I Ride an Old Paint

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A Paint horse

I Ride an Old Paint is a traditional American cowboy song, collected and published in 1927 by Carl Sandburg in his American Songbag.[1][2]

Traveling the American Southwest, Sandburg found the song through western poets Margaret Larkin and Linn Riggs. He wrote that the song came to them in Santa Fe from a cowboy who was last heard of as heading for the Mexican border with friends. He described the song as one of a man in harmony with the values of the American West: "There is rich poetry in the image of the rider so loving a horse he begs when he dies his bones shall be tied to his horse and the two of them sent wandering with their faces turned west."[1]

Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[3] The song is sampled in Aaron Copland's ballet Rodeo and in Virgil Thomson's film score for The Plow that Broke the Plains.

There is disagreement among experts about the meanings of some terms in the song, namely: "snuffy", "fiery", "Dan", and "hoolihan".[4] If the word is dam as in Linda Ronstadt's version it is a mother horse. The hoolihan is a backhand loop thrown with a lariat, typically thrown to catch horses. Notable recordings of "I Ride an Old Paint" are by the Weavers and Linda Ronstadt. Loudon Wainwright III has a particularly plaintive version he titled simply "Old Paint" on his 1971 "Album II."


  1. ^ a b McNamara, Tom (2012-08-25). "Carl Sandburg—The American Songbag: I Ride an Old Paint". American Masters. WNET. Retrieved 2014-07-06.
  2. ^ Sandburg, Carl (1927). The American Songbag. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company. p. 12. Archived from the original on 2005-06-23. Retrieved 2014-07-06.
  3. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014.
  4. ^ "Who Knows?". Cowboy Poetry at the Bar-D Ranch. cowboypoetry.com. Retrieved 2014-07-06.