Say What? Colorful Phrases With Cowboy Origins

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The cowboy world has produced many colorful phrases that folks might use and not realize their Western ties. “Ride for the brand,” “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” and “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” are common phrases used by country and city people alike. Here are a few other phrases you might not be as familiar with, but are still fun to work into everyday conversation.

colorful phrases

Ride roughshod: You’ve probably heard this one before. To “ride roughshod” over someone’s plans means to totally disregard them, their feelings, or their input concerning the situation. It’s a comparison to sharp shoeing a horse, which provides additional traction in snowy or icy conditions, and then riding that horse over the top of another human being. If someone literally rode a roughshod horse over the top of a person, it would really hurt. When someone figuratively rides roughshod over someone else, it hurts their feelings, but luckily doesn’t draw blood. Usually.

Sacked out: My husband, Jim, throws this phrase around quite often. Maybe he’s the only one, though. Anyway, when applied to horse training, it means getting a green horse used to commotion and new sensations by rubbing a plastic grocery bag or feed sack all over their body. Jim uses it to mean getting a person used to being tickled, scared, or hardened to an unsettling experience such as moving into a run-down ranch house with wild animals living in the bathroom cabinet.

“It took a few years, but I finally got you sacked out,” he said when we moved into a 50-year-old single wide and I didn’t cry.

Just kidding. I totally cried. That’s my MO for basically every move we’ve ever done, all 10 of them in our 9 years of marriage.

Jim still hasn’t gotten me sacked out to not jumping and screeching when I cross in front of the pickup to shut a gate and he lays on the horn. Probably never will, either. I’m jumpy by nature and age hasn’t changed that.

In the bridle: When a horse is “in the bridle,” it means their training has reached a high level. They can pack a solid jawed bit and perform advanced maneuvers such as turnarounds, rollbacks, lead changes, and perhaps do a little roping, cutting, or the like as well. They’re experienced. They’re reliable. They’re unlikely to do something unexpected like spit the bit out and take off for the high country.

When a person is “in the bridle,” we’re talking about a man who is settled down and responsible. He probably has a steady job, a family, maybe a mortgage and even a high credit score. He isn’t some green, goofy guy who jumps the fence for the first filly that throws her head up and nickers.

I feel like this metaphor is venturing into some questionable territory, so I’m going to stop now.

Ride the corner: This phrase applies to team roping and making left turns while towing a trailer. Both situations call for the roper/driver to maintain the correct position until the proper time to turn left. Cut the corner while team roping and you’ll be out of position to throw a heel loop. Turn left too soon while driving and you’ll scrape the driver’s side of your pickup and/or trailer along a road sign and/or building, large rock, or parked car. One of these situations results in a wasted entry fee and one delivers vehicular damage you won’t be able to hide from your spouse.

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life, Uncategorized

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Montello, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit

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