Today I was reading www.halt-near-x.com, a well-written blog devoted to horses. Ms. X, the author, suggested a hypthetical registery for “Shank’s pony.”
“Shank’s pony, Shank’s pony,” I thought, “I have heard that phrase in some other context. Oh! Yes! A Richard Thompson song called “Walking the Long Miles Home.” The line is “When you ride Shanks’s pony, you don’t have to pay.”
I had no idea what it meant, always assumed it was a kind of horse (really), even though the writing in the blog did not support the idea that this was a real horse.
Thanks be for the miracle of Google; it lead me right away to www.wikipedia.com (for which I also give thanks especially since we now know it’s on par with the Encyclopedia Britannica) and found out that “to ride Shank’s pony” means to walk.
Ah. Now I get it. The song is “Walking the Long Miles Home.” Shank’s pony is human bipedalness.
Another version of the phrase also appears in The Vulgar Tongue: Buckish Slang and Pickpocket Eloquence by Francis Grose, who wrote a whole bunch of stuff, much of it military, so I imagine there’s some horsemanship writing to be found in his works. According to the introduction, Vulgar Tongue was “the first recognized dictionary of slang in Lonond in 1785.” Grose’s entry is as follows: “Shanks naggy: To ride shanks naggy; to travel on foot. Scotch.” My copy is a nice hand-size hardback published by Summersdale Publishers Ltd. of England, was purchased in San Francisco last year. An 1811 version is available on www.gutenburg.org if you want to look up other words. Much modern slang has been around for some time and some of the more vulgar will be quite, quite familiar to us modern folk.