Hold Your Horses


When someone says hold your horses, it’s a way of telling a person to wait, hold on, or stop.

Example: I’m taking my daughter to the park soon. She’s very excited and is trying to rush me out the door, so I had to tell her: “Hold your horses, I’m not ready yet.”

1. Hold it
2. Hold the phone
3. Just a second (or minute)
4. Wait a second (or minute)

Idiom: Hold your horses.

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 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. 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/teams whenever it was necessary.

The earliest I could find this phrase in print 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.’ “

Since the Erie Canal was finished in 1825 and the earliest I could find this expression in print comes a little later, in 1842, it’s possible that the phrase got its start there.

Example Sentence

  • 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.”

Similar Example:

  • Before pulling out of the driveway, my brother told everyone in the car to wait a minute because he forgot to turn off the stove in the house.
  • The doorbell was ringing, so I shouted, “just a second, I’ll be right there.”

Tip: Hold it right there! You just read about an animal related idiom. For more like this, we have a list of phrases about animals that you can check out. It contains an alphabetical list of sayings for certain animals, such as cats, dogs, and horses.