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The expression "rode hard and put away wet" refers to a person who looks worn out or unwell. "Ridden hard and put up wet" is another variation on the same phrase. The expression originates from the southern and western United States. The first use of the term is uncertain; it was already in relatively widespread use by the mid-20th century.
The phrase itself is derived from horseback riding. When a horse is forced to run quickly, it works up a sweat. Before being put back into the stable, it should be allowed to cool down by walking the last part of its journey. Even after arrival, it may need to be allowed to walk a bit more to cool down. The rider should remove saddles and other tack and give the horse a small amount of water. Once the horse is somewhat rested, the rider or groom rubs the horse down before returning it to the stable.
Horses that do not receive this treatment can suffer from a number of complaints. Chills and muscle stiffness can result from being left damp. Horses also frequently become bad-tempered and resentful if left untended.
By analogy, then, a person who is "rode hard and put away wet" seems ill-conditioned, tired out and unhappy, much like a horse that has undergone the same treatment. The expression also has a secondary meaning implying that the person has been neglected or mistreated. The phrase can be used to refer to a single instance of this appearance in the case of a person who has had a tiring and difficult experience. It can also refer to a person who habitually appears weary and disheveled, such as an insomniac. In some cases, it can even be a compliment, describing someone whose rugged appearance testifies to his or her toughness and endurance.
The phrase "rode hard and put away wet" is common in popular culture. Country and western singer and comedian Tennessee Ernie Ford used it as a catch phrase in the 1950s and pop-punk band Diesel Boy used the phrase as an album title in 2001. Actors June Raphael and Casey Wilson named their two-woman comedy show "Rode Hard and Put Away Wet." Due to the popularity of some other euphemisms involving riding, some people incorrectly assume that the phrase has a sexual connotation. As a result, it also appeared as the title of an adult film in 1998.