Pilgrim – Steve Earle and Del McCoury Band

A post on gates, gaits, history, Chaucer, Saints, pilgrims and an etymological puzzle, oh yes and horse riding.

While repairing a broken yard gate, thoughts turned to the word gate and the homophone gait, and I started to wonder where the names for the classic horse gaits originated, well, walk was easy! but trot? canter? gallop? hmmm, what has this to do with pilgrims or Saints you are wondering? surprisingly quite a lot.

Firstly the word gait itself, to describe the way of movement was originally from the Old Norse, but the current spelling originated in our home country Scotland, and is still found in many street names, the Canongate in Edinburgh was originally Canon’s Gait – meaning the Cleric’s walk. So has nothing to do with garden gates unfortunately.

Trot – I had thought was onomatopoeic, e.g. trit-trot, trit-trot, but no it originates in Germany, with the old High German Trotton, to tread! ha, which describes the movement perfectly.

Then we come to canter – which is the most interesting, originally known as the “Canterbury Gallop“, it was used to describe the pace of many pilgrims riding to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, as described in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Now ‘Canterbury Gallop’ is a bit of a mouthful for a riding instructor to call out to students, (ok – now Canterbury gallop!) so it is to all our benefit that it was shortened to ‘canter’

( see Canterbury Gallop )

So finally (yes I know!) Gallop, this like trot also orginates in old German, in the Frankish ‘wala hlaupan‘ meaning to run well. This made its way into English gallop through the French galoper. So gallop – originally means ‘to run well’ – now that makes a lot of sense.

So there you have it, a scatterbrained tour through woodworking, etymology, history, geography, religion, literature, language, music and possibly even horses.

See without this you may never have known the connection between the Western Lope and Saint Thomas Becket!


About Bittmore

Bittmore Horses, fun and educational riding instruction and horse training, emphasizing natural methods of horsemanship. Bay Area CA.
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