A way of telling someone to stop, wait, or to hold on.
Example: A fair came to town recently and I wanted to take my daughter there. She’s never been to one of them before, so she’s really excited to see it. We are now moments away from heading over there and she keeps insisting, “Come on, Dad, let’s go already!” So I had to tell her, “I know you’re excited, but hold your horses, I’m not read yet.”
In other words, the dad was telling his daughter to hold on for a minute; to wait.
The Origin Of ‘Hold Your Horses’
There are a lot of ways that people get around today. Popular forms of travel include cars, buses, airplanes, and trains. But what travelling around on a horse or a horse-drawn vehicle, such as a carriage? Well, these forms of transportation are not as prevalent anymore. However, this idiom appears to be connected to these latter mentioned forms of travel. How so?
I would imagine this phrase began when horseback riding was more common. This phrase likely began simply as a way to tell someone to literally hold their horses still. That is to say, to have the person bring their horses to a complete stop and wait for a moment. Then later on, this phrase developed into an idiom, becoming a way to tell others to wait, regardless of if they had a horse or not.
Anyways, having said that, this phrase is said to have originated in the USA. The earliest I could find it in print with its figurative meaning (the way it’s used today) is from The Port Phillip Gazette newspaper, April 1843:
“‘Hold your horses,’ says he, ‘and if you want to hear the greatest shaving story that you ever did hear, just keep cool.’ “
- Own was out shopping for clothes with his father. He found a few shirts that he liked and so he went go pay for them. However, his father told him: “Hold your horses for a minute. Try those shirts on before you pay for them. You need to make sure they fit.”
Note: The above is an animal related idiom. For more like this, we have a growing glossary of animal idioms that you can check out. It contains an alphabetical list of sayings for each animal. So far, only birds, dogs & cats, and horses have their own category because they have enough idioms related to them to support it. As more animal-related sayings are added to the site, that glossary will be updated, so check back another time if you can’t find one in particular.