Catching a Horse by Its Tail

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 47A
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2013


  1. The Fox and the Horse (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  2. Reynard Wants to Tast Horseflesh (Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen).

  3. Fox and Wolf (Netherlands, G. J. Boekenoogen).

  4. Brother Fox Catches Mr. Horse (African America, Joel Chandler Harris).

  5. The Fox and the Wolf (Native American--Chickasaw)

  6. Related links.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Fox and the Horse


A peasant had a faithful horse which had grown old and could do no more work, so his master no longer wanted to give him anything to eat and said, "I can certainly make no more use of you, but still I mean well by you, and if you prove yourself still strong enough to bring me a lion here, I will maintain you. But for now get out of my stable." And with that he chased him into the open field.

The horse was sad, and went to the forest to seek a little protection there from the weather. There the fox met him and said, "Why do you hang your head so, and go about all alone?"

"Alas," replied the horse, "greed and loyalty do not dwell together in one house. My master has forgotten what services I have performed for him for so many years, and because I can no longer plow well, he will give me no more food, and has driven me out."

"Without giving you a chance?" asked the fox.

"The chance was a bad one. He said, if I were still strong enough to bring him a lion, he would keep me, but he well knows that I cannot do that."

The fox said, "I will help you. Just lie down, stretch out as if you were dead, and do not stir."

The horse did what the fox asked, and then the fox went to the lion, who had his den not far off, and said, "A dead horse is lying out there. Just come with me, and you can have a rich meal."

The lion went with him, and when they were both standing by the horse the fox said, "After all, it is not very comfortable for you here -- I tell you what -- I will fasten it to you by the tail, and then you can drag it into your cave and eat it in peace."

This advice pleased the lion. He positioned himself, and in order that the fox might tie the horse fast to him, he kept completely quiet. But the fox tied the lion's legs together with the horse's tail, and twisted and fastened everything so well and so strongly that no amount of strength could pull it loose. When he had finished his work, he tapped the horse on the shoulder and said, "Pull, white horse, pull!"

Then up sprang the horse at once, and pulled the lion away with him. The lion began to roar so that all the birds in the forest flew up in terror, but the horse let him roar, and drew him and dragged him across the field to his master's door. When the master saw the lion, he was of a better mind, and said to the horse, "You shall stay with me and fare well." And he gave him plenty to eat until he died.

Reynard Wants to Taste Horseflesh


One day the bear was lying eating a horse which he had killed. Reynard was about again and came slinking along, his mouth watering for a tasty bit of the horseflesh. He sneaked in and out and round about till he came up behind the bear, when he made a spring to the other side of the carcass, snatching a piece as he jumped across.

The bear was not slow either. He made a dash after Reynard and caught the tip of his red tail in his paw. Since that time the fox has always had a white tip to his tail.

"Wait a bit, Reynard, and come here," said the bear, "and I'll teach you how to catch horses."

Yes, Reynard was quite willing to learn that, but he didn't trust himself too near the bear.

"When you see a horse lying asleep in a sunny place," said the bear, "you must tie yourself fast with the hair of his tail to your brush, and then fasten your teeth in his thigh," he said.

Before long the fox found a horse lying asleep on a sunny hillside, and so he did as the bear had told him. He knotted and tied himself well to the horse with the hair of the tail and then fastened his teeth into his thigh.

Up jumped the horse and began to kick and gallop, so that Reynard was dashed against stock and stone, and was so bruised and battered that he nearly lost his senses.

All at once a hare rushed by. "Where are you off to in such a hurry, Reynard?" asked the hare.

"I'm having a ride, Bunny!" said the fox.

The hare sat up on his hind legs and laughed till the sides of his mouth split right up to his ears, at the thought of Reynard having such a grand ride; but since then the fox has never thought of catching horses again.

That time it was Bruin who for once had the better of Reynard. Otherwise, they say the bear is as simple minded as the trolls.

Fox and Wolf


A fox and a wolf found an old horse in a mire. They wanted to take it with them and asked one another how they might manage.

The fox said, "You are the strongest. Tie the horse's tail around your body and pull, while I prod the horse with a stick."

That happened, and soon the horse was out of the mud, but it then ran off with the wolf tied to its tail.

"Claw your paws into the ground!" cried the fox.

"But I can see neither heaven nor earth!" answered the wolf.

Finally the wolf succeeded in breaking loose, and he and the fox continued on their way, but without the horse.

Brother Fox Catches Mr. Horse

African American

One day Brer Rabbit was going along the road studying how he was going to hold his own with Brer Fox when he saw a great big horse lying stretched out flat on his side in the pasture. He crept up, he did, to see if this horse had gone and died. He crept up, and he crept around, and by and by he saw the horse switch his tail, and then Brer Rabbit knew he wasn't dead. With that, Brer Rabbit loped back to the big road, and almost the first man he saw going by was Brer Fox.

Brer Rabbit, he took after him, and hollered, "Brer Fox! O Brer Fox! Come back! I've got some good news for you. Come back, Brer Fox," he said.

Brer Fox, he turned around, he did, and when he saw who was calling him he came galloping back, because it seemed like this was just as good a time as any to nab Brer Rabbit. But before he got within nabbing distance, Brer Rabbit, he up and said, "Come on, Brer Fox! I just found the place where you can lay in fresh meat enough to last you plumb until the middle of next year," he said.

Brer Fox, he asked where it was, and Brer Rabbit, he said, "Right over there in the pasture," and Brer Fox asked what it was, and Brer Rabbit said it was a whole horse lying down on the ground where they could catch him and tie him up.

With that, Brer Fox said, "Come on," and off they went.

When they got there, sure enough, they lay the horse all stretched out in the sun fast asleep, and then Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit had a dispute about how they were going to fix the horse so he could not get loose. One said one way and the other said another way, and so it was until after a while Brer Rabbit said, "The only plan I can think of, Brer Fox, is for you to go down there and let me tie you to the horse's tail," he said. "If I were a big man like you are," said Brer Rabbit, "you could tie me to the horse's tail, and if I didn't hold him down, then Joe's dead and Sal's a widow. I just know that you can hold him down," said Brer Rabbit. "But if you are afraid, we had just better drop this idea and study out some other plan," he said.

Brer Fox was sort of dubious about this, but it pleased him to play biggity in front of Brer Rabbit, and he agreed to the plan. Then Brer Rabbit, he took and tied Brer Fox to the horse's tail, and after he had him tied there hard and fast, he sort of stepped back, he did, and put his hands akimbo, and grinned, and then he said, "If there ever was a caught horse then it is this one that we caught. It sort of looks like we put the bridle on the wrong end."

With that Brer Rabbit cut himself a long switch and trimmed it up. When he had it fixed, he stepped up and hit the horse a rap -- pow! The horse was so surprised at this that he made one jump and landed on his feet. When he did that, there was Brer Fox dangling in the air.

Brer Rabbit, he darted out of the way and hollered, "Hold him down, Brer Fox! Hold him down! I'll stand out here and not get in your way. Hold him down, Brer Fox! Hold him down!"

Of course, when the horse felt Brer Fox hanging there on his tail, he thought something was the matter, and this made him jump and rear worse and worse, and he shook up Brer Fox just like he was a rag in the wind, and Brer Rabbit, he jumped and hollered, "Hold him down, Brer Fox! Hold him down! You've got him now! Hold your grip, and hold him down!" he said.

The horse, he jumped ,and he jumped, and he ripped, and he reared, and he snorted, and he tore. But Brer Fox kept hanging on, and Brer Rabbit kept skipping around hollering, "Hold him down, Brer Fox! You've got him where he can't get away. Hold him down, Brer Fox!" he said.

By and by, when Brer Fox got the chance, he hollered back, he did, "How in the name of goodness am I going to hold the horse down unless I get my claws in the ground?"

Then Brer Rabbit, he stood back a little further and hollered a little louder, "Hold him down, Brer Fox! Hold him down! You've got him now! Hold him down!"

By and by the horse began to kick with his hind legs, and the first thing you know, he fetched Brer Fox a lick in the stomach that fairly made him squall, and then he kicked him again, and this time he broke Brer Fox loose, and sent him a-whirling; and Brer Rabbit, he kept on a-jumping around and hollering, "Hold him down, Brer Fox!"

"Did the fox get killed, Uncle Remus?" asked the little boy.
"He wasn't exactly killed, honey," replied the old man, "but he was next door to it. He was all broken up, and while he was getting well, it sort of came across his mind that Brer Rabbit and done and played a trick on him."

The Fox and the Wolf

Native American (Chickasaw)

The fox and the wolf were friends. One time they agreed to go hunting. The fox went off in one direction, and so did the wolf in another direction. The fox traveled in a circle, and by and by ran across the wolf. He asked him what luck he had had. The wolf told him that he had met with a dog, and asked the dog why he liked to stay around human beings.

Said the dog, "I like them because they defend me."

Then he asked the dog how they defended him.

Said he, "Look behind that tree!"

Now, there stood a man with a gun. Then the wolf was terrified, ran off, and forgot about hunting until he met the fox.

Now, the fox told what luck he had had. He had had good luck. He told the wolf that he found a dead horse; but the horse was lying very near a road, and he was afraid to tackle him alone. He told the wolf, however, that if he would help him carry the horse off, they would have a feast. The wolf agreed, and they went to where the dead horse was. They stopped near by.

The wolf wouldn't believe the horse was dead. He told the fox to bring him a handful of hair. The fox brought him a handful of hair, and the wolf smelled it.

Said he, "Yes, he's been dead quite a while."

So now the wolf and fox consulted how to carry the dead horse away. The wolf allowed the fox to tie his tail to the dead horse's tail, and the fox took hold of his head to pull him off. When the wolf was securely tied to the horse's tail, the fox went over to his place near the head to get hold. Then suddenly he scratched the horse on the nose; and being, in truth, only asleep, the horse woke up, and dashed away, dragging the wolf.

Then the fox shouted to the wolf, "Hurrah for me, my friend!"

But the wolf cried in despair, "How can I hurrah, when I'm up in the air?"

Related links

Revised June 6, 2013.