Horses play a huge role in the lifestyle and culture of the Norsemen as well as in their Myths and Sagas often playing the role of the prized possession. Horses were first introduced around the 9th century stretching from Denmark and Norway right the way to, and as far as, Iceland, wherever the Vikings settled. They instantly became greatly celebrated and of considerable importance partly due to the horses role in the Myths, often being acquaintances and confidants of the gods especially Odin, the all father.
According to the myths the Aesir would ride horses everyday over the Bi frost to council at Yggdrasil (apart from Thor who wades across and walks). Their horses are named in the Prose Edda. (I will put their name meanings and information in the table below)
“Each day the Aesir ride thither up over Bifröst, which is also called the Aesir's Bridge. These are the names of the Aesir's steeds: Sleipnir is best, which Odin has; he has eight feet. The second is Gladr, the third Gyllir, the fourth Glenr, the fifth Skeidbrimir, the sixth Silfrintoppr, the seventh Sinir, the eighth Gisl, the ninth Falhófnir, the tenth Gulltoppr, the eleventh Léttfeti. Baldr's horse was burnt with him; and Thor walks to the judgement.”-Prose Edda.
Apart from Sleipnir belonging to Odin and Gulltoppr belonging to Heimdallr there is no information given as to which Gods or Goddesses ride which horse. There are is also other horses belonging to other Aesir which perform other tasks. Gullfaxi is the horse of Magni given to him by Thor for aiding him in the slaying of Hrugnir the Jotun,
“But the hammer Mjöllnir struck Hrungnir in the middle of the head, and smashed his skull into small crumbs, and he fell forward upon Thor, so that his foot lay over Thor's neck. Thjálfi struck at Mökkurkálfi, and he fell with little glory. Thereupon Thjálfi went over to Thor and would have lifted Hrungnir's foot off him, but could not find sufficient strength. Straightway all the Æsir came up, when they, learned that Thor was fallen, and would have lifted the foot from off him, and could do nothing. Then he came up, son of Thor and Járnsaxa: he was then three nights old; he cast the foot of Hrungnir off Thor, and spake: 'See how ill it is, father, that I came so late: I had struck this giant dead with my fist, methinks, if I had met with him.' Thor arose and welcomed his son, saying that he should surely become great; 'And I will give thee, he said, the horse Gold-Mane, which Hrungnir possessed.”
Blodughofi or Bloody hoof is the horse of Freyr and although it isn’t mentioned in text its safe to assume that this is the horse that he gave to his servant Skirnir to aid in the wooing of Gerdr the Jotun
“Freyr tells Skírnir that he saw a beautiful woman, so beautiful that he was filled with grief and that he would soon die if he could not have her. Freyr tells Skírnir that he must go gain her hand on his behalf—whether the woman's father agrees or not—and he will be rewarded. Skírnir replies that he accepts the mission but only in exchange for Freyr's sword, which can fight on its own. Freyr gives him the sword and Skírnir sets off. Skírnir asks for the woman's hand for Freyr and receives her promise. Nine nights later she is to meet with Freyr at a location called Barey.”-Wikipedia extract.
Arvakr and Alsvidr are Sol’s horses which pull her chariot across the the sky and like wise Mani has a pair that pulls his chariot, however they remain unnamed.
Hofvapnir in Gna’s horse from which she delivered messages for Frigg and the Aesir. She did this on Hofvapnir sired by the horses Hamskerpir and Gardrofa. It could travel through the air and even on water.
Skinfaxi and Hrimfaxi are the horses of Dagr and Nott which they ride bringing the day and night.
Helhest is the horse of Hel which has three legs and carries Hel, and pulls a wagon, to the place of death. In Danish Mythology the Helhest or Hell Horse is a three legged horse that is associated with death and illness, and it is mentioned in folklore as having been spotted in various locations in Denmark.
When they are not being used their horses live and graze in front of Valhalla in Glasislundr, the ‘Glasir grove’ of trees with reddish gold leaves. Where other horses stand named Hjalmther, Lettfeti, Soti, Lungr, Vigg, Sinir, Gisl, Silfrintoppr, Hafeti, Tjaldori, Falhofnir, Gering, Skaevadr, Gler, Jor, Gyllir, Glenr and Skeidbrimnir. Little else is known of these horses.
There are also horses present in the sagas of the norse people with such horses as Grani which belonged to the hero Sigurd
“In chapter 13 of the Vollsunga saga, the hero Sigurd is on his way to a wood when he meets a long-bearded old man he had never seen before. Sigurd tells the old man that he is going to choose a horse, and asks the old man to come with him to help him decide. The old man says that they should drive the horses down to the river Busiltjorn. The two drive the horses down into the deeps of Busiltjorn, and all of the horses swim back to land but a large, young, and handsome gray horse that no one had ever mounted. The grey-bearded old man says that the horse is from "Sleipnir's kin" and that "he must be nourished heedfully, for it will be the best of all horses". The old man vanishes. Sigurd names the horse Grani, and the narrative adds that the old man was none other than Odin.”-Wikipedia extract.
(As well as many others all mentioned in the table below)
As for the north peoples themselves, they saw horses as a symbol of fertility and as great sacrificial gifts, the most prized being white horses. Vikings and Norsemen used them in warfare, rituals, sacrifices, horse fighting, burials, farming and even as meat. Many of the graves found throughout Iceland contain the remains of horses signifying that horse and master were often buried together.
A horse slaughter itself whether for burial or otherwise was a very dramatic event. A famous Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan witnessed this practice on his travels.
“Then they disinterred the chieftain and gave him new clothes. In his grave, he received intoxicating drinks, fruits, and a stringed instrument. The chieftain was put into his bed with all his weapons and grave offerings around him. Then they had two horses run themselves sweaty, cut them to pieces, and threw the meat into the ship. Finally, they sacrificed a hen and a cock.”- Wikipedia extract.
All in all the Norsemen respected their horses and looked after them with more respect than any other animal.