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Old Horses–What They’re Called, Sayings, and Famous Quotes!

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Did you know that the English language has over 70 different synonyms for ‘horse’? This means you have many ways to say ‘horse’ when you write or speak about these amazing animals!

I thought I’d write a post on something different- fun ways of describing an old horse, the slang terms used for female and male horses, their origins, and so on. I will also wrap up the post with some quotes, sayings, and idioms based on these majestic creatures.

Sounds fun? I promise you, it is!

Picture of an old gray horse.

What are Different Terms or Synonyms for ‘Horse’?

You can describe horses using any of the following synonyms:

  • Bay – used to describe a reddish-brown horse with a black mane, tail, and legs.
  • Colt- male foal
  • Cob –A cob is actually a large mammal with a mane and flowing tail, usually herbivorous. Since it describes a horse-like animal, the word is used for horses. Example: Irish Cob.
  • Chestnut – bright red or red-brown horse. Chestnut is a base color.
  • Charger – a horse that has ridden in battles, tournaments, and parades.
  • Galloper – fast horse
  • Nag – We all know that nag means someone who is constantly complaining or discontent, but the noun ‘nag’ describes a type of horse. A scrawny ‘nag’ represents an old female horse beyond her prime and incapable of breeding.
  • Gelding – A gelding is an adult male horse that is ‘fixed’ or ‘castrated’ and incapable of breeding.
  • Bronco – Bronco horses are Spanish or Mexican horse types (not a type of breed). Americans use the word Bronco to describe untrained or partially trained horses and Mustangs.
  • Palomino– Golden horse with a light mane and tail.
  • Plug – Plug is another term used for an over-the-hill horse.
  • Stallion – a male horse over four years old. The word ‘stallion’ describes the ‘horse at the stall’ or the ‘one kept for breeding.
  • Steed – a robust and energetic horse, used for riding.
  • Yarraman – Aboriginal word for horse.

I wrote an article all about the popular colors and types of horses, with pictures. I suggest you check it out.

What is an Old Female Horse Called?

Most of us know that a female horse is a mare; however, the term ‘filly’ is more appropriate to describe a female horse less than four years of age. A female horse over the age of 4 years is a ‘mare’ – whether or not she has foaled.

Here are synonyms you can use for female horses:

  • Dam – mother of a horse
  • Filly – young female horse
  • Mare – horse over 4 years old – whether or not she has foaled.
  • Popsy – a young, attractive female horse
  • Distaff – used to describe the female side of things in racing
  • Broodmare – A mare used for breeding.
  • In-foal – A mare carrying a foal inside her; pregnant
  • Plug – a nag horse (As explained above, a nag is a scrawny old horse, past its prime, and incapable of breeding. More about this in the next section!)
  • Skate – a nag horse, an old female horse
  • Nag- More on this one below

Why is an Old Mare Called a Nag?

In the olden days, people rarely rode horses just for pleasure. They always had a job: farm horse, workhorse, warhorse, etc. They had tasks like carrying, pulling, transporting people and stuff, and so on.

Once an owner had worked a horse to its bones, it often became cranky and bad-tempered. That is why we generally use the term ‘nag’ to refer to old, worn-out horses ridden hard. These horses would develop health issues but not get proper treatment – which caused them to become highly demanding.

We don’t know for sure whether a person who is grumpy or constantly behind others to do things came to be referred to as a ‘nag’ after the slang term was used for grumpy old horses or vice-versa.

In any case, a nag is an old worn-out mare past her prime and incapable of breeding.

What is an Old Male Horse Called?

There are many terms used for old male horses:

  • Crowbait – Crowbait is an old horse. It is a ‘bag of bones’ that literally makes it bait for crows.
  • Jade – Another term for an old horse that indicates a worthless horse. It also indicates an old, worn-out, temperamental horse.
  • Keffel – Keffel is also used to describe a nag, an old horse, or a worthless horse.
  • Dobbin – This is the term used for a farm horse or a draft horse. Dobbin also describes a quiet horse. It is also a slang term for a jaded old horse.
  • Crock – an old, broken-down horse.
  • Rocinante or Rosinante – This is also a term for old, broken-down horses. The word rocin means workhorse. Rocin also stands for nag. Adding the word ‘ante’ before it means ‘best broken down nag.’ Rocinante was Don Quixote’s horse.
  • Moke is the Australian word for an old, broken-down horse. Incidentally, Brits use ‘moke’ to describe a donkey.
  • Screw – is an unsound or worn-out horse.
  • Inferior – the word indicates a useless old horse.
  • Hack – an old worn horse available for hire.
Picture of a person looking at a horses mouth.

Old Horse Sayings and Idioms

Let’s now discuss some common idioms and quotes about ‘horses,’ their origins, and their meanings:

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Meaning: Don’t find fault with something that is given to you as a gift.

Origin: Around 380 BCE. Included even in the New Testament. People checked the health and age of a horse by looking at its teeth. If a horse is given as a gift evaluating it was an insult.

Don’t shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Meaning: Don’t waste time taking precautions since the damage has been done.

Origins: It is a long-standing English proverb found even in the old poem Confessio Amantis (Written by John Gower in 1390. It is estimated that the phrase was in use long before that).

To hear it from the horse’s mouth.

Meaning: To get information from the source.

Origins: This idiom might have been in use since the 1990s. It is a racing term used by punters to describe tips about winners in horse races.

Hold your horses!

Meaning: Slow down; you are going too fast!

Origin: 800 BCE – from Homer’s Iliad

Old man on the border gains a horse

Meaning: Every cloud has a silver lining.

Origin: Old Chinese Proverb

You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink!

Meaning: You can show someone the right path, but you cannot force them to take it.

Origin: in 1175. From Old English Homilies.

Get off your high horse.

Meaning: It was used as a compliment initially when horses were used only by royalty and soldiers. Later on, it was used in a derogatory way to call someone high and mighty.

Origin: Around 1780

Backing the wrong horse.

Meaning: Support a person who has little chance of winning. It is widely applied to elections.

Origins: In use since the 1600s.

Beat a dead horse

Meaning: Continue the debate/argue despite having won and made your point. Wasting your time arguing when nothing will change.

Origin: Mid-19th century when beating a horse was acceptable. But beating a dead horse won’t get anywhere!

A dark horse

Meaning: an election candidate that isn’t too well-known to the public but could win the race.

Origins: Used in 1831 in the Novel the ‘Young Duke’ – used to describe an unknown horse whom gamblers knew nothing about – hence difficult to place bets on.

Eat like a horse

Meaning: to eat a lot!

Origin: In use since the 1700s to allude to the fact that horses eat a lot, constantly, and whatever is available.

Horse around

Meaning: fool around or play in a rough manner.

Origin: Unknown. It might have come from the verb ‘to horse’, which means ‘play crazy jokes on.’

Put the cart before the horse.

Meaning: Talking about your plans before you have what you need, getting ahead of yourself. It’s a way of saying, do things in the correct order.

Origin: The phrase was first used in 1589 by George Puttenham in The Arte of English Poesie. It is based on a Greek concept – hysteron proteron – which means what should be put last is put first.

Charley horse

Meaning – muscle spasm.

Origin: 1890s. There was an old horse called Charley who was used for pulling rollers across Chicago ballpark. Being old, he would walk with a limping gait. Viewers with aches and pains started describing their condition as having a Charley horse.

Key Takeaways

As you can see, there are hundreds of idioms with the word ‘horse/s’ in them. I would love to know if you have used any of these or if you know any other interesting horse idioms and sayings! So drop me a line!

Below is a YouTube video about a ranch in Kentucky for retired racehorses.


What does ‘old warhorse’ mean?

Someone considered an ‘old warhorse‘ is one with experience or is a military veteran or simply a veteran in any field.

When is a horse too old to ride?

A horse is too old to ride when its physical condition and health issues make it difficult to carry a person comfortably. Horses are individuals, and some reach this stage younger than others but the average age that you can no longer ride most horses is around 25 years old.

How old is a 30-year-old horse in human years?

The equivalent age in human years for a horse that is 30 years old is not an easy calculation; some might say “60,” and some might say “85”. Horses are typically considered adults from when they turn five until they’re about 18 years old; they’re senior citizens from then on.