Portrait of a boy riding a nykk in the form of a water horse, by Theodor Kittelsen
|Sub grouping||Lake monster
The term "water horse" was originally a name given to the kelpie, a horse like creature similar to the hippocamp that has the head, neck and mane of a normal horse, legs like a horse, webbed feet, and a long, two-lobed, whale-like tail. The term has also been used as a nickname for lake monsters, particularly Ogopogo and Nessie. The name "kelpie" has often been used as a nickname for many other Scottish lake monsters, such as each uisge and Morag of Loch Morar and Lizzie of Loch Lomond. Other names for these sea monsters include "seahorse" (not referring to the seahorse fish) and "hippocampus" (which is the genus name for everyday seahorses).
The usage of "water horse" or "kelpie" can often be a source of confusion as some take the two terms to be synonymous while others distinguish the water horse as a denizen of lochs while the kelpie inhabits places of turbulent water such as rivers, fords and waterfalls. Some authors call one creature of a certain place a kelpie while others call it a water horse. The name "water bull" has been used for either creature.
Other lake monsters
The water horse has often become a basic description of other lake monsters such as the Canadian Lake Okanagan monster Ogopogo and the Lake Champlain monster Champ. Loch Morar is reputedly home to "Morag", a lake monster which has been portrayed as a water horse.
Whilst most Scottish/Celtic folklore places the water horse in a loch (particularly a loch that is famous for a lake monster, such as Loch Ness, Loch Morar or Loch Lomond), some Breton and Cornish tales of water horses place them in the ocean, making them sea monsters.
Most Highland loch have some kind of water horse tradition, although a study of 19th century literature of the time showed that only about sixty lochs and lochans merited a mention out of the thousands of bodies of water that make up Scotland. The water horse that was reputed to inhabit Loch Ness gained the most mentions in Highland literature.
Water horse sightings were reported regularly during the 18th century, but it was not until the 19th century that sightings were recorded.
- In 1846, Captain Christmas of the Danish Navy reported sighting "an enormous, long-necked beast pursuing a school of dolphins" somewhere between Iceland and the Faroe Islands. He described the creature as having a horse-like head and a neck as thick as a man's waist "moving gracefully like a swan's".
- At 5pm on August 6, 1848 an officer of HMS Daedalus noticed an unusual-looking animal swimming towards the ship. It was said to look similar to a sea serpent with a four-foot-long neck. Its head was about 15 or 16 inches long. It was reported to have no visible fins/flippers or tail showing and it had what appeared to be a horsy mane on its neck with seaweed washed over its back.
- In autumn 1883, two horse-headed beasts, one of them smaller than the other (suggesting or implying a juvenile), were reported off the southern coast of Panama. The crew of American whaler Hope On reported seeing a 20-foot-long creature submerge. It was brownish coloured with black speckles and four legs/flippers with a tail "that seemed to be divided into two parts" (implying the whale-like tail appearance) and all four limbs and tail were exposed when it reached the surface. A second creature that looked just like it only much smaller tagged along behind it. In the same year, a sighting of a similar-looking creature occurred in the Bristol Channel. This creature was reported as leaving behind a greasy slug/snail-like trail.
- Anderson, Godfrey (12 March 1967). "Loch Ness monster no laughing matter at Inverness". Sarasota Herald. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
- Watson (2011)