A horse with a flaming mane isn’t exactly a new idea – they’ve popped up in mythology for ages and ages – but it certainly makes for a striking image, and they’ve done it pretty cleanly here. Her ears are kind of a feline shape, but other than that she’s a pretty straight depiction of a foal. Really the only fantasy element here is turning her hair into fire and adding a few dollops of flame on her thighs, but that’s enough to make her look like a proud, determined kid. Plus, there’s a lotta horse fans out there. I’m sure they’re happy that the series’ premier equine representative doesn’t mess with the formula too much.
Of course a fantasy horse would evolve into a fantasy unicorn. She mostly looks like a more mature Ponyta that grew a unicorn horn (straight out of its flesh, no less) and… that’s it. Either because of or despite how simple these two are, we didn’t see another common horse Pokémon for a whole two decades. Honestly, I kind of prefer it to the strategy of creating another redundant two-stage line of domestic cats every few years, and if they’re going to have a single, well-conceived horse in the series, she should be it.
She’s fine by the numbers: wonderful speed (of course – she’s a horse) and great attack, as well. Unfortunately Rapidash is a bit of a one-trick pony, har-dee-har, and most of her attack options either aren’t physical, aren’t Fire-type, or inflict recoil damage. She gets a little bit of type coverage through TMs and can hold her own okay, but in general she’s just not equipped to make the most of her archetype.
Rapidash has certainly made her mark in the roster, at least – she’s featured center-screen in a whole cut of the first television opening and gets slotted in a lot as a Pokémon people will ride around on because – as noted – she’s the only horse they’d have for a long while. Not nearly at the status of the rounder, more plush-sized fellas, but not bad.
Rapidash and especially Ponyta see their red flames turn blue in their alternate “shiny” coloration – it’s a cool tie-in of how especially hot flames burn blue, but it unfortunately doesn’t translate to any fun side-effects like increased special attack or anything.
Aside from featuring another few of the games’ more hyperbolic claims (hooves “ten times harder than diamonds”, or clearing Uluru in a single bound), Ponyta and Rapidash are portrayed as pretty normal for the most part. They’re just horses that love running and got very good at it. After such a parade of weirdos up to this point, it’s almost odder for the games not to have some wild “did you know” factoid to slip us up with. I mean, there’s the idea that Rapidash’s mane sparkles when she runs, because she is a unicorn so of course it does, but given context you can pretty immediately write that off as flickering embers.
…then the anime goes and slips something weird on in there. It is just a little curious that people can ride Ponyta despite her always being portrayed with flames running down her entire spine. So instead of writing it off as some biological process that Ponyta can just stop doing at will, apparently she can just choose to make her flames “not hot”… and even spot-by-spot, since she’s shown burning someone at the same time that she’s being safely ridden? Something fishy’s going on – then again, this comes a dozen episodes after the one and only time Tentacool performed brainwashing, so clearly the first season of the show in particular was playing things real fast and loose, even compared to what the series is now.
Ponyta and Rapidash are some of the most straightforward Pokémon yet, but there’s nothing overtly wrong with that. She’s probably the go-to Pokémon in Reserve whenever they should need to put a horse somewhere.
Any and all appreciation for Ponyta and Rapidash is welcome in the comments!