First of all, I love this song, but it always makes me feel deeply sad – I thought it was about a girl who died saving her horse, and nothing makes me cry harder than A DEAD PET. But listening more closely, I realized this shit is actually about A GHOST. I searched up an interview with Mr. Murphey, and it’s true! The song is based on a ghost story that he learned growing up in Texas: there is a wild, free horse that can never be caught. If the horse is cornered, it will leap over a chasm and come back as a ghost. The ghost horse symbolizes freedom, something cherished by the cowboys who tell their version, and the Native Americans with whom this story originates. According to Mr. Murphey, the horse will show up when you need her. Murphy, who is Christian, makes a connection with a story from Revelations, in which Jesus comes back riding a white horse.
This story is known in popular folklore as the “Pacing White Stallion” or the “White Mustang of the Prairies.” According to those frontier legends (aka ‘white folks’), a magnificent wild stallion is frequently sighted, never tamed. All of the cowboys want it for their own, but when someone finally traps the Mustang, it dies rather than surrender to freedom. Same story as Murphey’s, but without the ghost. THE GHOST MAKES IT SO MUCH BETTER.