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What Does "Hold Your Horses" Mean?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Jan 29, 2024
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"Hold your horses" is an idiomatic expression that is often employed as a colorful admonishment to exercise a degree of patience, or to avoid acting rashly. The imagery of the English saying has to do with the need to rein in horses that are somewhat jittery and are about to run away. It is not unusual for this phrase to be said when there is a perception that someone is about to act without thinking the process through or is about to respond to a situation without giving the response a reasonable amount of thought in advance.

The origins of the phrase hold your horses is often accredited to the first half of the 19th century, in the American South or West. One school of thought attributes the origin to circa 1844 in New Orleans, tracing the phrase back to the slight different “hold your hosses” that appeared in some print publications of the day. "Hoss" was a relatively well established slang term for "horse" during this era, and tended to be used in frontier areas as well as established towns and communities in the Deep South. Owing to migrations from the South through the middle and latter part of the 19th century, people took this and other colorful sayings along with them, spreading the usage to other areas of the country.

There is also some difference of opinion as to when the phrase morphed into "hold your horses." One idea is that the advent of talking motion pictures helped to popularize the phrase, using the more proper "horses" rather than the slang term "hosses." In any event, the usage throughout the United States was well established by the middle of the 20th century, and continues to be an easily recognized idiom today.

Parents, teachers, employers and loved ones are all likely to admonish someone using this idiom from time to time, as well as be on the receiving end. An individual may be counseled to "hold your horses" when tempted to respond in anger to some real or imagined slight, when about to make a purchase that would likely throw the household budget into disarray, or when thinking of accepting a job without fully understanding the responsibilities and benefits associated with the position. Typically, the idea behind telling a loved one to hold your horses means to step back from the situation, take a more comprehensive look at all relevant factors, and regain some degree of objectivity before determining how to proceed.

LanguageHumanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including LanguageHumanities, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By gravois — On Mar 22, 2012

Have you ever had someone tell you to hold your horses and had it work against you? What I mean is that have you ever held back when you should have rushed forward? I know that I have. The opposite of hold your horses is the early bird gets the worm, or, from literature, first to knock, first admitted.

There was this girl I like a lot and I really wanted to ask her out but my friend's were always telling me that I was moving too fast and that it would creep her out. Try to be friends first they said. Well we never went on a date and now she is married to another guy. A lot of good holding on to those horses did me.

By backdraft — On Mar 22, 2012

There is an album that I like a lot by a band called Hella that is called "Hold Your Horse Is." It is a minor and not even very funny variation on the traditional phrase but for some reason I have always really liked it. I owned the album for almost two months before I even realized that they had changed the words. And contrasting the meanings of the two phrases is an interesting exercise in semantics.

By whiteplane — On Mar 21, 2012
I have a good friend that I am always telling to hold his horses. He is a great guy but really excitable and he tends to rush headlong into things. He's already been burned more than once.

I remember once he wanted to spend $2000 on this really nice racing go cart that he found online. I pointed out to him that he could buy a full sized car for that amount of money and that he had never once expressed an interest to me in go carts. Beyond that he knows nothing about fixing or refurbishing go carts and there are no places close to us where you can race them. So it would have been a colossal waste of money and in hindsight he was glad that I warned him away.

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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