Half Gringa’s Songs About Horses

Isabel Olive pairs her recent single “Afraid of Horses” with eleven more equine-themed tracks.

Half Gringa’s recent single “Afraid of Horses” isn’t really about a fear of horses—“I tried to care enough so our fear could be irrelevant,” Isabel Olive sings, her voice interwoven in harmony with that of fellow Chicago songwriter Gia Margaret, “But I’m too tough and you’re afraid of horses.” While the track may not be literal, Olive does have some riding experience having grown up near stables. It’s a memory that she claims resurfaces when she listens to the track “Forgot My Horse’s Name” by Tenci—yet another Chicagoan—and likely one that inspired her own equine-themed single.

And there’s plenty more where that came from. Ahead of the release of her latest LP Force to Reckon at the end of August, Olive went ahead and compiled nearly a dozen tracks that deal with the theme of horses in some capacity, balancing the literal with heavy metaphors, difficult subject matter with Lil Nas X. It’s a pretty diverse track list, though its binding theme is enough to make for an interesting listen.

Stream the full thing below, and pre-order Force, out August 28, here.

Simón Díaz, “Caballo Viejo” 

One of the greatest folk musicians of Venezuela. I love the tone of the cuatro here. Also, the lyrics are really intense. He talks about time as a construct a lot. “The old horse can’t lose the flower he’s given, because after this life, there’s no other chance.” Jeez.

Tenci, “Forgot My Horse’s Name” 

I haven’t had a ton of experience with horses. Keeping them is expensive and riding lessons are expensive, but we could afford to go to the stables near my house as a kid and you could pay a fee to have someone lead a horse with you on it through a blackberry patch. The first time I did it, I was eight and did not realize how big horses are. As a result of my terror, I forgot the name of the horse I was riding—I still can’t remember the names of any horses I rode. This song reminds me of that, and the feeling of riding a very slow, patient horse who stops to munch on blackberries and couldn’t care less where you want to go. 

Bruce Springsteen, “Chasin’ Wild Horses” 

Bruuuuuuce. I love Bruce Springsteen. I know his daughter competes as a professional rider, maybe that’s why he’s got horses on the brain? But of course, brings it all back to having an intense longing inside that you just can’t shake. 

Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” 

What’s not to love? Riding away on a horse in style is, I think, the most incredible way to make an exit.

V.V. Lightbody, “Horse on Fire” 

I really identified with this song because of the content—a friend doing something terrible and then completely bailing when you try to hold them accountable. It sucks. Viv wrote this song the way I like to write about difficult subjects sometimes—with an extremely sick soundtrack. There’s a double farfisa solo that just goes apeshit, and saxophone. I play saxophone and love hearing it in rock music.

Mitski, “A Horse Named Cold Air” 

“I thought I’d traveled a long way / But I had circled / The same old sin.” Damn, don’t I know that feeling.

Bonny Light Horseman, “Bonny Light Horseman” 

This is a really good version of a very forlorn Irish folk song about the Napoleonic Wars. With another saxophone! Did not see that one coming.

Mannequin Pussy, “High Horse” 

This song is devastating, a picture of an abusive relationship—and includes the “high horse” metaphor, in the saddest way.

Emma Ruth Rundle, “Darkhorse” 

Everything Emma Ruth Rundle plays makes my brain explode in the best way. The drums on this whole record sound like horses running, and I had them in mind when we were recording “Afraid of Horses” in the studio.

Red Red Meat, “Carpet of Horses” 

You may think that a Chicago supergroup may have a tough time writing about horses, but this song certainly makes me feel like I’m a horse somewhere on the plains, losing track of time. 

America, “A Horse With No Name

My strongest memory of this song is driving through eastern Pennsylvania at 3 a.m. trying to get to a show on the East Coast in one night (I cannot recommend doing this). When it was my turn to drive, it was pitch black and all I could see to my left and right was fog, so I listened to this song and just focused on those bongos.

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