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So Hungry I Could Eat a Horse...
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So Hungry I Could Eat a Horse...

Where does the expression “to eat a horse” come from? It means that we are so hungry that we want to eat a very large amount of food, but why did we chose a horse and not a cow, which is an animal that humans DO consume very often, as opposed to horse meat, which most people shun?

A google search didn’t turn up much information, surprisingly. The origin of the expression is not clear. After verifying several websites and even reading posts from professional translators debating the issue, I concluded that there is no clear and precise explanation available.

There are, however, quite a lot of different perspectives as to which definition and origin it has, and many make good sense. The most popular one, and the one that I have always believed it to be, is that the quantity of meat on a horse is so substantial that it describes one’s immense hunger. But, there are many points made that contradict this meaning as being the true, original one. First, if it had to do with size, then an emphasis word, such as “I’m so hungry I could eat the ENTIRE horse” would surely have been added. The lack of this type of word makes it seem as though there is another meaning tied to the expression.

Then, there is the idea that English-speaking communities are not the ones known to eat horse traditionally; therefore, why would they choose this animal as opposed to a cow, which has much more meat? There are other cultures that do appreciate this sort of meat, but if the English truly did enjoy it, it would make sense that the quantity is the reason for this expression.

Some others point to the idea that horses eat a lot, but then again the expression “I could eat LIKE a horse” is usually the one used to imitate the fact that horses eat often and quite a lot at a time. Once again, this is not the most appropriate meaning behind this expression.

Finally, there are those that say that the idea of eating a horse could be a “last resort” type of situation, ie. that the idea of eating a horse is so repugnant that one needs to be incredibly hungry to consider tearing it apart to consume it. This is the one that seems to make the most sense since the cultures based on the English language are known to use horses as work and play animals or pets, and not for consumption (although you will hear of people who swear that horse meat is excellent). There is an old Ontario expression that says “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse and chase its rider”, which indicates being hungry up to the point of lunacy – and perhaps even considering eating the rider as well! Since horses have historically been the animal that humans need for large travels, this would definitely be a last resort – being out of food and so hungry that you can no longer endure it and are considering killing your horse for food.

**Please note that I am vegan and would never consider eating a horse… or a cow, or a pig, or a chicken. I don’t even touch a bee’s honey!

 

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  1. Chestnut Mare
    Chestnut Mare
    Voted. This is a great angle for a blog Annie! Being a linguist, like you, I love anything that explores these idiomatic expressions. That is an odd one, isn't it? Btw, I saw you commented on one of my Facebook posts recently, the one about Tesco burgers. I don't know if you heard, but there has been a big scandal here in the UK lately because the beef burgers were tested and found to contain horse-meat! But really, as you say, why should that be any more repugnant than eating a cow, pig, etc??? Cultural conditioning, I suppose. I have a new blog out here as well, A Famous Horse's Tale, please check it out! (I would be interested to find out if you know the book!) :-)
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    1. naturegirl
      If you eat animals, yes, it is weird to say this one deserves it and that one, no. Will check out your post!
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  2. jst4horses
    My understanding since a young girl was that it was so hungry you would kill and eat your horse. In the Bosnia wars some few years back, the people were so starving they had started killing and eating the stallions and broodmares at the famous Lipizon ranches in Bosnia. The international horse rescues got money and bought beef, which they traded for the horses. There are of course countries such as Japan and France that regularly purchase the slaughtered horses from Mexican plants. Most of those horses are unwanted American show horses, race horses and pets given away to "good homes". A friend of mine donated her horse to a children's equine therapy program. They promised they would give it back and notify her if they ever did not want the mare. They did not. She called me, crying, she could not afford the three hundred dollars the slaughter was going to pay them, and they said, read it and weep, they had tricked her in the contract she signed. They could and were going to sell the animal to slaughter. I bought her, and she and I worked together for many years in equine therapy. I say always, a horse is a life of a horse commitment, you CAN find sub lessees, or young people who will sponsor the horse if you teach them to ride. I have taken the bus, bought clothes at the thrift shop, and done construction work when necessary to take care of my horses. I have sub-leased and had them sponsored. I have lived with two German Shepherds that were too old to find new homes when I got disabled, in my small car until I found a place that would take dogs. Many of my high risk clients are abandoned, and they are people! So I guess I should not be surprised that people abandon their horses and pets.
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  3. jst4horses
    My understanding since a young girl was that it was so hungry you would kill and eat your horse. In the Bosnia wars some few years back, the people were so starving they had started killing and eating the stallions and broodmares at the famous Lipizon ranches in Bosnia. The international horse rescues got money and bought beef, which they traded for the horses. There are of course countries such as Japan and France that regularly purchase the slaughtered horses from Mexican plants. Most of those horses are unwanted American show horses, race horses and pets given away to "good homes". A friend of mine donated her horse to a children's equine therapy program. They promised they would give it back and notify her if they ever did not want the mare. They did not. She called me, crying, she could not afford the three hundred dollars the slaughter was going to pay them, and they said, read it and weep, they had tricked her in the contract she signed. They could and were going to sell the animal to slaughter. I bought her, and she and I worked together for many years in equine therapy. I say always, a horse is a life of a horse commitment, you CAN find sub lessees, or young people who will sponsor the horse if you teach them to ride. I have taken the bus, bought clothes at the thrift shop, and done construction work when necessary to take care of my horses. I have sub-leased and had them sponsored. I have lived with two German Shepherds that were too old to find new homes when I got disabled, in my small car until I found a place that would take dogs. Many of my high risk clients are abandoned, and they are people! So I guess I should not be surprised that people abandon their horses and pets.
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    1. Chestnut Mare
      Chestnut Mare
      That is so disgusting, what happened to your friend, jst4horses. That she had been tricked into selling her horse for slaughter! She was so lucky to have a friend like you to step in and rescue her horse. It just shows, you have to be so careful about donating a horse to any of these places where you think they will be rehomed and treated well, don't you? I hope you have publicly shamed that "equine therapy programme" place, so that other people won't get caught like that donating horses to them! What a completely unscrupulous outfit.
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  4. Aks4u
    Wow..this is interesting!
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  5. jst4horses
    As naturegirl says, it is strange to select which animals are OK to eat and which are not. It depends on the country and the amount of either poverty or sick people mentality I guess. There are some very expensive dishes that cause poaching worldwide of just about every strange animal, fish, or fowl on the planet. Sometimes even reptiles and bugs are expensive dishes. I for one will never eat a slug, or snail, or anything I consider a pet. Yet there are many countries that regularly eat cats and dogs, see no reason to have pounds, if you see a stray, YAY, just another meal on the table. The article I read on the UK burgers said that even though they did have horse meat, the countries where the meat came in from regularly eat the old grey mare when too old too work or for pleasure. I think the Bible itself and all the kosher laws are clear that we are NOT to eat animals that work for us. In fact, the whole kosher law is about butchering humanely and with cleanliness AND that one can NEVER cook the meat of the calf in the milk of the mother. That is why no cream sauces, no whatever. It is not about the same plate. It is about the inhumanity of taking a calf, and cooking it in the cream or butter from its own mother's milk. Many Native American slaughtering laws are similar and ALL were about humane and respectful slaughter. Even wild animals have respect for one another in the eating ritual. Predators look into the eyes of the prey and Native Americans say "capture the soul" prior to killing it. When you watch tape on animal planet of predators, you actually see the prey animal give in. One of the other things is: horses are given injections, massaged with creams, and given medications all through their lives that clearly say "NOT FOR stock animal use" That is because these are items that move into the muscle and/or fat tissue, remain in the body and create cancer causing meat. I could never eat a horse, cat or dog. Yet many unscrupulous restaurants probably have used the meat, we live only ninety miles from the border of Mexico, and it probably is brought in with the beef and sold in markets and cafes all over America. BK, or Burger King was not happy about the UK incidents. People here were quite upset and heard BK, not UK.
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    1. Chestnut Mare
      Chestnut Mare
      I have come to the conclusion, with everything I have discovered, and with all the soul-searching I have done over the years, that it is not humane to eat any animals, that is why I am vegan, like Naturegirl. Unfortunately "humane slaughter" is an oxymoron. How can it ever be "humane" to take the life of a creature that wants to live, as much as humans do? But I am not trying to convert anyone here; if people come to that realisation, they have to do it in their own time.
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      1. naturegirl
        That's my point of view as well! But I put my most extreme opinions on the subject on www.theflamingvegan.com - chestnut mare also - so if anyone wants to take a peek, you're more than welcome to do so!
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        1. jst4horses
          I do eat meat, but we generally eat vegetables, soup, salads. The sad part is, soy is one of the worst products in the GM line, and it has ruined whole countries as noted in India and some South American areas for putting small farmers out of business and then ruining the soil in three or four years and moving on to ruin more. This was in a documentary and seminar on restoring earth and small farmers for research graduate students to think about in applying for grants and implementing innovative programs to prevent any more of this type of ruin on our earth. Even fruits and nuts, and alfalfa destroy animals, birds and small reptiles. We all have to be more aware and make sure these things become a thing of the past. The threshers and large vacuums used for nut harvesting just fling the baby birds (and often parent birds) into the way of the vacuums and they are crushed in tons of nuts.
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        2. jst4horses
          I do eat meat, but we generally eat vegetables, soup, salads. The sad part is, soy is one of the worst products in the GM line, and it has ruined whole countries as noted in India and some South American areas for putting small farmers out of business and then ruining the soil in three or four years and moving on to ruin more. This was in a documentary and seminar on restoring earth and small farmers for research graduate students to think about in applying for grants and implementing innovative programs to prevent any more of this type of ruin on our earth. Even fruits and nuts, and alfalfa destroy animals, birds and small reptiles. We all have to be more aware and make sure these things become a thing of the past. The threshers and large vacuums used for nut harvesting just fling the baby birds (and often parent birds) into the way of the vacuums and they are crushed in tons of nuts.
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          1. Chestnut Mare
            Chestnut Mare
            Yes, you do make some good points jst4horses. I have heard about all the problems with soy, and I have cut right down on it. As you say, the harvesting of crops also kills animals, so we are causing some damage and harm there. It is very difficult. Maybe if we could all grow our own food? I am not sure that is all that feasible though.
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            1. jst4horses
              I would surely be in trouble if I had to grow my own food, but I do come from family background of ranches and farms, and they grew at least enough to trade with neighbors and other family members if they wanted to......and supplement from the store...............I would be in big trouble this year, thanks to a bumper crop of bunnies and wild hares and squirrels, all I had left in my garden were some herbs a few tomatoes, the worms got the rest, and the birds feasted on those fat worms when we caught them, even the lizards got used to coming by around watering time to grab a few tossed aside worms....and one small, one large spaghetti squash and a few onions. We would be VERY skinny unless my older son, whose house I live at......followed through on his threat to the rabbits and hares..........and we ate them.....but then the coyotes would go hungry.........NOW they are eating them, that fall is here and the vegetables don't need their protection anymore.:)
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