If wishes were horses, beggars would ride

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"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."
Roud #20004
Written England
Published 1605
Form Nursery rhyme
Writer Traditional
Language English

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride" is an English language proverb and nursery rhyme, originating in the 16th century, which is usually used to suggest that it is useless to wish and that better results will be achieved through action. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20004.


Common modern versions include:

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride:
If turnips were watches, I'd wear one by my side,:
If, Ifs and Ands were pots and pans,
There'd be no work for tinkers' hands.

A shorter version appears below.

If wishes were horses
Beggars would ride:
If turnips were bayonets:
I would wear one by my side:



The first recognisable ancestor of the rhyme was recorded in William Camden's (1551–1623) Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine, printed in 1605, which contained the lines: "If wishes were thrushes beggers would eat birds".[2] The reference to horses was first in James Carmichael's Proverbs in Scots printed in 1628, which included the lines: "And if wishes were horses, pure [poor] men wald ride".[2] The first mention of beggars is in John Ray's Collection of English Proverbs in 1670, in the form "If wishes would bide, beggers would ride".[2] The first versions with close to the modern wording was in James Kelly's Scottish Proverbs, Collected and Arranged in 1721, with the wording "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride".[2] The modern rhyme above was probably the combination of two of many versions and was collected by James Orchard Halliwell in the 1840s.[1] The last line was sometimes used to stop children from questioning and get to work: "If if's and and's were pots and pans, there'd surely be dishes to do."

In popular culture[edit]

In Rudyard Kipling's 1919 poem The Gods of the Copybook Headings "they denied that Wishes were Horses"

The phrase is misquoted in the 2002 television series Firefly in the series finale episode "Objects in Space" in which Adam Baldwin's thuggish character Jayne Cobb gets upset and says "Yeah and if wishes were horses, we'd all be eating steak."

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Season 1, Episode 16 was called If Wishes Were Horses.

Stephen King uses the expression in his 1987 book The Eyes of the Dragon in the scene where Naomi and Ben are following Naomi's pet husky across the snowy fields of Delain.

Quoted in episode 5 of the television miniseries The Forsyte Saga.

In the episode entitled Things Fall Apart Season 6, Episode 21 of the television series The West Wing, Josh Lyman makes a reference to the poem while in conversation with a female campaign staffer who tells him that if media circumstances were different, their candidate, Matthew Santos, would have already locked up the Democratic party's nomination for president. Josh responds by saying, "If wishes...horses...etc." She erroneously attributes the quote to Bob Dylan by asking Josh "What is that from some Dylan song? Guys your age have this thing about Dylan."[3]

The rhyme was used in The Originals Season 2, Episode 9 by Joseph Morgan and Daniel Gillies (Niklaus and Elijah Mikaelson). Elijah said "If wishes were horses..." and Niklaus continued "beggars would ride..."

The phrase is used by the character Spike at the end of the series finale of the television series Angel, after Wesley dies and Illyria wishes "to do more violence", Spike replies that "wishes are horses today". Spike also uses the phrase earlier in Season 5 of Angel - at the beginning of Episode 6, "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco". When Angel, Gunn and Spike are talking about each other's individual unique "special powers", Spike suggests "how 'bout me not being dead?" Angel says, "how 'bout you not being here?" Spike responds with, "If wishes were horses."

The phrase was used by the Austrian musician Falco at the beginning of his 1999 single "Push! Push!".

The pop music group Spin Doctors quoted the phrase in their 1995 song "If Wishes Were Horses"

In 1996, W. P. Kinsella published the novel, If Wishes Were Horses.

This phrase is used by Patrick Jane in the TV-series The Mentalist Season 6, Episode 3 when he says to a man who is being arrested for murder "I don't suppose you wanted to kill him, but uh, if wishes were horses, and all that...".

The phrase makes up part of the chorus on Larry and His Flask's song, "Beggars Will Ride", from their 2011 album, All That We Know.

The Canadian pop music group Sweeney Todd used the phrase "If Wishes were Horses" as the name of their 1977 album.

The phrase was used by Uzo Aduba's character on Season 2, Episode 11 of Orange Is The New Black, titled "Take a Break from Your Values" .

Lucinda Williams has a song entitled "If Wishes Were Horses" on her 2008 album, Little Honey.

Found in the lyrics of the song "Dead Kids" by the Mannequin Men on the album Fresh Rot

"If Wishes Were Horses" is the name of a Frank rules! mod for the video game Morrowind of the Elder Scrolls series, which adds the previously unadded ability to ride horses to the game. [4]

"If Wishes Were Horses" is a 2007 Hallmark movie starring Dick Van Dyke and Barry Van Dyke.

"If Wishes Were Horses" was a song by The First Edition from their 1967 debut self-titled album. Written by the group's rhythm guitarist Mike Settle, the song opens with "if wishes were horses then beggars would ride on clouds of white stallions with bright fiery eyes."

The phrase was used in the novel, "My Brother Sam is Dead"


  1. ^ a b I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), p. 427.
  2. ^ a b c d G. L. Apperson and M. Manser, Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs (Wordsworth, 2003), p. 637.
  3. ^ "Things Fall Apart - Fun Facts, Questions, Answers, Information". Funtrivia.com. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  4. ^ http://www.moddb.com/mods/if-wishes-were-horses