What the play is about
The play is set in the office of psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Dysart. It begins with a monologue from Dysart in which he outlines that the case of seventeen-year old Alan Strang is among the strangest with which he has ever dealt. He also divulges feelings that his occupation is not all that he wishes it would be. He sees so many troubled young people and there is a never-ending supply of them for him to “adjust”. A court official visits Dysart as she believes he has the skills in his profession to help Alan come to terms with a violent act he perpetrated. Alan had, seemingly inexplicably, blinded six horses at a stable in which he worked. To begin with, Dysart has a great deal of difficulty making any kind of headway with Alan who responds to any kind of questioning by singing advertising jingles. Slowly, Dysart makes contact with Alan by playing a kind of game where each of them asks a question which must be answered honestly. He finds out that from an early age Alan has been receiving conflicting viewpoints on religion from his parents. Dora Strang, a devout Christian and the mother of Alan, read to him daily from the Bible. This antagonizes Alan’s atheist father, Frank Strang, who, concerned that Alan took far too much interest in the more violent aspects of the Bible, specifically the crucifixion of Christ, takes out his frustration by destroying a picture of the crucifixion that Alan has at the foot of his bed. He replaced the picture with one of a horse. In conversation with Dysart, Frank reveals that one night he saw Alan kneeling in front of the picture of the horse chanting a made-up genealogy of horses parodying that of Christ in the Bible. The list of names ends with “Equus.” Whilst kneeling, Alan takes a coat hanger and flagellates. Through further questioning of Alan, it is revealed that he made up for his lack of a focus for his worship by deifying horses. Alan believes that the spirit of Equus resides in all horses. Alan has a job working in a shop selling electrical goods, where he meets Jill Mason. She visits the shop wanting blades for horse-clippers. Alan is instantly interested when he discovers that Jill has such close contact with horses. Jill suggests that Alan work for the owner of the stables, Harry Dalton, and Alan agrees. Alan is held by Dalton to be a model worker, since he keeps the stables immaculately clean and grooms the horses, including one named “Nugget.” Through Dysart’s questioning, it becomes clear that Alan is erotically fixated on Nugget and secretly takes him for midnight rides. Alan rides him bareback and naked enjoying the feeling of the power of the animal and the smell of the sweat. One day, Jill asks Alan to take her to a pornography theatre. While there, they run into Frank. They all leave embarrassed after giving weak excuses for their presence in the theater. However, this chance occurrence allows Alan to realize that sex is a natural thing that all men – even his father – do. Alan walks Jill home but Jill suggests that they go to the stables to have sex. Alan is very nervous in the stable as he hears the horses moving around. He is frustrated that his nervousness makes him unable to get an erection. He threatens Jill with a hoof pick and makes her leave the stable. When she is gone he blames the horses and the spirit of Equus for his embarrassment, and punishes the six horses by blinding them for seeing his shame. The play concludes with Dysart questioning the fundamentals of his practice and whether or not what he does will actually ‘help’ Alan, as the effect of his treatment will remove Alan’s extremely intense sexual and religious connections. Dysart also reflects upon his life noticing that it has not yielded any such comparable passion, and that he has the bit in his mouth.