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Equine expressions

Steeplechase

This horse race across fields, hedges, ditches, and other obstacles is derived from a party of foxless foxhunters in Ireland who, in 1803, proposed to race in a direct line to the most distinctive feature at a distance - a church steeple. Naturally, they'd have to overcome some obstacles along the way. The winner was the racer who touched the stones of the steeple with his crop.

From this event came a new sport - a horse race over barriers!

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Canter

Thomas à Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, had one of the most frequented shrines in Britain, and pilgrims of the Middle Ages made annual visits to it. It was these travelers who were immortalized by Chaucer in his "Canterbury Tales." But it was their pace that created the word "canter."

Apparently, traveling to Canterbury required one to slow the horse's gait or risk tiring the steed. At the "Canterbury pace," between a trot and a gallop, pilgrims could cover many miles in a day. The shortened "canter," for loping trot, appeared as late as the 1700s.

Bangs

This stylish fringe of hair, cut squarely across a person's forehead, was originally part of the look of a winning racehorse. In the 19th century, it was not unusual for horses' tails to grow long and then be cut or "banged off" to form a uniform, tassel-like end. This cropped tail drew wide attention when several bangtails won the major races. It wasn't long before hairstylists adopted the stable fashion.

SOURCES: 'Dictionary of Word Origins,' by Jordan Almond; 'The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins,' by Robert Hendrickson; 'Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins,' by W. and M. Morris; 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,' by Ivor H. Evans; 'Why You Say It,' by Webb Garrison; 'Dictionary of Word Origins,' by John Ayto.