everyone was asleep. We passed my parents’ bedroom. There they slept, next my sister’s, then the boys’ rooms one by one.

    It was a magical feeling of sight, presence and rhythm. She and I stopped before my bed.

    There I was asleep in the nude. “Oh, I thought how beautiful, not bad for 50.”

    The horse proceeded down the stairs and outside to the wide open green field.

    Never have I felt more at home, more related to life, my body and how I am in this world. Like you, since then I have collected dreams of women who have the horse come to them in dreams. It is like a wonderful songline!

    Blessings from CelticBard1

    • 10

      1horsedreamer said,

      My dear CelticBard1, How lovely that the white mare was able to see the real you, the true beautiful authentic you through the eyes of love rather than judgment. I have shared this dream with others since you shared it with me; your sharing is an act of medicine for all of us.

      If I understand songlines correctly, this dream indeed is a powerful one because it shows you the way home and is a song that we can all celebrate. Many blessings to you, and I hope that you will share more dreams with us. Catherine

  9. 11

    bbgk said,

    This is interesting. I had never thought about horses being such a powerful force in dreams, or meditative states. I’ve dreamt of horses since I was a little girl. Usually the horses that I dream about are the wild stallions, or strong and powerful, more so than the other ones around. At least the ones I deal with.

    They are always the “wild and untamed” horses that nobody can deal with. In my waking life, the horses that I ride and that come to me are the same way. I’ve always felt a wierd psychic connection with horses and wolves.

    In fact, I just dreamt about a horse two nights ago. I’ve been going through some things and ever since I dreamt about that horse–especially–I’ve been feeling like my old self. I dreamt that I was in my own neighborhood, but it was of course, different looking.

    My own house was some barn or homestead type place. I’d been running a race with someone and crossed through this area, where there was a barn (would’ve been right next to the place my real life house is) and I stopped at the entrance to this ramp where the horse could walk out and be led out through. It was darkened in that area, and the horse (who of course, was extremely wild, and large) came slowly walking out to me.

    I extended my hand and it slowly approached (looked similar to an appaloosa) and I can still feel its strong head push into my hand and walk closer to me. I woke up soon after that moment and I’ve felt this renewed strength in me lately.

    Then I had a dream last week about riding a wild horse as well. I’ve been dreaming about them a lot lately AND been feeling more like myself as well lately. The strength returning I mean. This is a fascinating article, thank you SO much for sharing! xx

    • 12

      1horsedreamer said,

      Hi–How beautiful that you have felt your energy return through the wild dream horse visitations, and how interesting that this energy has danced with you throughout your life. I think that as a culture we have great fear of wildness–in horses, in people and in our surroundings. Your ability to hang out with the “wild and untamed” horses in your dreams and in real life is a tremendous gift to the rest of us. Blessings, and please share other dreams with us as well. Catherine

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