All the Pretty Little Horses

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"All the Pretty Little Horses" (also known as "Hush-a-bye") is a traditional lullaby from the United States. It has inspired dozens of recordings and adaptations, as well as the title of Cormac McCarthy's 1992 novel All the Pretty Horses.


The origin of this song is not fully known. The song is commonly thought to be of African-American origin.[citation needed]

The author Lyn Ellen Lacy is often quoted as the primary source for the theory that suggests the song was "originally sung by an African American slave who could not take care of her baby because she was too busy taking care of her master's child. She would sing this song to her master's child".[1] However, Lacy's book Art and Design in Children's Books is not an authority on the heritage of traditional American folk songs, but rather a commentary on the art and design in children's literature. Still, some versions of "All the Pretty Little Horses" contain added lyrics that make this theory a possibility.

One such version of "All the Pretty Little Horses" is provided in Alan Lomax's book American Ballads and Folksongs, though he makes no claim of the song's African-American origins. "Way down yonder, In de medder, There's a po' lil lambie, De bees an' de butterflies, Peckin' out its eyes, De po' lil lambie cried, "Mammy!""[2] Another version contains the lyrics "Buzzards and flies, Picking out its eyes, Pore little baby crying".[3] The theory would suggest that the lyrics "po' lil lambie cried, "Mammy"" is in reference to the slaves who were often separated from their own families in order to serve their owners. However, this verse is very different from the rest of the lullaby, suggesting that the verse may have been added later or has a different origin than the rest of the song. The verse also appears in the song "Ole Cow" and older versions of the song "Black Sheep, Black Sheep".[3]


The best-known versions of the song are written from the perspective of the mother or caretaker singing a baby to sleep. The singer is promising the child that when he or she awakes the child "shall have all the pretty little horses."

There is an extra verse that appears in some versions of the song. The added lyrics appear to be from the perspective of an African-American caretaker who is singing about how her own baby, her "lambie", is not being cared for due to her care of her charge.[1] The origin of this verse cannot be known since the refrain also appears in the folksongs "Ole Cow" and "Black Sheep, Black Sheep".[3]


Dorothy Scarborough, 1925[edit]

Hush you bye, Don't you cry,
Go to sleep, little baby.
when you wake,
You shall have,
all the pretty little horses.
Blacks and Bays,
dapples and grays,
All the pretty little horses.
Hush-a-by, Don't you cry,
Go to sleep, my little baby.[3]

Additional verse (included in some versions)[edit]

Way down yonder
In the meadow
Poor little baby crying momma
Birds and the butterflies
Flutter 'round his eyes
Poor little baby crying momma"[2]

Popular version[edit]

Hush-a-bye, Don't you cry
Go to sleep, my little baby
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses
Dapples and grays, blacks and bays
All the pretty little horses
Hush-a-bye, Don't you cry
Go to sleep little baby
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses
Dapples and grays, blacks and bays
All the pretty little horses

Musical and literary adaptations[edit]

"All the Pretty Little Horses" has inspired a variety of recordings (both direct performances of the known lyrics and adaptations thereof). Some of the singers who have recorded adaptations of "All the Pretty Little Horses" include (but are not limited to):

It has also inspired several pieces of literature, including Cormac McCarthy's award-winning novel in 1992 (All the Pretty Horses), a young adult short story in the 1998 Here There Be Ghosts collection by Jane Yolen and David Wilgus, as well as Lisa Saport's 1999 children's picture book adaptation (All the Pretty Little Horses: A Traditional Lullaby). Additionally, it is sung by Viv in Ken Kesey's novel Sometimes a Great Notion.


  1. ^ a b Lacy, Lyn Ellen. Art and Design in Children's Picture Books: An Analysis of Caldecott Award-Winning Illustrations. Chicago: American Library Association, 1986. (p. 76)
  2. ^ a b Lomax, Alan. American Ballads and Folksongs. Mineola: Dover Publishing, 1994. (p. 304-305)
  3. ^ a b c d Scarborough, Dorothy. On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925. (p. 145-148)
  4. ^


  • Engle, Robert B. Waltz and David G. The Ballad Index 2011 (accessed July 19, 2012)
  • Lomax, John, and Alan Lomax. "All The Pretty Little Horses". New York City: Ludlow Music Inc., 1934.

External links[edit]