Hold your horses

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This article is about the expression. For the albums, see Hold Your Horses (Ella Edmondson album) and Hold Your Horses (First Choice album).

"Hold your horses", sometimes said as "Hold the horses", is a common idiom to mean "hold on" or wait. The phrase is historically related to horse riding, or driving a horse-drawn vehicle. A number of explanations, all unverified, have been offered for the origins of the phrase, dating back to usage in Ancient Greece.

The saying is typically used when someone is rushing into something. It is often combined with linked idioms such as cool your jets. However it also has a more literal meaning and in certain circumstances is the preferred idiom to use. "Hold your horses" literally means to keep your horse (or horses) still, which would be used when horse riding or driving a horse-drawn vehicle. Thus it is very easy for someone without previously hearing the expression to understand its meaning. Someone is to slow down when going too fast,[1] or to wait a moment, or to be more careful,[2] or to be patient before acting.[3]

It is usually followed up with an explanation to demonstrate why you should wait.[4] For example, "Hold your horses, you haven't thought about this yet" or "Hold your horses, you might find a better one for the same price in another store"[5] or "Hold your horses. We're almost there."[2]


There are several sources documenting the usage of "hold your horses" in

  • Literal meaning
    • In Book 23 of the Iliad, Homer writes "Hold your horses!" when referring to Antilochus driving like a maniac in a chariot race that Achilles initiates in the funeral games for Patroclus.[6][7]
    • During the noise of battle, a Roman soldier would hold his horses[3]
    • After the invention of gunpowder, the Chinese would have to hold their horses because of the noise[3]
  • Idiomatic meaning:
    • A 19th-century USA origin, where it was written as 'hold your hosses' ("hoss" being a US slang term for horse) and appears in print that way many times from 1843 onwards. It is also the first attested usage in the idiomatic meaning.[8] Example: from Picayune (New Orleans) in September 1844, "Oh, hold your hosses, Squire. There's no use gettin' riled, no how."[9]
    • In Chatelaine, 1939, the modern spelling arises: "Hold your horses, dear."[9]
    • The term may have originated from army artillery units. Example: Hunt and Pringle's Service Slang (1943) quotes "Hold your horses, hold the job until further orders"[9]


  1. ^ "Idiom: Hold your horses". UsingEnglish.com. If someone tells you to hold your horses, you are doing something too fast and they would like you to slow down. 
  2. ^ a b "Interjection: hold your horses". WordWeb Online. 
  3. ^ a b c "Hold your horses". IdiomSite. Archived from the original on December 10, 2005. 
  4. ^ "hold your horses". Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge University Press. 2003. Usage notes: usually used as an instruction, as in the example 'Hold your horses, Colin, I'm working as fast as I can!' 
  5. ^ "Hold One's Horses". Brigham Young University. 15 February 2002. 
  6. ^ Homer. The Iliad, Book 23 (Lines 423-429). Translated by A.T. Murray, Ph.D. (1924). But Antilochus turned aside his single-hooved horses, and drave on outside the track, and followed after him, a little at one side. [425] And the son of Atreus was seized with fear, and shouted to Antilochus: “Antilochus, thou art driving recklessly; nay, rein in thy horses! Here is the way straitened, but presently it will be wider for passing; lest haply thou work harm to us both by fouling my car.” 
  7. ^ Homer. The Iliad, Book 23 (Lines 516-522). Translated by Ian Johnston (2004). But Antilochus guided his sure-footed horses off the track, charging up a little to one side. Atreus' son, alarmed, shouted at Antilochus: 'Antilochus, you're driving like an idiot! Pull your horses back! The road's too narrow. It gets wider soon—you can pass me there! Watch you don't hit me. You'll make us crash!' 
  8. ^ "hold, v." OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 2 August 2015.
  9. ^ a b c "Hold your horses". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 6 February 2013.