She Had Some Horses

by Joy Foster

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Introduction

Joy Foster’s “She Had Some Horses” is the first poem in a collection of the same title. It was published in 1983. The poem is characterized by its repetition of that same phrase, describing the many types of “horses” that the speaker has encountered.

Summary

The first stanza depicts the indescribable nature of the horses—it seems they are difficult to play boundaries upon. This first stanza focuses on references to the natural world. Some of the horses are always moving and changing, evidenced by their “bodies of sand” or “skins of ocean water.” Some horses are natural in a different way, perhaps in a predictable way: these are the horses with “fur and teeth.” 

By the second stanza, it becomes clear that this poem is not talking exclusively about horses. These horses stand in for people, people who come in a variety of shapes, sizes, attitudes, and beliefs. Some of these horses have “long, pointed breasts” or “full, brown thighs.” Beyond these physical attributes, the horses in the second stanza are also described with substantial differences in disposition. There are horses that “laughed too much,” those that can dish out criticism, and those who “lick razorblades.” In other words, some of these creatures—who are truly human—take risks and might injure themselves along the way. 

The third stanza blends the literal and metaphorical actions of these horses. The tangible descriptions in this stanza include the horses who “danced in their mother’s arms,” or those who were too shy and kept to themselves, “in stalls of their own making.” The other activities of these horses are more fantastical: they involve a spiritual relationship with nature. They believe they are the sun, or they may waltz each night on the moon. 

Stanza 4 describes the emotional variety of the horses. Some of the horses are afraid, some cry into their beers, some lie, and some "spit at male queens" who force them to feel shame about themselves. Some of those who told the truth were punished for their honesty, “stripped of their tongues.” This stanza indicates that these “horses” are encountering complex, distressing events in the world they live in.

By stanza 5, it becomes clearer and clearer that the horses are representations of people, some of whom want to define themselves as "horses"—what the world sees them as—and some of whom reject this name, or any name. These lines speak to the myriad ways that people refer to themselves: how we identify, how we differentiate each other, and how we come to relate to one another. 

By stanza 6," some horses were afraid to speak, and some armed themselves with knives against silence. It seems that some are afraid of the past, for they want to protect themselves against “ghosts.”  Several of the horses fear they will be destroyed, while others are waiting for "resurrection.” Based upon this parallel, it seems that some of the horses the narrator describes are hopeful while others are hopeless.

In the seventh stanza, toward the end of the poem, its spirituality comes into full view: some of the horses "got down on their knees for any saviour." Clearly, some of the horses are looking for a belief system. Here, Foster’s speaker reveals more of the darker aspects of existence. Others have tried to save the "she" of the poem, climbing into her bed at night and praying as they sexually assault her.

At the end of the poem, the speaker states that the protagonist had some horses she loved and some she hated, but that these "were the same horses."

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