Concentrating on manifestations of the 'equestrian sublime' in the work of Burns and
Byron, and especially in 'Tam o'Shanter' and Mazeppa, this essay suggests that while both
poets use the 'wild ride' as a metaphor for liberty, their horses acquire a life beyond serving
as metaphors for the difficult relationship between reason and passion, culture and nature.
Byron's Mazeppa is the more elaborate in refining a moral lesson: Mazeppa learns a middle
course between wildness and repression, manifest in the care he lavishes on his well-trained
steed. Burns's 'Tam o'Shanter' remains 'whaur extremes meet', its human protagonist a
feckless creature compared to his 'noble Maggie', and the poem employs the civilised
pleasures of imagination to defy the supernatural interdictions of Calvinism. Nevertheless,
the abiding image of both poems is not so much the hard-won wisdom of riderly experience
as the frisson of the 'wild ride' itself. It was this that so enthralled the nineteenth-century
public and ensured the enduring popularity of these two equestrian poems.