Can Horses Fly? The Magic of Galloping

Posted by Stacey Venzel

This slow-motion view proves that horses have all four hooves off the ground when galloping.

From flying fish to flying pigs, studies have debunked fact versus fiction over the centuries. But researchers put the question of flying horses to the test when they studied biomechanics, using physics to determine the effect of natural forces on the body.

Scientists and horse enthusiasts debated for centuries whether all four feet left the ground during a horse's gallop. The question was first answered in 1887, when British photographer and animal in motion pioneer Eadweard Muybridge snapped a sequence of shots reportedly using 24 cameras. Muybridge was hired to find the answer by Leland Stanford, owner of a race horse and governor emeritus of California as well as namesake of Stanford University.

Historically, painters hotly contested how to portray a horse at a trot or gallop on canvas. Many well-known paintings, including Rene Magritte's The Lost Jockey, depict racing horses with at least one foot on the ground.

Artists were often shunned if they neglected to follow the common view that horses can't fly, instead combining brush strokes that lifted all hooves off the earth. The public generally believed that horses would collapse if they flew through the air.


Sallie Gardner, the horse in Muybridge's photos, earned fame among scientists, photographers and horse lovers around the globe. Her name is well-known in the horse arena today.

Modern technical gurus have made animated GIFs that overlay the series of Muybridge's photographs, while contemporary researchers relied on slow-mo, high-speed HD to offer physical evidence that, indeed, a horse does fly through the air when galloping.

Photos by Eadweard Muybridge/Animated by Waugsberg
Photos by Eadweard Muybridge/Animated by Waugsberg via Wikimedia Commons

The revolutionary work of photographers and scientists show us that this natural equine gait is both an art and a skill, if not involving a little bit of magic.

Can horses fly? It appears they are hooved fairies without wings, at least for a split second in time.

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Can Horses Fly? The Magic of Galloping