Nov 21 2012, 4:37pm
Yes Gandalf says he is not 'sending' his horse back, but riding it back, implying (in my opinion at least), that he will return this horse.
That said, Gandalf had a journey before him still, and it would be natural enough to want a horse at this time. I would have to check the text again, but unless there's something that states or implies that Beorn would not continue to lend Gandalf his horse, some are just raising the possibility that maybe he did.
As far as I know the text doesn't say (with respect to riding or walking) what happens after all the steeds are back at Beorn's home. I didn't check Appendix B to see if the wording there might help, but this is all I could find so far (hopefully correct as it is)...
Gandalf and his partial horse history
Third Age 2941: Gandalf visits Bilbo in the Shire. We know that Gandalf rides a white horse (Roast Mutton) at the start of the journey, and this horse is later noted (the 1960 Hobbit) as being named Rohald and 'belonged to Rivendell, & had been lent by Elrond to Gandalf' (Arrival in Rivendell, New Chapter Three, notes, The History of The Hobbit).
Is Rohald an 'Elvish horse'? And if so, what does that mean exactly? Possibly that's a discussion for a later time!
But The Hobbit notes that after Rivendell, Elrond then lent Gandalf a 'jolly sturdy little white fellow' of a pony, since his horse was not suitable for the mountain paths. But these are captured of course. Later Beorn provides horses, but they must be returned, and Gandalf says he is not 'sending' his horse back, but riding it back, implying, at least, that he will return this horse. If memory serves there is no mention of any steed when Gandalf first appears later in the tale.
We are then told Bilbo and Gandalf 'rode' behind the Elvenking, while beside them 'strode Beorn', so I assume someone had given them steeds, seemingly ponies, as (The Last Stage) it is noted 'their ponies were tired, especially the one that carried the baggage'. And ponies again after Rivendell, as: 'So they put the gold in bags and slung them on their ponies...'
Jumping ahead to Third Age 3001 we have Bilbo's farewell feast, and Gandalf visits Frodo in year 3004, and does so at intervals during the next four years.
Tolkien noted (Unfinished Tales) that Gandalf left Thranduil in Mirkwood on 29 March, but after the Carrock he had a horse, and got a fresh horse at Rivendell, and reached Hobbiton on 12 April 3018 [by the way, the dating here is somewhat confused when description from The Hunt for the Ring is considered and compared to Appendix B, but in a carbon copy of the latest typescript of Appendix B, Tolkien tinkered with things, noting that Gandalf 'had a horse for part of the time' Hammond And Scull Appendix B, The Lord of the Rings, A Reader's Companion).
Incidentally I became confused here for a while about the dating, so thanks to Hammond and Scull for revealing that I was not alone (I kept thinking I was missing something)!
Gandalf notes (The Council of Elrond) that 'At the end of June I was in the Shire...' and he meets Radagast (who has a horse) on Mid-years Day. So Gandalf was horsed here and rode out of the Shire to be soon enough imprisoned in Orthanc in July 3018.
Gandalf overtakes and tames Shadowfax in September.