I was looking online for an explanation of a particular horsey saying and stumbled upon several websites that provided explanations and histories to some of the most commonly used horsey sayings and superstitions. I thought that I would share a few of the ones that I found.
1. Hang a horseshoe over the door for good luck
This superstition is probably an amalgam of beliefs because horse shoes have seven holes and seven is regarded as a lucky number, they are made of iron, which has the quality of strength, and they are associated with horses and donkeys both of whom have been revered through the ages. There is also a legend from the middle ages about a blacksmith named Dunstan. Dunstan was visited by the devil in his blacksmith shop. The devil wanted Dunstan to make him shoes, but Dunstan refused and beat the devil, making him promise never to enter a place where a horseshoe hung over the door. To prevent luck from running out, the horseshoe must hang toe down. In some cultures however, it's believed the toe should be hung toe-up.
2. Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
While we value horses now as companions, they were once valued as modes of transport. You probably wouldn't give away a young horse that was still useful. When a horse got old, it would no longer be able to pull or carry loads, and therefore, had little value. One way to tell if a horse was old was to open its mouth and look at its teeth, which would reveal its age So, don't look in a 'gift horse's' mouth, because you'll probably find out its old, and you'd realize you had gotten something of little value (and not appreciate the thought behind the gift - if indeed it was well intentioned.) So, to look a gift horse in the mouth would be to question the value of a gift.
3. One white foot, buy him; two white feet, try him...
... three white feet, look well about him; four white feet, go without him.
This saying has variations such as ‘four white feet and white on his nose, take off his hide and feed him to the crows.’ That’s pretty harsh! Or, one, buy me, Two, try me, Three, shy me, Four, fly me. This old saying is probably based on the belief that white hooves are weaker than dark and your white footed horse is prone to unsoundness due to wear and cracks. The saying is reversed in one version. One white foot, keep him not a day, Two white feet, send him far away, Three white feet, sell him to a friend, Four white feet, keep him to the end. Whatever the intent behind the rhyme, we've learned that hoof color is not as important as we once thought it was.
4. From the Horse's Mouth
To hear something direct from the person concerned or responsible, rather than second-hand information. For example 'It isn't just a rumor that the factory will close, I was there when the boss said it, so I heard it direct from the horse's mouth'. The saying originally came from horse racing, where it was believed that the best tips came from the people working with the horses (trainers and handlers), so if one hears it from the horse itself then the information is even more direct and certain. For example 'I got a racing tip yesterday, and if it wasn't straight from the horse's mouth, it was the next closest thing'.
5. High Horse
During the Age of Chivalry, a knight was considered chivalrous if he was adept at riding a horse in full armor, which is not easy when the armor and rider together weighed around 440 pounds. Telling someone to get off his high horse probably originated from the fact that knights had to ride specially bred large horses because of the enormous weight of their armor. Nobles would ride through town quite literally looking down on others from their tall horses. Later on, politicians paraded in ceremonial processions on unusually large horses. A Scottish proverb incorporating a reference to one’s “high horse” was cited by James Kelly in 1721. Come off it is also derived from this saying.
6. A Dark Horse
's most distinguished prime ministers, Disraeli was also a noted novelist and poet. In the second book of his three-volume novel The Young Duke: A Moral Tale Though Gay, Disraeli has his main character, the Duke of St. James, attend a horse race that has a surprise finish: "A dark horse which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph." Today, the phrase "dark horse" is used to identify any unexpected winner. England
Chivalry is from the French word for horse, cheval. Because of the code of gallantry, which knights were required to know well, chivalry eventually came to be associated with the ideal behavior for noblemen. Cavalier, which now means to behave aristocratically or in a dismissive manner, is the term one assigned to gentlemen who rode for the military.
8. Putting on airs
Putting on airs may come from a term used in dressage to indicate a movement in which the horse’s legs are off the ground. The various “airs” above ground are performed chiefly by horses trained in the hautes écoles (high schools), like the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. To put on airs, then, would be to show off a talent that is shared only with the most elite.
9. Starting from scratch
Starting from scratch first implied that someone was being honest in a horse race by making sure that his horse’s front feet were just behind a line drawn in the dirt road that marked where the race was to commence. Although the phrase up to scratch was first published in reference to boxing 160 years ago, it may have been used earlier in horse races.
10. Wild Goose Chase
Going on a wild goose chase refers to an equestrian sport started in
. In England in the 1500s, there was a popular sport in which the rider of a lead horse set a course that other contestants, as long as the first horse could hold the lead, had to follow accurately on their horses at England
equal intervals. The movement of the leader and the followers reminded people of the characteristic flight of a flock of wild geese, so the sport was called a wild-goose chase.