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Water Horses

Goborehinu are Irish Horse-heads; Afanc is the Welsh name for them; the Endrop is the Rumanian version and in Scotland they are called Kelpie's or Highland Water Horses. These fabulous amphibians can be divided into two types: horses of the sea, often called Hippocamps, whose powers over the water are controlled by a higher authority, and lake or river horses who are demonic.

The Sea Horse is portrayed with the head, foreparts and front legs of a horse cojoined to the lower half of the body and tail of a fish. Sea Horses are steeds of the sea gods and of night, and represent the humid element, lunar power, fertility and chaos. They draw the chariot of the Greek god Poseidon, controller of the sea, earthquakes and springs; he is said to have created the horse and is regarded as an equestrian deity. The blind forces of primordial chaos can be symbolized by the Hippocamps that are driven and controlled by Poseidon's trident.

Some Sea Horses are not composite creatures. The thirteenth-century cosmographer Zakariyya al-Qaswini wrote in his treatise Wonders of Creation that the Sea Horse is like the horse of dry land, but its mane and its tail grow longer-, its colour is more lustrous and its hooves are cleft like those of wild oxen. These superb creatures lived in the sea but would emerge to mate with any mae tethered near the water. Zakariyya al-Qaswini, also stated that the resultant offspring of this mating was very beautiful; One, foal of this cross-breeding was said to be dark with white spots like pieces of silver. Horses who live in lakes and fresh Water are very often seen in a sinister light as they are fearsome monsters that are kin to the Nixies, malignant Slavonic water demons. The Kelpie is perhaps the most notorious example of a water demon - every lake in Scotland is reputed to have one but it is difficult to Identify them for they are shape-shifters, capable of assuming a number of forms.

When the Kelpie appears in horse form, it is a splendid steed, black and wild of eye. It looks just like an ordinary horse except for one small feature, it has backwards pointing hooves with the tuft on the pastern reversed; its footprints are unmistakeable. A Kelpie, wearing a bridle, will wait by the side of a river until a weary traveller sees it, mounts and tries to ride away. It then throws up its head, dives into deep water and disappears, leaving its rider to swim or drown, yet someone who knows the wiles of aKelpie can overcome it. The trick is to exchange its own bridle for an ordinary one and the Kelpie will become quite tame and do all the tasks that its master sets for it. But it should not be kept for too long or it will curse its captor and his descendants forever.

Sometimes the Kelpie appears in human form. A man quietly riding his horse along a river bank will suddenly and fearfully become aware that someone is sitting behind him. Then two hairy arms encircle him, clamping his body close to its own, crushing the very breath out of its victim. The man loses control of his horse which gallops wildly along the waterside; the hairy visitant eventually gets tired of the sport and vanishes. Perhaps a lass sitting by the side of a lake will see a handsome young man appear out of the waiter with waterweed or shells in his hair. He holds out beckoning arms to her, enticing her to him in the water, to drown in his arms.

Another Scottish Water Demon was the Ech-Ushkya (in Gaelic, Eachuisge). It was a handsome horse or pony that stood by the waterside waiting for some unsuspecting person to catch and ride it. That was the last action that its dupe took, however for the Ech-Ushkya was impossible to dismount and the man-eating fiend left only a portion of the victim's body, washed up on the shore, to show what had happened to it.