This year the Chinese new year falls on the 31st of January. The date changes annually since the Chinese follow the lunar calendar.
The Chinese word for horse is Mǎ and the character is 马, though one may often see the traditional character 馬 used.
People born in the year of the horse are said to be energetic, good with money and fond of travel. Good with communicating they may sometimes talk too much, but they are cheerful, perceptive, and talented. Somewhat extroverted they like entertainment and large crowds. They are popular among friends and active at work.
On the downside they cannot bear too much constraint. Their interests may also be somewhat superficial and lack real substance. Horse people are usually impatient and hot blooded about everything other than their daily work.
Seeking independence they rarely listen to advice. Meanwhile failure may result in pessimism. They usually have strong endurance but a bad temper. They are often flamboyant by nature, but they are wasteful since they are not good with matters of finance.
As for famous horses there are many. Chopin and Paul McCartney are both well known horse composers while Denzel Washington, Harrison Ford, Jackie Chan and John Travolta are just a few of some famous horse actors. There are even a few well known leaders including Genghis Khan, Emperor Kangxi and Yongzheng of China’s Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) and more recently the 26th President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt.
Horses often feature in Chinese idioms and everyday phrases. Their association with strength is reflected in several idioms such as hàn mǎ gōng láo (汗马功劳) is used to talk about a war exploit or contribution, such as in work.
Tiān mǎ xíng kōng (天马行空 lit. a heavenly steed soaring across the skies) is used to describe something as powerful and unconstrained in style.
Given horse people’s association with having a rather superficial interest in things, this is reflected in the idiom zǒu mǎ guān huā (走马观花) which means to “gain a superficial understanding through cursory observation.”
Meanwhile, a horse’s innocence and playfulness is perhaps reflected in the phrase qīng méi zhú mǎ (青梅竹马) which transliterates as males and females play innocently together during childhood or more simply “childhood”. The idiom in Chinese literally translates as green plum bamboo (or hobby) horse. The roots of the story have been lost in time but green plums and hobby horse do nonetheless reflect items from a child’s past.
Another idiom with ambiguous roots is lǘ chún mǎ zī (驴唇马觜). While it literally translates as “donkey’s lip, horse's mouth” it is used figuratively describe someone as being a chatterbox, who blathers or talks nonsense.
Tuō jiāng zhī mǎ (脱缰之马) is perhaps less ambiguous. Literally translating as “a horse that has thrown off the reins” it may be used to describe either a real “runaway horse” or anything which is “out of control”.
One horse that is perhaps best avoided in this modern era is the so-called Trojan Horse, a virus that could play havoc with your computer. In Chinese the term mù mǎ (木马) is used though it literally translates as wooden horse. The same term is also used to describe the ‘horse’ used in gymnastics.
In the west we often refer to an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within a family, as the “black sheep”. However in Chinese they refer to a horse in the phrase hài qún zhī mǎ (害群之马) which talks of one horse damaging the whole herd.
Our final idiom for the day is zhǐ lù wéi mǎ (指鹿为马) which literally means to call a stag a horse, but is used to describe when someone is obviously lying and twisting facts. The phrase is said to have originated in the Qin Dynasty when a Supreme Eunuch called Zhàogāo commanded obedience from everyone including the Emperor. One day he called a stag a horse to test the loyalty of those around him.