When someone says hold your horses, it’s a way of telling a person to wait, hold on, or stop.
The Origin Of ‘Hold Your Horses’
What’s the origin of the idiom ‘hold your horses’? It may have originated from a time where horse transportation was more common. Perhaps people looking for a ride on a horse or horse-drawn vehicle would tell the rider to literally hold their horses. Something like: “Whoa, hold your horses for a minute and let me get on.” However, a more plausible explanation has been brought to my attention.
This phrase’s origin might actually be from the Erie Canal located in New York. This canal was completed in 1825 and it was used to transport heavy goods from Albany to Buffalo. Cargo ready for transportation were loaded onto barges and then, using a towline, teams of horses would pull these barges through the canal. Were the horses swimming during all this? No, of course not! The horses walked down a towpath that was on the side the canal.
With multiple teams walking down a single towpath, there was potential for complications to arise. For example, if one team of horses got too close to another team, something problematic might happen with the towlines. Thus, to avoid issues like this, drivers might have called out “hold your horses” to the other drivers whenever it was necessary.
Having said that, the Erie Canal was finished in 1825 and the earliest quote I could find of this expression was in 1842. So it’s possible that the phrase got its start from there. Anyway, the following quote is from the newspaper Warren Democratic Advocate, 1842:
“‘Hold your horses,’ says he, ‘and if you want to hear the greatest shaving story that you ever did hear, just keep cool.’ “
- Ana wanted to buy some clothes she liked right away, but her mother said: “Hold your horses for a moment. You should try those shirts on first to make sure they fit.”