Wild horses vs. Mick Jagger

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On Facebook, Olga Gardner Galvin recently asked the all-important question, “Why do people insist on writing songs about wild horses? What the hell do we know about wild horses anyway? Has anyone here ever seen one?”

She then noted some lyrics:

“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away” — The Rolling Stones
“Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?” — U2
“All the wild horses / Tethered with tears in their eyes” — Ray Lamontagne
“Wild horses could not drag me away from you” — Gino Vanelli (whoever he is, he’s an original [expletive])
“Wild horses keep draggin’ me away” — Garth Brooks (at least they succeed here where the Stones’ and Vanelli’s wild horses failed)

Aside from the tired, lazy, copycat songwriting (one song has a bit about wild horses and then in subsequent years everyone has to write about wild horses any time they want to indicate how strong their love is), there are some logical problems here.

First, wild horses don’t have a grudge against human romantic relationships. They don’t seek out men in love with women and then try to drag them away from their loved ones in order to cause heartache. Why do songwriters insist on maligning wild horses this way? Wild horses don’t give a damn about you and your love life. They have more important things to do. Like eating. And defecating.

Second, even if wild horses did have some reason to want to keep people in love apart, they probably wouldn’t be especially well-organized and work as a team to achieve this goal. They’re wild horses, not trained circus horses. As wild horses, they mostly just do what they want — run, graze, mate. Rarely do they huddle up and participate in a coordinated effort. Under what circumstances really would a bunch of wild horses be in a position to work together to drag you away from your girlfriend? It just seems unlikely.

Third, the implication is that wild horses — horses out in the wild — are somehow the strongest of the horses, so resisting their efforts to drag you away from your lover is especially admirable because of how strong they are. But aren’t work horses — farm horses, horses that pull carts, race horses — all accustomed to doing work, trained to pull heavy weights (think of the Budweiser Clydesdales), exceptional athletes, and used to following instructions and even working together in some cases? Wild horses just run every which way, and one might think they would sometimes be undernourished and suffering from diseases since they don’t have veterinary care and live in the wild and therefore might sometimes be among the least healthy and powerful of the horses. Of the various kinds of horses, why think that being able to stand strong against the pull of wild horses demonstrates love more powerfully than standing strong against any other kind of horse?

And what about standing strong against elephants? You would think elephants would be even more capable of dragging men away from their beloveds, since they are bigger and stronger than horses, and so a song that proclaimed that “wild elephants couldn’t drag me away” would be expressing even greater devotion than a song that stuck with the wild horses. Sure, elephants aren’t likely to be trying to drag a person away from another person — there’s the problem of motivation again — but then neither are wild horses. If Mick Jagger really cared about the woman he wants not to be dragged away from, he would’ve crooned about wild elephants, or maybe a large truck, since a large truck is powerful — even more powerful than an elephant — and not letting one drag you away would prove your love maybe even more than not letting an elephant drag you away. It’s possible I’m digressing, but not likely. 

But let’s put all that aside and agree that wild horses, even if not the strongest horses and less powerful than elephants and large trucks, are still horses — large, heavy mammals that can run very fast. Many wild horses are healthy and powerful, and since they’re wild they might be unpredictable and even violent when they feel threatened, which they might feel when rock and roll singers refuse to be dragged wherever it is the horses are trying to drag them. Considered in this light, we have to concede that in the lyrics above, Garth Brooks gets it right. Wild horses keep draggin’ him away. And certainly they could, though no one knows why they would want to.

It’s clear that for all Mick Jagger’s bravado, we shouldn’t believe for a second that wild horses couldn’t drag him away. Madly in love and devoted as he might be, if wild horses did want to drag Mick Jagger away, they could, easily. He only weighs about 50 pounds.

Scott Stein is editor of When Falls the Coliseum and author of the novels Lost and Mean Martin Manning. His short comedic fiction, book reviews, and essays have been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Oxford University Press Humor Reader, The G.W. Review, Liberty, National Review,, Art Times, and Reason. He is a professor of English at Drexel University. Scott tweets @sstein. His author site is

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One Response to “Wild horses vs. Mick Jagger”

  1. It’s possible that some of the references to wild horses have something to do with heroin, which in some circles used to be known as “horse.” Furthermore, if one had an associate who was enjoying the effects of heroin, one might say “Carl? Oh, he’s riding the wild horse right now. So he can’t come to the phone.”

    I know all this because I am hep to the jive.

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