I know I keep banging on about horse-related expressions and words that have made their way into everyday language, but it fascinates me.

I had a list of words I wanted to investigate, and it turns out that magically four of the seven I had picked all work together. Odd how things like that happen sometimes. So, I will save the other three for a rainy day. 

The first word on the docket I have picked for selfish reasons.


I refer to myself as a freelance writer because I can write for anyone that asks, though not many do. I tripped upon this meaning a few months ago and I can honestly say I was surprised horses involved themselves with this word, but they did, sort of. 

Depending on where you find your information this word has come about through either jousters or lancers. Either way, combat on horseback is at the root of it all. 

A surface search of the word freelance is going to attribute Sir Walter Scott as the one who coined this term in his book Ivanhoe in 1819. There is, however, another book called The Life and Times of Hugh Miller written by Thomas N. Brown in 1716 that used the word almost 100 years prior. Perhaps Brown didn’t carry the same weight in the literary world as Scott.  

Mounted lancers have been around since 700 BC and I have a sneaking suspicion the word freelance has been around far earlier than 1716, though perhaps not written about. 

Centuries ago, it would have been two words, free lance. But as with any two words that are frequently used together a hyphen was inserted giving us free-lance. Over time, of course, the hyphen was removed, and the two words become one and that is where we are today.

The first source I looked into suggests that mercenary soldiers of the spear-toting variety known as lancers gave us this name. Lancers are chiefly mounted soldiers who carry lances, obviously. Their tactic was to charge their enemy with their spears extended in an attempt to do away with them. 

However, mercenary soldiers for hire with an unbiased opinion were free to work for whom they liked. The lance part of the word referenced their weapon of choice. 

Reading about lances got me thinking about jousting and this is how I found my second source. 

Jousting was how lancers trained for mounted combat and traces back to the Middle Ages. Though jousting was intended as military training it quickly turned into a form of entertainment that took place between wars.

This was the time of the feudal system which required rich landowners to provide knights to fight for their king. But as these jousting tournaments were gaining popularity, not every knight had an allegiance with a landowner. These knights were free to carry their lance and joust for the highest bidder. 

Words Two and Three

The two other words I was keen to look into were trappings and housings, both archaic and both from the 1300s. And once I saw a few pictures of jousters I thought, well if those aren’t trappings or housings then I don’t know what are. 


“She had all the trappings of a horse person,” you might say seeing someone in the grocery store you know is a horse person without having to ask. She carried the stereotypical outward appearance of a woman that spends her day in the barn. It’s something about her hair, her vest, her pants and her shoes that alerts you to the fact. Those are trappings.

But there is another definition, which is an ornamental horse cloth and/or a harness. Jousting horses were often cloaked in an ornamental cloth likely denoting the rich landowner’s crest or some such thing. 

There is also a type of light carriage called a trap, which is why you might hear someone use the term, pony and trap.


Well, this is similar to trappings in the sense that it can be an ornamental cloth to cover a horse. It differs in the sense that it can also be a protective cover for a horse, what we might call a blanket. 

I wondered if this “protective” covering could be the armour that war horses wore, but no, that’s not the case. Armour for a horse is called a bard or barding. Not to be confused with Shakespeare whom I see now I’m able to slip into everything I write these days. Interestingly, and I hope there is no correlation here in the sense of wrapping, but barding is when you wrap lean meat in fatty meat like bacon to prevent it from drying out and undoing all the healthiness the lean meat had to offer in the first place.

Moving on.

I will warn you this is a rather circuitous route back to jousting, bear with me.

Careering vs Careening

I have an English friend whom I’ve heard using the word careering in reference to a horse running feverishly around their paddock. I would have said the horse was careening around. 

Careering, as it happens, is the correct word as it means to move swiftly in an uncontrollable manner.

Careening, on the other hand, is used more frequently in the boat world meaning the boat is leaning to one side, listing or tilting.

Jousters and lancers are said to tilt, much like our friend Don Quixote who was found tilting at windmills. Tilting in this sense means to lean forward and or thrust towards your prey. The only reason I bring this up is because when I was researching the etymology of the word joust it led me down the garden path to the word careen which fed me back into the word tilt. 

But a tilt is more much than a forward motion, it’s also the barrier between two jousters which was usually covered in some sort of cloth. And before that was introduced riders just rode headlong toward one another which often ended unfavourably for everyone. 

Now, an earlier meaning of the word tilt was “a covering made of a coarse cloth” such as a tarp, though I realize they didn’t have tarps back then. But this is why that barrier is called a tilt and it’s believed that this is where the word tent comes from. Which I know has little to do with horses but is still interesting all the same.


This is how the word freelance came to be.

Sources: History.co.uk/history-of-jousting; Deskmag.com/freelance; Etymonline.com/lancer; Etymonline.com/housing Etymonline.com/trappings