Horse Idioms English Lesson Ep 366

A photograph of horses in Iceland. Wild horses in a group. Horses on the Westfjord in Iceland. Discussed in this English lesson when we talked about furry coats to help survive in the cold weather.

📝 Author: Hilary

📅 Published:

🎈 Updated On:

💬 2201 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 12 min

📥 Download 8.5 Mb

English Lesson About Horse Idioms

A recent comment on YouTube, which suggested that idioms make English interesting, got me thinking about English idioms. It has been a while since I last did an English idiom lesson, so today we are going to talk about a horse idiom I heard being used on BBC Radio 4.

As always, we focus on everyday English, English that is useful because it’s being used in everyday conversations here in 2020. There is nothing more annoying that being taught a lot of words you are unlikely to use in an English conversation today. Your learning time is precious, make sure your learning vocabulary that’s useful. Other animal idiom lessons

A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!
⭐ Shakespeare

It’s important that you listen to this lesson’s audio multiple times, repeated listening until you can comprehend 80% or more of what you hear without having to look up words, is the key to our listen and learn approach to learning to speak English fluently.

You are training your brain to store your new English language learning in your longer term memory, ready for automatic recall. The automatic recall gives you the speed to speak fluently in conversations. Without needing to think about translation, you can focus on the conversation and take part.

If you just listen to the lesson once, your brain won’t know that the sounds it is listening to are important. You need to listen many times, 20+ using spaced repetition, even if you don’t understand everything you are hearing, your brain is being told that what it’s hearing is important, and it will being storing the new and important sounds in longer term memory. You can find out more about the science behind our approach here.

Most Unusual Words:


Most common 2 word phrases:

High Horse28
Of Course7
A Tall6
If Someone5

Listen To The Audio Lesson Now

The mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.

Transcript: Horse Idioms English Lesson

Hi there and welcome to this Monday podcast. If you’d like to fast forward your learning English, speak English more quickly, then consider buying one of our courses. If you’d like a quick way of improving your English vocabulary, one of our simple secrets to instantly improve your English is our 500 Most Common Words Course.

It will help you fill any gaps you may have in your knowledge of the most common English words. It’s is a cleverly made course, which only includes the 500 most common words – no others. So this course helps you focus on the words which will take you the furthest forward in your language learning. Have a look at the courses page at today.

Boost Your Learning With Adept English

Practising English idioms

It’s a while since we’ve done some idioms and the English we speak is full of idioms. So let’s do something about that! What about a horse idiom? Animal idioms are always good – it’s a challenge, but I bet that there’s at least one idiom in the English language for most types of animal and sometimes there are several. And of course the animals that live closest to humans are likely to have the most idioms associated with them.

A while back, I did a podcast entitled ‘Hold your horses’ and I explained the meaning of this phrase with examples. Have a listen to that one, if you don’t remember it and you don’t remember what ‘Hold your horses’ means. So there are quite a lot of idioms about horses, just as there are for cats and dogs. But let’s tackle one of these today, and look at its origin, its literal meaning and its idiomatic meaning, with some examples of course.

‘On your high horse’ – what does it mean?

What about the phrase ‘on your high horse’? Or someone ‘gets onto their high horse’?

So just in case you haven’t got the word ‘horse’, H-O-R-S-E. It’s an animal, with four legs – and of all the animals that we might ride – this one is the most graceful and the fastest. Look at the photo associated with this podcast, if you’re not sure. Horse riding is an activity, a very enjoyable one and a skill, something that you have to learn.

If someone is ‘on their high horse’, of course this could be taken literally. A ‘high horse’ means a big horse, a tall horse – a horse that’s so big that you feel really high up when you sit on its back. This reminds me of either a race horse, which is really tall or when the police use horses to control demonstrations. They’re quite a long way up and the horse and rider are meant to ‘have authority’, they’re meant to intimidate a bit, it makes you feel small and a bit vulnerable so you behave yourself. So someone is ‘on their high horse’, it could mean this – riding a tall horse. But if it’s an idiom, which you’ll know by the context, then it means something different of course.


If someone ‘gets on their high horse’, it means that the person is complaining about something, something has displeased them, but they’re also taking a superior position. It’s like the person is putting themselves in a higher, superior position to those they’re talking to, or those they’re criticizing. If someone is ‘on their high horse’, it implies watch out, they’re not being reasonable. It has the sense of someone taking what we call ‘the high moral ground’ or ‘the moral high ground’. If you take ‘the moral high ground’, that means you’re making something a matter of principle, you’re seeing morality in it, as though it’s right or wrong – and you’re making that part of the picture. And criticising, or judging the other person more, because of it.

Some examples of ‘on your high horse’

An example might be ‘Sarah is on her high horse because people have been using work email addresses for personal messages’. So in this case, Sarah is making a moral, a right and wrong issue out of this, rather than allowing it, because hey, everyone receives personal emails on their work email address, don’t they? So when the speaker says ‘Sarah is on her high horse’, it implies that the speaker, the person saying it doesn’t agree with Sarah and thinks she’s being superior and perhaps ‘too moral’ about it.

‘Don’t get on your high horse with me!’ This is the sort of thing which someone might say in an argument if the other person in the argument is being superior. Or they might say ‘Oh, get off your high horse’.

Where does ‘on your high horse’ come from?

Where does the phrase come from? Well, it’s thought to come from times when horses were the main mode of transport, before there were cars, in other words. And of course, there are lots of different types of horse. Smaller horses, in fact different breeds really, but smaller horses are called ‘ponies’. ‘Pony’, P-O-N-Y- they’re tough little horses. They’re the sort that stay outside in winter. And there are parts of the UK where there are still wild ponies, who look after themselves. I say they stay outside all winter.


A photograph of man on a bay horse galloping across grass. Talked about in this English horse idiom lesson.

©️ Adept English 2020

They get very furry – thick furry coats to protect them against the cold. Ponies are what a farmer would have used in the days before petrol engines and tractors. Although they’re full of character, if someone had wealth, if someone had money, they wouldn’t ride a pony, they would ride a fine horse. So a tall horse or a high horse - it’s a bit like driving an expensive car nowadays. A tall horse would show you were a gentleman. As inevitably it was, me…. women didn’t have their own money, I suppose.

So a tall horse would show a gentlemen of wealth. You can imagine in a period drama, any powerful man would arrive on the scene ‘on his high horse’. If you’ve ever seen Poldark, the series perhaps? Well, think of the lovely Aiden Turner – and how he does a lot of appearing on horseback. His horse for the series was apparently called ‘Seamus’, though Seamus was only 15.3 hands, so not quite such a ‘high horse’ there.

Download The Podcast Audio & Transcript

How ‘high horses’ are measured

And yes, in the UK, horses are measured in ‘hands’, H-A-N-D-S. This is of course an ancient measurement – it would have been the size of an average hand. But it’s been standardised now to 4” or around 10cm if you’re metric. And the measurement of a horse is from the floor to the horse’s ‘withers’ – that means the top of their shoulders. So to be a pony, then have to be under 14.2 hands – and a tall, or a high horse might be about 17 hands. Last time I rode a horse, it was a really big one – and I remember thinking ‘Mmm... even if I just fall off while he’s not moving, it’s still a long way down!’ But that’s part of the thrill of riding – there’s a bit of danger in it. I did manage to stay on, fortunately.

Some more example of ‘on your high horse’ to practise

Some more examples of this? Let’s do some English speaking practice. You repeat these sentences after me. Try to copy how I say them.

  • Your mum is on her high horse with you, because you didn’t do the washing up! That might be a time when it’s fair enough, perhaps?….
  • Your mum is on her high horse with you, because you didn’t do the washing up! Third time.
  • Your mum is on her high horse with you, because you didn’t do the washing up!

Second one – so again, repeat after me in the gaps that I leave.

  • Watch out. Your boss is on her high horse because she was in early this morning and you were late. Let’s break that one down slightly.

  • Watch out. Your boss is on her high horse …………………….because she was in early this morning and you were late.

  • Watch out. Your boss is on her high horse because she was in early this morning and you were late.

  • My sister is on her high horse, because my parents bought me a laptop and they didn’t buy her one.

  • My sister is on her high horse, because my parents bought me a laptop and they didn’t buy her one.

  • My sister is on her high horse, because my parents bought me a laptop and they didn’t buy her one.

Anyway, there are lots of other horse idioms, but this is a good one – and we definitely still use a lot, even though it comes from the times before motor vehicles. There are lots of idioms of course, in English. Speak and understand more like an English speaker with the help of Adept English.


Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.



The voice of Adeptenglish, loves English and wants to help people who want to speak English fluently.
🔺Top of page

TAWK is Disabled

Created with the help of Zola and Bulma