The Poor Beautiful Horse


Elena from Russia asks: “I’ve been listening your podcasts since last spring and I have a question about the word “horse.” Why do you use this beautiful harmless animal in some kind of, I suppose, insulting phrases? For example, you have a phrase “get off your high horse” and another, “clothes horse,” which is also very unpleasant for women. And maybe you have some others with “horse”? Could you tell about them plus the meanings, of course.

It’s certainly true that “horse” appears in a number of idioms and phrases that are not complimentary (showing praise or approval), and Elena has pointed out two we’ve included in our podcasts:  “to get off (one’s) high horse” (ESL Podcasts 324 & 615) and “clothes horse” (ESL Podcast 619).

When I did a search of our past podcasts, I found that “horse” actually appears in a quite a few of the phrases we’ve used and explained.  Either we have an usual love for horses here at ESL Podcast, or there are simply a lot of phrases and idioms that include horses.  Since I’ve only ridden a horse twice in my life and Jeff tells me he’s never been on a horse, I’m inclined to (tend to) think that it must be the latter (second) explanation.

You may be interested in these other horse-related idioms:

“to put the cart before the horse” (English Cafe 211)
“a wild horse couldn’t drag (one)” (ESL Podcast 370)
“to look a gift horse in the mouth” (ESL Podcast 489)
“I could eat a horse” (ESL Podcast 629)

These are not all of the horse-related idioms in the English language by any means (at all), but they’re some of the more commonly-used ones. Depending on the context (situation), most of these are neutral (not good nor bad).  Let’s see if I can use all six idioms in a little story:

For three days and three nights, Jeff didn’t return home.

On the fourth night, he stepped through the front door of his house and his wife, a clothes horse, said, “Where have you been and why are you wearing my new dress?”

Hold on (stop) a minute,” Jeff responded.  “Let’s not put the cart before the horse.  I haven’t eaten for three days and right now, I could eat a horse!  Go make me some dinner.”

Jeff’s wife looked at the ripped (torn; damaged) dress and said: “A wild horse couldn’t drag me into the kitchen to make you dinner before you’ve explained why you’ve been missing for three days and why you’re wearing my dress.”

Jeff, looking tired and frustrated, said: “You’re looking a gift horse in the mouth.  Isn’t it enough that I’m home and I’m not hurt?”

“You’ve been missing for three days.  You haven’t called me or texted me, and now you’re behaving like I should just be grateful that you’re back.  You need to get off your high horse, Jeff, and explain yourself!”

Okay, it’s not really a story, but you get the idea.  Are there phrases or idioms in other languages involving horses?  Are they positive, negative, or neutral?

By the way, I don’t know where Jeff has been.  Maybe we should ask him, or perhaps you can guess?

~ Lucy

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19 Responses to The Poor Beautiful Horse

  1. emiliano says:

    First of all, thank you very much Jeff for giving us again the oportunity of listening to Lucy in an English Cafe. Letting her to read a second part of The English Cafe 275 makes me happy as one of your first listeners here, but I think it makes happy also to the majority of your ESL listeners, I am sure of that.

    Thank you Lucy you have the guts to take the challenge of doing a second English Cafe having in mind that Jeff is the master, he is really “the one” but you will be also the second one very very soon.

    Betty, be happy Lucy is here with us and her voice will be another chance to improve our English listening.
    Yes, her voice sounds to me incredible nice and reminds me an american girl from Illinois I met many years ago when I was
    a young boy walking through Madrid´s streets, but this is another story….for another ocasion.

    Thank you again Lucy and Jeff, your are really my real everyday good friends.


  2. emiliano says:

    In spanish we have lot of proverbs about horses, dozen of them, be in mind that the horses were brought by the spaniards (second travel of Cristobal Colon) to America, after all the American´s horses were extinguised thousands of years before.

    First time the Indians saw a spanish man ridding a horse they thought they were the same beast, and they were absolutely amazed.

    So, nearly all american´s horses came from the spanish different races and Spain was a wise country about horses because arabs
    were in Spain more than seven hundred years, arabs conquered half the world riidding horses since the seventh century.
    We got the inheritance of horses from the arabs, they taught us everything about their horses and in fact arab´s horses are one of the best races of the world.

    “Looking a gift horse´s teeth” it´s a very used proverb here, but we don´t say “in the mouth” as to buy a good horse it was used to seeits teeth, doing that you may gest how old is the horse or the donkey.
    It means that if you receive a gift don´t expect it has to be a very good one….it´s a gift that´s enough.
    There are lot of proverbs, old ones associated horses with women…….sorry women friends but that´s the truth.
    All of them are out of meaning now and they could be offesive for a woman or a girl now.
    Just an example of them may be…….this one about horses and girls:

    “no compres caballo de muchos fierros, ni te cases con muchacha de muchos novios”
    “Don´t buy a horse too often horseshoes, don´t marry either a girl of too many boyfriends”

    A different one could be:
    “para caballo duro, bozal de seda”
    “for a hard or rebel horse a silk halter”
    It means not to punish too much a rebel person or a horse, it doesn´t work at the end.

    and so forth… Jeff says.

    Nice topic Lucy, thanks a million.

  3. Idi Oumarou Ibrahim says:

    Thank you, dear Lucy for the story and this wonderful explaination of horse-related idioms.
    Thank you very much indeed!
    My best regards to you, and dear Jeff, also.
    God bless you!

  4. Michel says:

    My response is only about the English cafe. It’s a very good idea to listen to Lucy in the second part of the EC because her voice sound really different and it’s a good opportunity for us to hear lot of sort of English. Thank you Lucy and Jeff. It’s always a real pleasure to hear you.
    Best wishes
    Sorry but I have not enough time to answer about the Lucy’s article

  5. Markus says:

    In German, we have nearly the same idioms with horses:
    “Einem geschenkten Gaul schaut man nicht ins Maul.” -> “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
    “Mich bringen keine zehn Pferde in die Küche.” -> “A wild horse couldn’t drag me into the kitchen.” In German it’s ten horses instead of a wild horse, tough.
    The meanings of those idioms are just the same as in English.

    But there is one idiom in German that seems to have no equivalent in English. It goes “Ich glaub’ mich tritt ein Pferd.” I don’t know how to translate it properly, but we use that expression when we see something we don’t want to believe and are taken by surprise. Americans might say “Pinch me!” in those situations. However, the idea of the expression I mentioned is, that you feel like you’ve been kicked by a horse (wich is supposed to be very painful).

    All the best, Markus

  6. Talal says:

    oooh, what a surprise !! Dr.Lucy is in the English cafe, I couldnt believe my own ears when i listened to her, thank u very much Dr.Lucy , i appreciate that a lot, and i hope, or rather i wish you keep that up in the future, once is not enough . about your question , in Arabic i think we have neither good or bad related-expressions .
    once again, thank you very much for appearing on stage .

  7. elcomandant says:

    Maybe I could guess what happened with Jeff and finishing the story.
    “You’ve been missing for three days. You haven’t called me or texted me, and now you’re behaving like I should just be grateful that you’re back. You need to get off your high horse, Jeff, and explain yourself!”

    “Ok. ok. Hold your horses. You look like a horse runaway.(This is an Spanish expression). I’ll explain myself.”
    “O.k I’m all ears” told the woman.
    “Past week after work I was drinking a whisky”
    “Are you sure that it was only one whisky?” Jeff’s wife interrupted.
    “Ok. perhaps they were a couple. Then appeared our jerk neighbor. He was making fun of me, because he said that I was an henpecked husband and you wore the trousers at home. I told him this wasn’t the truth. Then we made an stupid bet”
    “What kind of bet did you make?” asked Jeff’s wife waiting the end of the story.
    “Well, Do you know what? I’m not feeling confortable talking about that. I’ll only tell you that all it happened these three last days was very embarrassing to me. If you want to know more about that you’ll have to read the newspapers tomorrow. My goodness! I hope they don’t publish any photo of mine wearing like a woman.”

  8. manor says:

    in hungarian, we have this one:
    “Közös lónak túros a háta” – “A jointly owned horse has a roughed-up back.”
    Means: if you share and use a horse commonly with others, probably nobody will take care the horse properly.

    bye, manor

  9. Betty says:

    Thank you, Lucy, for such a good topic, it does stimulate a lot of thinking for me.

    I think I should not try to guess where Jeff had been, for as long as he arrived home safe, that’s what we want. Poor Jeff, of course he deserved a good dinner.

    We are very happy that you and Jeff can do a ‘new series’ of English Café 275 for us. I don’t know whether ‘new series’ means from now on both Jeff and Lucy will do the English Café, or it merely means new series of topics. We will soon find out.

    I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed listening to your story telling, very sweet voice, very good for us to follow. People said good English speaking is like singing, your story telling about SeaWorld in San Diego, California certainly sounds like a beautiful song to me.

    Yes, you are right, emiliano, Lucy has been very kind to us. I am not sure if Jeff & Lucy have been listening to our crying for Lucy’s voice, and Lucy will talk in every English Café from now on, or if it will be on and off, remember that Lucy talk previously eg in English Café 261 in which she did a very good book review for us.

    Just one question, how do you preserve your voice so nicely?

    Although I want to write something about horse, I cannot write something in a short time, and I need more time to listen to Jeff & Lucy’s podcast. So, I shall write again later when I have more time. Thank you again.

  10. egon salgueiro says:

    Querida Lucy,

    Esta é a melhor história que já ouvi por aí,
    vc precisa colocá-la em um podecast,
    por favor!!!

  11. Tania says:

    Hi! “The horses do not die when the dogs want.”

  12. emiliano says:

    A beautiful horse, that´s a dream to me since I was a little boy.
    I have been on a horse five or six times beeing a young boy, and it´s really exciting, but if you want to have one living in a big city like me it´s impossible.
    You need a lot of money and too much time to see the horse, feed him, and spend with the animal as much time as possible.

    Always feeling myself as a person living in the wrong site.
    Living in a farm, or a house surrouded by fields, trees, forest, mountains and a river, that´s my place.
    Having a horse, or even more. A dog, or even two or three. Four or five cats going up and down.
    That´s my site, not a flat in Madrid where I was born and spent my life.

    Being a child I spent some sumer holidays at the country, whithout running water or water close, having to make fire with logs.
    Sourronded by hens, pigs, cows, oxs, fruit orchards with apple trees, plum tress, dogs, cats, and a river…….that´s was the life I liked.
    Not working as much as a farmer, it´s a very hard work…….I would like to have the house, the animals, and a lot of money to
    support this kind of life.
    May be painting?
    Now doing Pod Cast from home and having millions of contributors?
    These kind of works would be nice to earn a lot of money and supporting the farm in the country.


    Lucy, Jeff´s story is very funny, but as long as I have been listening to him it´s just impossible for me to image him
    in a situation like that.
    No, I can´t.

    Betty, don´t worry, I have the feeling Lucy is going to do English Cafes more often, we need her clear young voice
    her good pronunciation, her american accent that to me is the best and also her good humor.

    The difficult is always the first or the second and she has done it.
    BRAVO for her and for Jeff letting her comrader to participate with him, Jeff you are really a generous man beside the
    best teacher and the friend everybody would like to have.

    Tania, how has been your Christmas?
    Have you been too busy doing nice food for the family?
    Too cold now at your beautiful Romania?

    Take care dear friend.

  13. Peter says:

    Tonight is the hockey night
    The match is on
    Toronto vs Russia
    Toronto is pretty excited about it:)
    Hockey fever is on
    Jeff, u must be into Hockey as well, considering your home town.
    We are a bunch of rowdy guys cheering for Toronto tonight in a local Irish bar.
    The match starts at 730

  14. Peter says:

    Hold your horses before they stamped:)
    All of a sudden you threw at us lots of horse story:)

  15. Peter says:

    Smile is contagious; be a carrier.
    Please don’t get upset if sometimes I try to be funny
    I know it falls flat and it never fails ,yet, worth the try
    Trying to be q carrier.
    Peace out
    Lucy you are the best!
    And Jeff is the best of the best!

  16. Peter says:

    Betty ,
    It is so true that the topic got us thinking.
    In fact,Whatever our dear profs put down on the blog always makes us think about the topic at hand.
    You are right! They are all good stimuli that make us think and learn new things.
    This time around the discussed question is a real stimulus for all of us.
    Speaking for myself,It makes me think about cruelty to animals.

  17. Peter says:

    Good show Elena for the question
    Kharesho: it is a Ruskin word to Elena
    I used to fate a Russian girl
    Some how ,Picked up the language

  18. Phuoc says:

    In Viet Nam, there are lots of idioms about horse, but now I only remember two of them.
    “Mã ?áo thành công”: Many years ago, in war, the soldiers often hold weapons in hand and seat on horse’s back to fight. And when we see horses come back, it means they are winners.
    “M?t con ng?a ?au, c? tàu b? c?”: When a horse in herd is sick, other horses are not going to eat.
    Where has Jeff been in three days, three nights ??? Oh maybe he has been to Viet Nam to travel, I guess, hehe…
    Thank you, Dr Lucy, for a good topic and very funny story about Dr Jeff.
    Best regards,

  19. Hi everyone.
    And what about the proverb, ‘A horse for a Kingdom.’ Richard is soon unhorsed on the field at the climax of the battle, and utters the often-quoted line, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!
    And in Dutch language we do also know ;
    ‘men moet een gekregen/gegeven paard niet in de bek zien’ similar as ‘to look a gift horse in the mouth”
    ’Iemand over het paard tillen.’ Someone how can’t fulfill his task or promise.
    ‘Het paard achter de wagen spannen’ or someone how proves of incompetence. “to put the cart before the horse”
    ‘Paard en ruiter noemen’ speak freely without fear. ‘call man and horse’ Most of those expressions will be heard in political context.
    ‘Werken als een paard’, ‘zweten als een paard’; informal, do hard work and sweating enormously.
    ‘Het paard van Troje binnen halen/ inhalen’ Also called the Wooden Horse Greek myth the huge wooden hollow figure of a horse left outside Troy by the Greeks when they feigned retreat and dragged inside by the Trojans. The men concealed inside it opened the city to the final Greek assault. A trap intended to undermine an enemy. (TheFreeDictionary)

    So long

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