Take a Look at These Equine Idioms

January 17, 2017   

Sayings about horses have stood the test of time, but many don’t know their original meaning or the motivation behind the saying. Below are some of the most well known horse related sayings and their original meanings.

1. Hold your horses
Origin: Refers to requesting a rider or carriage driver to halt his horse before departure.
Most common meaning: To wait or to slow down.
2. Healthy as a horse
Origin: Horses are usually quite hardy creatures with the ability to endure immense physical stress. The horse is symbolized as a symbol of physical strength.
Most common meaning: Fit, healthy state.
3. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.
Origin: It is very difficult to force a horse to drink, yet riders who used horses for transportation would often stress about the horse getting dehydrated.
Most common meaning: Unable to force something against a party’s will.
4. Dark Horse
Origin: Benjamin Disraeli first referred to a dark horse as an unexpected horse race winner.
Most common meaning: Someone who is unlikely to prevail due to little being known about them and yet this person comes out on top.
5. Horsing around
Origin: Horses tend to jump around and be destructive when playing together.
Most common meaning: Refers to children playing recklessly.
6. Charley horse
Origin: Lame race horses would be referred to as “charley.” Instead of being used to race, they were used to drag the dirt in baseball stadiums. The term charley horse was coined by baseball players.
Most common meaning: A stiffness or cramp, usually in the leg, from excessive exercise or dehydration.
7. Horse of a different color
Origin: First mentioned in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, “as a horse of that color” referring to the same matter. Eventually it was coined as different color to point out a variation.
Most common meaning: To point out a difference.
8. Beating a dead horse
Origin: A few origins exist for this one. One states that it is referred to jockey’s abusing race horses with whips to go faster when they are already going at their top speed. Another refers to seamen working for paychecks they have already spent.
Most common meaning: To continually put effort into a lost cause.
9. Hungry as a horse
Origin: Refers to the amount of food horses can consume, which is 2% of their body weight. Horses are one of the largest grazers.
Most common meaning: Being severely hungry.

10. Trojan horse
Origin: The Greek tale of the Trojan horse states that during the Trojan War. The Greeks presented the city of Troy with a peace offering, a large wooden horse on wheels. However hidden inside the horse was a small army of men to attack once the horse was allowed through the gates of Troy.
Most common meaning: Refers to a disguised threat in order to attack it. It is a term used often with software viruses to describe intruding embedded software that can either destroy or steal information from the host.
11. High horse
Origin: Horses were once used to determine status. The taller and stronger the horse, the higher class and strength of the rider.
Most common meaning: Refers to a superior manner.
12. Chomping at the bit
Origin: Excited or nervous horses tend to bite at the bit in their mouth- the metal section of the bridle that rests in the horse’s mouth. This was most common among race horses before when loading into the gates.
Most common meaning: Means ready to go, excited or eager.
13. Straight from the horse’s mouth
Origin: Horse’s teeth size and shape can directly tell the age of the horse. When someone was looking to buy a horse and determine the age, they would look straight into the horse’s mouth, rather than ask the seller the price.
Most common meaning: Getting information directly from the source, rather than hearing it through others.
14. Horse sense
Origin: Most of the world saw horses as rather non-intelligent animals, while the American West saw that horses were rather intelligent animals.
Most common meaning: Refers to common sense.
15. One trick pony
Origin: Would refer to a small horse that has been taught only a single trick
Most common meaning: A group or person that is known for only a single skill.