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Steeplechase and other Equine Sports

Other contests, such as steeple-chasing, fox hunting, trotting and coach racing, have influenced the language as well. Keep up the pace comes from the trotting races. A pacer is a horse that runs with the legs on the same side working in unison, instead of opposite as in a trot. This is a difficult gait to control and thus a horse that could keep the pace even and fast was usually a winner. You might want to hedge your bets though and bet across the board meaning to cover all contenders. This is from the habit of bookmakers in England to display a chalkboard with all the odds listed and if you wanted to bet on every horse you then bet across the board. To be off the pace is pretty much what it sounds like, you are falling behind because when a horse breaks its pace you have to bring it down to a walk and then back to the pace to rejoin the race, same as to pick up the pace is to return to racing form or to regain your momentum. And everyone has at one time or another paced back and forth, this is from the training of pacers as they first practice by going the opposite way around the track and then turning to go forth the proper way for racing speed. And bosses always try to control the pace, again referring to keeping the pace even and proper to win the race.

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When confronted by an obstacle you can look at it as just another hurdle to cross. The natural brush jumps used in jump racing are called hurdles, and they must be crossed in order to achieve the finish line. If you have business venture fail it could be said that you came a cropper. This is from steeplechase racing because when a horse stops abruptly the jockey can be thrown over the horse's head; as crop is an alternate name for the throat, the original saying was come a neck and a crop. Sticking to a plan is to stay the course, a racecourse has a set area in which the horses run and to stay the course is to remain in bounds and so not be disqualified. The word handicap is most often referred to in racing as a means to give all the horse in the field an equal chance of winning, by giving the faster horses more weight to carry in order to slow them down. This comes from an earlier practice of making riders carry their hat in hand in order put them at a disadvantage. Usually this extra weight is made up of lead and could possibly be the origin of the saying a lead pipe cinch in reference to the lead weights used on either side of the saddle that were attached to the cinch. The word handicap itself has rather murky beginnings, but one theory is that it referred to the practice of those betting on the outcome of a race to put the bets into a cap and hold the money in their hand while the odds were announced, if they accepted the odds they removed their hand without the money, but if they thought the odds were not in their favour they could remove the hand with the money intact. Hence hand in cap was shortened to handicap. Another theory is that it comes from an early practice of making riders carry their hat in hand in order put them at a disadvantage as they could not effectively control the horse with only one hand.

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Fox hunting is an old sport in England and has contributed many sayings. The habit of having a drink prior to starting out is often called a stirrup cup, from the custom of handing up to a rider a small cup of spirits while they were sitting in the saddle, resting on the stirrups. To find something after a search is to run it to earth after the habit of a fox to hide in a burrow dug into the ground. Bring to heel comes from the training of fox hounds to come back to a position near the hind leg (heel) of the huntsman's horse and shows the hound is under control. To return to a subject already discussed is to hark back to, hark was an old term for listen and was a command for the hounds to return to heel. Many people think that teaching a dog to heel means to have the dog return to your heel but actually meant a horse's heel as most hunting done with dogs was on horseback. When success no longer looks possible we say the game is up. The original meaning was quite different and meant that the game (quarry) was leaving cover and that the chase can begin, the meaning was probably changed because non hunters assumed game meant activity and up meant over. To get on with something you might go up and over, which just referred to going over an obstacle in the course of fox hunting.

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Another type of racing is coaching, which was very popular with the young lords who wanted to show off the speed of their highly bred animals. From this comes the saying to throw your weight around. When a coach was running fast and needed to turn a corner, the footmen would shift their weight to prevent the coach from overturning at speed. To be in control is to be in the driver's seat .I am sure that at one time or another you have been told to have patience, to hold your horses, this was said to keep everyone in line to start a coach race. We use the phrase to careen to mean out of control and originally meant a coach could" tip to one side" while turning a corner. Of course if you threw your weight around you wouldn't careen anywhere! And here is one I bet you never though was a horse related term, going on a wild goose chase comes from an equestrian sport started in Ireland many centuries ago, one must assume that a wild goose was a good thing!

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Written and researched by Jorge Desjardins

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