Microsoft inadvertently spooked users this month, when the appearance of a small graphic of a horse made countless users fear they had been hacked.

In much the same way that Google uses its famous ‘doodles’ to highlight national days of importance or special anniversaries, Microsoft has introduced small icons to its search bar, reminding people of large events or notable dates. It just so happened that the first that many users saw was a horse, in this case used to honour the Kentucky Derby.

Microsoft perhaps failed to spot the semantic links to trojan horses, however, any many users who saw the small icon appear seemingly out of nowhere thought they had been hacked, or at least inadvertently downloaded some malicious software.

Thankfully, the truth was nothing quite so untoward, and instead is what Microsoft hopes will be a simple and fun way to mark big dates.

That said, some users remained unimpressed, with one Reddit user (r/mattfalco) complaining that Windows was not the vehicle for such graphics: “[it’s] not a search engine webpage but an OS used by professionals for serious work.”

Though the horse was the first to gain serious widespread attention, it wasn’t the first icon used by Microsoft in this way. Earlier there had been an American football and microphone, used to signify the NFL draft.

Whether these icons will become tailored to individual countries or regions in future and not be so US-centric (or even continue at all, following this somewhat negative fallout) is yet to be seen.

If you’ve spotted the icon on your device and wish to remove it, there are two different ways, depending on whether you’re running Windows 10 or 11.

For Windows 11, head to Privacy & Security > Search Permissions > More Settings, where you can then turn off Search Highlights.

If you’re running Windows 10, simply right-click on the search bar then uncheck Show Search Highlights.