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You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Can't Make it Drink

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Hey, Camp Folks!

The camper peered down from the zip line launch platform—the ground appearing impossibly far away. Courage wavered. Despite clear instructions from the cabin leader and reassurance of the safety and exhilaration, the child stepped back down. Understanding of the apprehension, the cabin leader gently told the camper that the choice to jump or not was all theirs.

The camper made the decision not to jump that day, which was fine. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink!

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

This saying is rather old. It was something people said more than 800 years ago! It basically means that you can show someone an opportunity or offer to help, but you can't force anything on anybody.

Now, the credit for this saying often goes to a cool medieval English poet named John Heywood. In 1546, he wrote it down in a book called "A Dialogue Containing the Number in Effect of All the Proverbs in the English Tongue." Catchy title, huh? In his book, it went like this: "Hurt not the horse, the more he is sought, the better he will be."

So what the heck does THAT mean?!

The idea here was simply that the horse's condition would naturally improve with proper care. However, the phrase later on evolved with the addition of the crucial second part: "but you can't make it drink." This second half emphasizes that even if you offer an opportunity, you cannot make a horse take advantage of it. People started using this phrase for matters outside the realm of horse care, applying to other people more than anything else.

Nowadays, this saying is used all the time to remind folks that while you can offer help or choices, you can't make anyone do something they don't want to do. So, when your little one heads off to summer camp, remember this saying and let them make the most of their adventure at their own pace!

Tune in next month when we dissect another famous saying, ‘Spill the Beans’. Thanks for reading, Folks. And, as always, Happy Camping!


- John

Posted in Adage Origin


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