A Brief History of World Leaders on Horseback

Colin Groundwater

Recently, the dictator Kim Jong-Un took a break from executing dissidents to ride a majestic white horse to the top of Mt. Paektu, the highest peak in North Korea. Today we have photos to prove it, courtesy of government-owned news outlet KCNA.

Kim adds himself to a rich tradition of despots, royals, and U.S. presidents posing on horseback; it’s been a look that has connoted power and status for centuries. But these days, the equestrian pose has taken a bizarre turn from classical portraiture of old to whatever Kim is doing here.

It looks cold up on Mt. Peaktu, but Kim seems to be having a grand old time in his fur-lined coat—check him out galloping across the frozen mountain plain. In another image, he rides slowly through a snowy wood. Is it a foreboding sign of a political statement that will shock the globe? Promo for an upcoming Netflix holiday special? We’ll have to wait and see.

Below we have a whirlwind tour of world leaders on horseback—from the fierce (Napoleon) to the fun (LBJ) to the freaky (Putin). Welcome to the club, Supreme Leader, the company is mixed.

Shah Jahan, Mughal Emperor

Detail of Shah Jahan on Horseback Attributed to Bhag

Francis G. Mayer

The man who brought you the Taj Mahal and the best years of the Mughal Empire also brought you this timeless look. If the horse doesn’t tell you that he’s not a man to be messed with, the halo should say the rest.

Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia

An 1875 copy of a painting of catherine the great on horseback by v, eriksen, 1762.


A riding coat fit for the longest ruling woman in the history of Russia. All rumors aside, Catherine looked great on horseback.

Napoleon, Emperor of France

Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul, Crossing the Alps at Great St. Bernard Pass by Jacques-Louis David

Photo Josse / Leemage

“Napoleon Crossing the Alps” - The equestrian portrait to end all equestrian portraits, what all aspiring conquerors are aiming for. The billowing cloak, the rearing horse, the raw swagger - 10 out of 10.

Victoria, Queen of England

Queen Victoria with John Brown


Queen Victoria teaches a masterclass in how to grow more regal with age, with an equine assist.

Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia

Haile Selassie


The legendary Emperor of Ethiopia oozes confidence, both on the horse and in that hat.

Emiliano Zapata, Mexican Revolutionary Leader



The legendary Mexican revolutionary once said “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” Why do either when you can ride on a horse? Though perhaps not a global leader on the scale of others on this list, Zapata’s iconic look is horseback canon.

Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States

Lyndon Johnson Herding Cattle


President Lyndon B. Johnson, wrangling cattle and cultivating his Texan brand identity.

Ronald Reagan, President of the United States.


Pete Souza

He rides! He points! He won’t tax capital gains! The Gipper did it all. I don’t know what he’s looking at here, but it sure seems fun.

Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France

Displacement of Nicolas Sarkozy to Camargue, France On December 18, 2007-

Pool Interagences

Sarkozy doesn’t look as comfortable on horseback as some of the others on this list, but he can hide the fact behind this horse’s magnificent bangs.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ri


The horseback photoshoot that shook the world. Everyone knows that when he’s not hacking elections, the President of Russia loves spending time outdoors. No one knows why he took his shirt off for this camera shoot.

Originally Appeared on GQ