The Uffington White Horse

Dotted across the English countryside is a number of stark white horses carved into the sides of hills. They measure hundreds of feet long and are best viewable from overhead. The oldest of these white mares is the Uffington White Horse.

Dated 3,000-years-old by archaeologists, the Uffington Horse is believed to be the stallion that started this trend. The Celts clearly used it as a landmark, and crude depictions of it even show up on Iron Age coins.

The origin of the Uffington Horse is entirely lost to time, though other chalk carvings—like the Cern Abbas Giant—have been related to fertility or some other religious idol. Researchers aren’t even sure the Uffington carving was even meant to represent a horse. Some theorize it could be a saber-toothed tiger or a deer.

What puzzles scientists even more is why people would make something almost impossible to view without some sort of aerial transportation. The horse is so iconic from the air that, believe it or not, it had to be covered up during World War II to keep German fighter pilots from using it as a navigation aid.

Seventeen similar horses have survived to modern times, but many more are known to have existed. It became fashionable for wealthy landowners in the 18th and early 19th century to carve their own versions of chalk horses into hillsides on their land. Lost figures have either been overgrown or worn away due to lack of upkeep.

westbury white horse

18th century Westbury White Horse. CC Chris Downer

Chalk carvings like the Uffington Horse require constant upkeep to keep grass from overtaking it, or the chalk from fading away. What makes the Uffington White Horse’s 3,000-year lifespan unbelievable, is that people have kept it up all this time.

The United Kingdom’s National Trust has taken over protection of the horse and uses volunteers to help re-chalk the horse a few times a year.

uffington white horse

Sheep grazing near the chalk. CC Ethan Doyle