What is an ox-head?

by Kristin Berkery

“Ox-head” doesn’t sound like a flattering term, but Alexander the Great would disagree. According to Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship by Deb Bennett, PhD, the name of Alexander’s legendary steed was Bucephalus, meaning “ox-head” in ancient Greek.

Two examples of the "ox-head" type. Image from Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship

Why did Alexander the Great name his horse “ox-head”? Obviously it has something to do with the appearance of Bucephalus’ head. Dr. Bennett describes it this way in Conquerors: “First, the eyes: large, liquid, bovine, and most importantly, supported by bony orbits which arch above the plane of the animal’s forehead, quite different from the appearance of the Arabian with its full or even bulging frontal area.”

Alexander the Great practiced Greek polytheism, which included worshiping the Great Mother, Hera — also known as the Cow Goddess. Cattle were revered in the time of Alexander so the term “ox-head” was a compliment.

Ox-heads can be found in a wide variety of breeds, from the Welsh and Connemara ponies to the Quarter Horse and all its related breeds.

If you discover your own horse has ox-head characteristics, does that mean it’s descended from Bucephalus? Not necessarily. The ox-head type was common during the time of Bucephalus and proved to be highly heritable through the generations, meaning the ox-head characteristics were often dominant over other head types.

So while your ox-headed horse may not be descended from Bucephalus, you can be proud that your horse is carrying on an ancient heritage.

Alexander the Great and his mount, Bucephalus, during the Battle of Issus in the fourth century BC. This mosaic was discovered on the island of Pompeii.

About Kristin Berkery

Kristin is a freelance graphic designer and writer in Sacramento, California, with a life-long passion for horses. She designs websites and marketing materials for businesses. In her spare time she's active with her daughter and son. See Kristin's online portfolio and LinkedIn profile.

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