The figure presumably dates to "the later prehistory", i.e. the Iron Age (800 BC–AD 100) or the late Bronze Age (1000–700 BC). This view was generally held by scholars even before the 1990s, based on the similarity of the horse's design to comparable figures in Celtic art, and it was confirmed following a 1990 excavation led by Simon Palmer and David Miles of the Oxford Archaeological Unit, following which deposits of fine silt removed from the horse's 'beak' were scientifically dated to the late Bronze Age.
Iron Age coins that bear a representation comparable to the Uffington White Horse have been found, supporting the early dating of this artefact; it has also been suggested that the horse had been fashioned in the Anglo-Saxon period, more particularly during Alfred's reign, but there is no positive evidence to support this and the view is classified as "folklore" by Darvill (1996).
Numerous other prominent prehistoric sites are located nearby, notably Wayland's Smithy, a long barrow less than 2 kilometres (1 mi) to the west. The Uffington is by far the oldest of the white horse figures in Britain, and is of an entirely different design from the others.
It has long been debated whether the chalk figure was intended to represent a horse or some other animal. However, it has been called a horse since the 11th century at least. A cartulary of Abingdon Abbey, compiled between 1072 and 1084, refers to "mons albi equi" at Uffington ("the White Horse Hill").
The medieval Welsh book, Llyfr Coch Hergest [The Red Book of Hergest] (1375-1425), states: "Gerllaw tref Abinton y mae mynydd ac eilun march arno a gwyn ydiw. Ni thyf dim arno." which translates as "Near to the town of Abinton there is a mountain with a figure of a stallion upon it and it is white. Nothing grows upon it."
The head of the horse, with sheep grazing around it.
The horse is thought to represent a tribal symbol perhaps connected with the builders of Uffington Castle.
Until the late 19th century the horse was scoured every seven years as part of a more general local fair held on the hill. When regular cleaning is halted the figure quickly becomes obscured; it has always needed frequent work for the figure to remain visible.
In August 2002 the figure was defaced with the addition of a rider and three dogs by members of the "Real Countryside Alliance" (Real CA). The act was denounced by the Countryside Alliance.
In March 2012, as part of a pre-Cheltenham Festival publicity stunt, a bookmaker added a large jockey to the figure.
The Manger, with the White Horse at centre skyline and Dragon Hill (left)
The most significant nearby feature is the Iron AgeUffington Castle, located on higher ground atop a knoll above the White Horse. This hillfort comprises an area of approximately 3 hectares (7.4 acres) enclosed by a single, well-preserved bank and ditch. Dragon Hill is a natural chalk hill with an artificial flat top, associated in legend with St George.
To the west are ice-cut terraces known as the "Giant's Stair". Some believe these terraces at the bottom of this valley are the result of medieval farming, or alternatively were used for early farming after being formed by natural processes. The steep sided dry valley below the horse is known as the Manger and legend says that the horse grazes there at night.
David Bedford's Song of the White Horse (1978), commissioned for the BBC's Omnibus programme, depicts a journey along a footpath alongside the Uffington Horse and includes words from Chesterton's poem. At the climax of the video, aerial footage of the horse has been animated to show it rearing up from the ground.
The 1978 BBC television children's series The Moon Stallion uses the chalk horse as one of its principal locations and a major plot element, and includes footage of it in the title sequence.
Miles, David; Palmer, Simon; Lock, Gary; Gosden, Chris; Cromarty, Anne Marie (2003). Uffington White Horse and its Landscape: Investigations at White Horse Hill, Uffington, 1989–95 and Tower Hill, Ashbury, 1993–4. Thames Valley Landscape Series 18. Oxford: Oxford University School of Archaeology. ISBN0-947816-77-1.