Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 585
Martin Dysart, a British child psychiatrist in his mid-forties. He is suffering doubts about the value of his profession as well as about the worth of his existence. After working with Alan Strang for several weeks and learning about the boy’s intense religiosity, Dysart discovers that he envies the boy his passionate ability to worship a deity, even if it is one derived from the boy’s imagination. He believes that he can purge Alan of his destructive religious beliefs, but he deeply doubts the beneficence of making the boy normal.
Alan Strang, a part-time employee at an appliance store and at Harry Dalton’s stable. At the age of seventeen, he still lives with his parents. Having been torn between his Christian mother’s intense religiosity and his father’s equally intense atheism, at the age of twelve Alan created his own religion, the gods of which are horses ruled by Equus. Alan is taught for years by his mother that biological sex without spiritual love is sinful and that God’s eyes are everywhere and always watching him. When Alan’s first sexual experience occurs in Dalton’s stable, the temple of Alan’s gods, his guilt is so great that he stabs out the eyes of six horses.
Dora Strang, Alan’s mother, a housewife married to Frank. In her mid-fifties, she is extremely religious and has devoted years to reading the Bible to Alan and indoctrinating him into Christianity, against her husband’s expressed disapproval. Her God is essentially a punitive and unforgiving one, and her faith is based on fear.
Frank Strang, Alan’s father, a printer married to Dora. In his mid-fifties, he is an atheist who considers vulgar his wife’s religious beliefs, as well as the religious instructions she has imposed on Alan, and he blames these for Alan’s blinding of the horses. When Alan was twelve years old, Frank ripped from his son’s bedroom wall a picture of the crucified Christ and replaced it with a picture of a horse, from then on the object of Alan’s religious faith.
Hesther Salomon, a magistrate in the British legal system. In her mid-forties, she is a friend of Dysart who, troubled by the savagery of Alan’s crime against the horses and believing that Dysart is equipped to cure the boy of his mental illness, persuades the court to allow her to place Alan in the psychiatric hospital where Dysart works. It is she who persuades the already overworked doctor to take Alan as a patient. She becomes Dysart’s confidante, listening and responding to his personal and professional doubts and complaints.
Jill Mason, an employee at Dalton’s stable. In her mid-twenties and living with her mother, Jill learns of Alan’s love of horses and is instrumental in getting him a part-time job at the stable. She is physically attracted to Alan, communicates this to the boy one evening, and, after persuading him to go with her to see a pornographic film, attempts to seduce him in the stable. It is on this occasion, after they have taken their clothes off and laid down together in the hay, that Alan hears the horses, his gods, stamping their hooves (in disapproval of his sexual behavior, he believes). He chases Jill away by threatening to stab her with a hoof pick, then turns on the horses with the pick and blinds them.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1058
A stable owner. He is bitter about Alan’s blinding of his horses and feels the boy should be in prison, not ‘‘in a hospital at the tax-payers’ expense.’’ Before the blinding incident, however, Dalton was extremely friendly and supportive of Alan when the boy came to work at his stable; he told Alan, ‘‘the main rule is: enjoy yourself.’’
A psychiatrist in his mid-forties. He reluctantly accepts Alan as a patient, persuaded by his lawyer friend Hester Salomon that there is something special about the boy. While Dysart is able to help the young man face his problems, the experience of analyzing Alan has a profound effect on Dysart’s view of his own life as well. Alan’s probing questions about Dysart’s relationship with his wife—a Scottish dentist named Margaret—causes the Doctor to reflect upon how estranged they have become as a couple. They have no children and share minimal, if any, sexual intimacy. Dysart regrets how ‘‘briskly’’ he and his wife have lived their lives together.
When he compares himself to the boy he is treating for insanity, Dysart questions himself. He can cure Alan and make the boy more ‘‘normal,’’ but he regrets that the cost of this process may be Alan losing his unique passion and creativity. Dysart comes to doubt the value of his own work and, perhaps as a result, suffers nightmares. In these dreams he sees himself as a high priest killing children in ritual sacrifice rather than healing them.
The Horseman, who Alan describes as ‘‘a college chap,’’ and Frank later calls ‘‘upper class riffraff,’’ provides six-year-old Alan his first experience riding a horse. Alan’s parents are frightened for Alan’s safety, and Frank pulls his son violently from the horse, causing Alan to fall. The Horseman is incredulous at the anger of Alan’s parents. He flippantly calls Frank a ‘‘stupid fart’’ and makes a point of starting his horse so that its hooves cover the family with sand and water as he rides away. The same actor who plays the Horseman also plays Nugget, one of Dalton’s horses that Alan takes for his midnight rides. This actor is among the chorus of six actors who depict horses.
In her early twenties, ‘‘pretty and middle class.’’ Jill introduced Alan to Harry Dalton, helping the boy get a job in Dalton’s stables. Jill is attracted to Alan and encourages him to take her to a pornographic film, where they run into Alan’s father. Later, in the stable, Jill and Alan have a failed sexual encounter. In his shame, Alan sends Jill away and blinds the horses, a deed which catalyzes the play’s dramatic action. Dalton reports that Jill had a nervous breakdown after hearing of Alan’s act.
A magistrate. She brings Alan to Dysart after pleading with the court to allow the boy a psychiatric evaluation. She is a friend to Dysart and hears him out as he relates his personal problems—many of which he has been forced to face as a result of treating Alan. She tries to persuade Dysart that his psychiatric work has value and that curing Alan is an important task: ‘‘The boy’s in pain, Martin,’’ she observes. ‘‘That’s all I see. In the end.’’
A ‘‘lean boy of seventeen,’’ who is arrested after blinding six horses at Harry Dalton’s stable where he works. He appears very troubled; in his first session with psychiatrist Martin Dysart, Alan will only respond by singing advertising jingles. Alan has developed a complex ritual of devotion to the god Equus, which he practices through ecstatic midnight rides on Dalton’s horses. Alan’s pagan ritual transfers much of his mother’s Christian faith onto the image of the horse, which Alan associates with the forbidden since the disaster of his first riding experience. Frustrated and ashamed following his sexual failure with Jill, Alan blinds the horses to protect himself from the vengeance of Equus, who ‘‘saw’’ the boy in disgrace.
After resisting Dysart’s initial attempts to help him, Alan gradually grows more comfortable with the psychiatrist. Although Dysart regrets that curing the boy might give him a life as devoid of real passion as the doctor’s own, professional considerations prevail. Alan purges a great deal of pain in his later sessions with Dysart, and the play concludes with the implication that the doctor will continue to heal the boy’s mental anguish.
Alan’s mother, a former school teacher (Alan declares proudly to Dysart, ‘‘She knows more than you’’). She is religious, frequently talking to Alan about the Bible (much to the frustration of her atheist husband, Frank). Dora also feels she married beneath herself socially, a regret that shows itself in various ways. She comes from a ‘‘horsey family,’’ while Frank finds riding to be an affectation of ‘‘upper class riff-raff.’’ She did not want Alan to work in a shop because ‘‘shops are common.’’
Dora visits Alan in the hospital, and when the boy throws his lunch at her, she slaps him. She regret this act of violence but expresses to Dysart the level of her frustration under the present circumstances. She is incredulous that Dysart would view Alan’s violence as a product of his upbringing. ‘‘I only know he was my little Alan,’’ she mourns, ‘‘and then the Devil came.’’
Alan’s father, a printer by trade. He is a selfdeclared atheist, which goes hand-in-hand with his political beliefs (Dysart calls him an ‘‘old-type Socialist. Relentlessly self-improving’’). He frequently quotes Karl Marx’s adage, ‘‘Religion is the opium of the people’’ in response to his wife’s religious beliefs. As an atheist, he sees religion as ‘‘just bad sex,’’ holding his wife responsible for Alan’s psychological condition.
Frank comes alone to Dysart’s office to describe to the doctor how he once discovered Alan reciting a parody of a Biblical genealogy and then kneeling reverently in front of a photograph of a horse and beating himself with a coat hanger. Frank also reveals to Dysart that Alan was out with a girl the night he blinded the horses, neglecting to mention that he knows this because he encountered the couple in a pornographic cinema.