The horse first appears in the story at a moment when the narrator is feeling particularly dispirited. Having returned to a once-familiar landscape hoping for a connection of some kind, he has instead been left feeling "so old and stiff and stupid." At this moment, he sees a black horse,...
The horse first appears in the story at a moment when the narrator is feeling particularly dispirited. Having returned to a once-familiar landscape hoping for a connection of some kind, he has instead been left feeling "so old and stiff and stupid." At this moment, he sees a black horse, silhouetted against the sky "like a nightmarish leopard." The horse makes an "unpleasantly strange impression" upon him before disappearing over the horizon.
Later in the story, the narrator is huddled beneath a tree in the woods, listening contentedly to the torrential rainfall. At this moment he remembers the horse, and the hair on the back of his neck "prickle[s] slightly." He then notices that the horse, "its head high and alert, its ears pricked," is watching him from "the wood top." The horse then charges toward him, and the narrator sees its "red-veined eyeball" and its "long yellow teeth." He decides that the horse must be mad, and resolves to "get away from the wood as quickly as possible."
The horse, however, follows the narrator, usually appearing as a "black shape" with the light behind it. The narrator's fear increases. He realizes that the horse is "definitely after him," and he begins to hear the horse's "whinnying snort and the spattering whack of its hooves" as if the horse is "actually inside his head."
After endeavoring and failing to escape the attentions of the horse, the narrator is taken over by "a savage energy." He begins hurling stones at the horse, and eventually the horse disappears. At the end of the story, the narrator describes the horse as "an obscure confusion of fright and shame," lingering "under the surface of his mind."
The horse in this story could perhaps symbolize some manner of darkness, fear, or turmoil within the narrator. It is significant that the horse always appears with the light behind it. Light is symbolic of clarity and hope, and thus the horse, which blocks out the light, represents darkness and despair. Perhaps then the horse symbolizes a feeling of despair within the narrator. The fact that the narrator cannot escape the horse until the very end of the story perhaps signifies that the narrator cannot escape his own despair.
The horse may also symbolize the narrator's madness. Indeed, at the end of the story, the memory of the horse lingers as "an obscure confusion of fright and shame," which is perhaps as good a description of madness as any other.
The fact that the speaker says that he feels as if the horse is inside his own head also suggests that the horse symbolizes some manner of madness. The speaker also says, in the last line of the story, that he feels as if "some important part had been cut out of his brain." The implication here is that the horse has inflicted an injury upon his brain, much as madness inflicts a kind of injury upon the mind.