All the Pretty Horses

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Horses Symbol Analysis

Horses Symbol Icon
Three horses in All the Pretty Horses are significant enough that they can almost be thought of as characters themselves: John Grady’s horse Redbo, Rawlins’ horse Junior, and Blevins’ nameless big bay horse. Each has its own character—John Grady’s is powerful and loyal, while Blevins’ is jumpier and more finicky. They can also be humans’ friends: Redbo recognizes John Grady by whinnying when he comes to retrieve the horse in Encantada, for instance. But horses are more than the characters’ friends or elements of Western life in the book: they are the connective tissue of the novel, drawing lines among characters, from characters to culture and society, and between the present and the past. John Grady feels a special kinship to horses, which in this way come to stand in for the kind of companionship he finds more fleetingly in friends, lovers, and in certain physical places. Horses are thus similar in some ways to men: as John Grady is told at one point, their souls are more similar to men’s souls than many think. But horses also symbolize the complex, constantly shifting relationships and connections between individuals and society. For hundreds of years, horses have been mounted by men to go off to war, following the orders of far-away kings, dictators, and generals. Traveling faster than humans can on foot, they cover more ground and can see more than one person can in a lifetime. John Grady observes throughout the book how the souls of horses have borne witness to the greatest examples of the world’s violence and devastation. It is suggested that horses have, in fact, a single soul, one that creates a kinship among all members of the species—in a way that John Grady increasingly comes to accept is impossible for humankind. Instead, he places his trust and respect in horses, who guide him individually through life while all the while reminding him of the larger, more impersonal forces that impact each person.

Horses Quotes in All the Pretty Horses

The All the Pretty Horses quotes below all refer to the symbol of Horses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of All the Pretty Horses published in 1993.
Part 1 Quotes

What he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole (speaker)
Related Symbols: Horses, Blood
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

John Grady has just found an old skull of a horse lying in the grass on his family's ranch, and as he looks at it he is reminded of what is so appealing to him about riding and taking care of horses. Interestingly, it is an inert, bloodless skeleton that reminds John Grady of the blood coursing through horses' veins, blood that for him symbolizes the ardent desires and courage that one needs to succeed in the American West. John Grady identifies with horses in many ways, as he measures horses so too does he measure his fellow human beings: in terms of how strong and intensely alive they are. The skull is certainly a powerful image, but it is largely important in terms of what John Grady reads into it—his romanticized view of the West colors much of what he experiences.

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Part 2 Quotes

He said that war had destroyed the country and that men believe the cure for war is war as the curandero prescribes the serpent’s flesh for its bite. He spoke of his campaigns in the deserts of Mexico and he told them of horses killed under him and he said that the souls of horses mirror the souls of men more closely than men suppose and that horses also love war.

Related Characters: Luis
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Luis is an elderly cook with a bad leg who tells John Grady and Rawlins about his years spent fighting during the Mexican Revolution, while the boys are out in the mountains on the hunt for wild horses to bring back to Don Hector's ranch. As the boys's journey into Mexico continues, their romanticized view of the country begins to be affected by the testimony of people who have actually lived through violent, dangerous times. 

Luis, at least according to this passage, seems to be deeply ambivalent on the subject of violence. In one sense, he condemns what war has done to his country, and he does not believe that the solution for war is like a solution that a healer would suggest for a serpent's bite—that is, more of the same. Luis seems to love horses as much as John Grady does, and there is a tragic element in what he relates about the horses being killed out from under him while on the battlefield. Still, Luis acknowledges that horses, like men, are fascinated by war, even if, unlike men, they do not try to impose some kind of meaning on such violence. Luis's wisdom comes not from his claim to know the solution to such violence, but rather from his own lived experience, his ability to testify to what he has seen in the past.

Finally he said that among men there was no such communion as among horses and the notion that men can be understood at all was probably an illusion. […] Finally John Grady asked him if it were not true that should all horses vanish from the face of the earth the soul of the horse would not also perish for there would be nothing out of which to replenish it but the old man only said that it was pointless to speak of there being no horses in the world for God would not permit such a thing.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole, Luis
Related Symbols: Horses, Religion
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Luis, in the same conversation with John Grady and Rawlins as above, has already suggested that there is something shared between the souls of human beings and of horses. Here he qualifies that view, expressing an even more pessimistic outlook on the fate of humans. Even if there is something shared in these beings' souls, Luis suggests, humans fail to understand that unity. Luis also continues to use his age and lived experience not to convince John Grady and Rawlins of certain truths, but rather to show how, according to what he has learned over the years, so little about human beings can be understood at all.

John Grady is fascinated by Luis and by his knowledge of horses. He takes the opportunity to run his own theories on the souls of horses past the elderly man. However, Luis is skeptical about this desire to construct theories or play hypothetical, "what-if?" games. For Luis, the world is the way it is because of what God has ordained. God has filled the world with horses, so it will remain with horses as part of his larger plan, and it is pointless to speculate on what things would be like otherwise. The book seems to privilege Luis's point of view as someone who has slowly and painfully gained knowledge and humility over the years; but it also underlines how difficult this same process will be for John Grady, who still has the innocence of youth. 

Part 4 Quotes

In his sleep he dreamt of horses and the horses in his dream moved gravely among the tilted stones like horses come upon an antique site where some ordering of the world had failed and if anything had been written on the stone the weathers had taken it away again and the horses were wary and moved with great circumspection carrying in their blood as they did the recollection of this and other places where horses once had been and would be again. Finally what he saw in his dream was that the order in the horse’s heart was more durable for it was written in a place where no rain could erase it.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole
Related Symbols: Horses, Blood
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

John Grady has taken the captain prisoner and the two of them are riding through the Mexican hills. He has told the captain that he will not kill him: John Grady is not like the captain. John Grady has dreamt of horses before, and here his dream becomes a kind of allegory for the ideas of destiny and order that have concerned so much of the novel. The "antique site" he dreams of is full of stones on which are written a meaning and pattern to the world, but now time and history have made that meaning unclear. The horses bear within them not any explicit meaning and purpose, but rather the memory of former times and places. For John Grady, however, this means that they do reflect a kind of order to the world. Even if he does not embrace a "solution" to the problems of violence, loss, and heartbreak that he must confront, having been fully disabused of his romantic innocence, horses present a way to accept the overwhelming nature of the world, and to trace some kind of an order through what might otherwise seem mere chaos. 

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Horses Symbol Timeline in All the Pretty Horses

The timeline below shows where the symbol Horses appears in All the Pretty Horses. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...women hold onto their hats against the strong wind. That evening, John Grady rides his horse out west from the house on his normal route, to the westernmost part of the... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
John Grady finds an old horse skull in the brush and turns it over. He loves in horses the same thing... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Over the next few weeks, it rains and floods, and John Grady’s horse Redbo has to be cajoled into directing the cattle. John Grady, Luisa, and another ranch... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...no longer saw it right, or finally did see it right. John Grady rides the horse more comfortably, naturally, as if he was born to ride. (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
They ride into town and tie their horses in front of a café. His father asks if he’s thought about “boarding” his horse,... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Late that night, John Grady meets Rawlins in front of his house with their two horses. They ride across the open pasture onto the prairie, feeling like thieves in the night... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
The day afterward, they’ve ridden 40 miles into land they still know. They water the horses and eat the sandwiches they’ve brought, resting under trees at midday. John Grady has only... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
They lead the horses around old car parts strewn around the highway to a roadside café and order breakfast.... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
The boys cross the Pecos River, the horses gingerly choosing their steps. John Grady says someone has been following them on horseback, but... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
A rider (Jimmy Blevins) with a broadbrim hat and overalls, riding a beautiful, big bay horse, approaches them. He’s about thirteen. Rawlins asks if he’s following them, and the kid denies... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
They cross that night under the moon, and the horses have to swim by midriver. Rawlins holds his rifle in the air and they look... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...from San Angelo, but Blevins doesn’t say where he’s from. Rawlins suggests they exchange his horse for one less likely to get them shot, but Blevins refuses. He says he has... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...of sotol (an alcoholic drink) and are drunk by evening. Rawlins catches sight of Blevins’ horse with an empty saddle, and they turn back to see Blevins sitting in the middle... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...he goes. Rawlins says he won’t take any responsibility for him—he’ll fall off and the horse will be back in the States before long. (full context)
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
They ride north, and eventually come across Blevins’ horse tied to a willow tree next to a stream beside the road. John Grady rides... (full context)
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...Grady and Rawlins take shelter under a rock overhang. At one point they hear a horse running in the rain. The storm lets up by evening, and the next morning they... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...Blevins in the same place he left him. His clothes are washed way, and his horse is gone. He doesn’t know what he’ll do. John Grady says Blevins probably knows he’s... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
Blevins asks if John Grady will ask them about his horse. Rawlins says he won’t get his horse back, and they should trade his pistol for... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...the engine of a Dodge car. John Grady grabs Blevins before he slides off the horse. Rawlins says they should stash the boy somewhere safe while he and John Grady look... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...falling asleep, they wake up to find Blevins squatting watching them. John Grady says his horse is here without a saddle, and they’ll try to help him get it back. Blevins... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...dawn, they ride through the silent streets until they reach the mud house, but the horse isn’t there. Blevins dismounts and climbs through the house’s window. He doesn’t come back. Dogs... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...away and John Grady and Rawlins ride through the brush in the dark. They hear horses on the road at some point, and then silence. Rawlins asks what will happen if... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...eaten, they hear riders from far away. They keep moving. At daylight they leave the horses tied up and climb a hill, where they see three riders descending another hill two... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...asleep, Rawlins says he’ll say one thing for Blevins—he wouldn’t stand for anyone “hijacking” his horse. (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...The two of them are more noticeable, though Blevins is most of all. A good-looking horse is like a good-looking woman, Rawlins says—more trouble than they’re worth. Rawlins echoes what John... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...the road wearing English riding boots and a blue jacket, sitting atop a black Arabian saddlehorse. The horse, along with the girl’s boots, is wet from riding in the river. She... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...men for dinner: beans, tortillas, and stew. After dinner the vaqueros ask them about American horses and cattle (but nothing about the boys themselves), since for most of them America is... (full context)
Part 2
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...says that some of them have potential—he points out two that he claims are good horses, though Rawlins is skeptical, suggesting that John Grady has lost his touch. John Grady wonders... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...walk over to the kitchen, where they tell the gerente that they are amansadores, or horse-breakers. John Grady says they can tame the horses in four days. The gerente doesn’t believe... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
John Grady chooses a horse and hits it with his rope loop so that it bends down and he can... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...the vaqueros seem to treat the two with deference, but no one talks about their horse-breaking methods. That afternoon, twenty people, including women and young children, are waiting for them back... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...several men sleeping on the ground. By that evening, John Grady has ridden all sixteen horses and Rawlins has ridden each one a second time. They ride them again the next... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...the fourth day, Rawlins stays in the trap and John Grady rides one of the horses away from the ranch. Two miles above it, the girl on the Arabian rides past... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
That evening, Antonio (a vaquero) and the gerente come to the trap to inspect the horses. Antonio rides two of the horses. He nods; he and the gerente look over the... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...bad leg named Luis who has fought at various important Mexican battles. They hunt wild horses in the forests and near the arroyos (streams) where John Grady and Rawlins had hidden... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Luis says that if someone can understand one horse’s soul he can understand all horses. And men’s souls? John Grady asks. Luis says that... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...leader, but he says they’re just friends. Asked his opinion about the new batch of mares, John Grady says there are some good ones. The hacendado asks about a thoroughbred horse... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...and says yes, just the two. The hacendado stands up, saying he’ll show him some horses. (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...and Rawlins tells John Grady it’s a good opportunity to work more directly with the horses. The next morning Rawlins goes to work at the pens alone, while John Grady gets... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
On Sunday they ride into the town of La Vega, placing fifty-cent bets to race horses. John Grady wins, even when they switch horses. Wide-eyed country peasants watch the boys race... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...empty beer can at him. Redbo grows nervous and rears, but John Grady calms the horse and says it handled itself well. (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
In the next scene, the vaquero Antonio returns from picking up a horse the hacendado had bought unseen from the sales in Lexington, Kentucky. He’d left two months... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
John Grady asks Don Héctor if he might ride the horse, as he admires it. In the next days, John Grady and the hacendado walk among... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
John Grady and Antonio breed the mares daily for several weeks. Antonio too loves horses, and conspires with John Grady in telling... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...rides back slowly on the Arabian, hoping Alejandra will come back so they can switch horses again, but she doesn’t. As he walks back from the stable the light comes on... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
They begin spending nights riding horses up the ciénaga road bareback, sometimes stopping two hours from the ranch to build a... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...but Don Héctor responds without looking at him. That evening they make notes on the mares, and the hacendado asks him how he’s progressing on the “Guzmán,” presumably a book about... (full context)
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...says he looks terrible: Rawlins hopes he knows what he’s doing. After working with the mares all day, in the evening he hears the plane: he can’t see who’s inside, but... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Three days later they reach the hacienda at dark with eleven young mares. The next morning, at dawn, two men enter John Grady’s bunk with pistols and flashlights... (full context)
Part 3
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...that the man came at him and he shot him. As he returned to his horse, other men shot at him and he shot back, hitting two. (full context)
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
That night John Grady dreams of horses running in a high plain. He’s one of them, and their colors shine in the... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...for cigarette butt, big shot, and asshole. Rawlins remarks how it was all over a horse, but John Grady says the horse had nothing to do with it. We think we’re... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...him. He decides not to think of Alejandra—to save up those thoughts—and instead thinks of horses. He dreams of dead men standing around, silent but with terrible intelligence. He knows men... (full context)
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...knows John Grady wants to go back to the ranch for Alejandra and for the horses. Rawlins tells him not to go, but John Grady says he has made up his... (full context)
Part 4
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...shoulder as she pours him coffee. He rises to go and asks to borrow a horse for the day. He tries to read María’s face to see what his chances are... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
A vaquero calls out to John Grady as he passes the bunkhouse, saying the horse is happy to see him. John Grady rides out to the mesa and at noon... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...John Grady had already lied to Héctor twice, Alfonsa says. The affair of the stolen horse, in which the thieves were American, was known before their arrival, and they had denied... (full context)
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...next morning, John Grady says goodbye to the vaqueros and María and then chooses a horse to ride. As he rides, he talks to the horse about things that his experience... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
In Torreón, the hotel clerk tells John Grady the only place to tie his horse is in the lobby. He sleeps almost twelve hours, and waits most of the morning... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...of the city, rides all day, and reaches Torreón the next day to fetch the horse he’d left there and to buy a box of bullets. He sleeps in a field... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...John Grady aiming his pistol at him. John Grady says he’s come to get his horse. John Grady leads the captain out the back door towards the jail, which John Grady... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
The charro tells him the other horses are at Don Rafael’s hacienda. They all ride out the ten kilometers. At the corral... (full context)
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
John Grady hands rope to the charro and tells him to bridle Blevins’ horse. He snaps the handcuffs back onto the captain, tells the charro to wait there, and... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
John Grady yells to the charro to bring a saddle and bridle for his horse or he’ll kill the captain. He speaks slowly to Redbo as the charro obeys, and... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...captain’s pistol. He lays a burning cigarette across the cloth, and then returns to the horses, driving them across the open country towards a low mesa. Halfway across he hears the... (full context)
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...an officer and has no authority. John Grady spits and orders him back onto the horse. (full context)
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...but John Grady says they will. They rest again further on, at which point the horses are exhausted, and it occurs to him that the captain may die. John Grady tells... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...evening John Grady glimpses riders about five miles away. As he sleeps, he hears the horses stepping and drinking. He dreams of horses moving among the stones, as if at an... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...keys, and he continues on to the captain, handcuffing him. He asks which of the horses are John Grady’s. They all are, he replies. The man gives John Grady his blanket... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
John Grady rides the entire next day with the three horses through the north country, which by evening is black and cold. He shoots a small... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...For weeks, John Grady rides around the border country looking for the owner of Blevins’ horse. Just before Christmas he turns the horse over to the judge in Ozona. John Grady... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...into the woods, and he never said anything. He needs to find out who the horse belongs to, he says: it’s like a stone around his neck. The judge says there’s... (full context)
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...small blonde woman at the door that he wants to see the reverend about a horse. The woman thinks he’s there to have the bay horse blessed. The reverend Jimmy Blevins... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
John Grady never finds the horse’s owner. In March, he heads back to San Angelo and reaches the Rawlins’. He whistles... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...the wind blowing out of the west, his shadow merging with the shadow of his horse. (full context)