If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride! Most of us know this popular proverb. But do you know that there’s more to it? The proverb has its roots in 16th-century England. It is a traditional nursery rhyme that uses a quirky way to moral lessons to children.
Do you want to know more details about the rhyme? How many versions of the rhyme have been recorded? Do you think the proverb has anything to do with the Star Trek episode with the same title?
Read on to find out and download the lyrics from the below links.
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
If turnips were watches, I'd wear one by my side.
If "ifs" and "ands" were pots and pans,
There'd be no work for tinkers' hands.
If wishes were horses
Beggars would ride:
If turnips were watches
I would wear one by my side.
And if if’s and an’s were pots and pans,
The tinker would never work!
If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.
If horse turds were biscuits, they'd eat 'til they died.
Click on the printable PDF file to download multiple versions of the rhyme, If Wishes were Horses.
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Watch the animated video of the rhyme:
Origins and History
The popular version of the nursery rhyme If Wishes Were Horses comes from James Kelly's Scottish Proverbs, Collected and Arranged, published in 1721. However, this is not the first recorded version of the rhyme.
The history dates back to 1605 when William Camden published a collection titled Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine. This book printed a different version, ‘if wishes were thrushes beggars would eat birds’.
The Proverbs in Scots published by James Carmichael in 1628 used the word ‘horses’ in the proverb for the first time. This version was ‘And wishes were horses, pure men wald ride’. The word ‘pure’ meant poor, and ‘wald’ meant would.
The poor men became ‘beggars’ in the Collection of English Proverbs by John Ray, published in 19670. This one read, ‘if wishes would bide, beggars would ride’. The word ‘horses’ was replaced with ‘bide’ to rhyme with ‘ride’.
Then in 1721, James Kelly published his collection of Scottish proverbs. The book had the proverb listed, ‘if wishes were horses, beggars would ride’. It looks like James Kelly mixed up all the previous versions to create something new. James Orchard Halliwell listed a rhyme similar to James Kelly’s version in the collection he compiled in the 1840s.
Similar changes were made to the last line of the nursery rhyme. Most versions imply that the tinkers (workers) would have no job if wishes were horses. However, there’s one version that ends with ‘there’d surely be dishes to do’. This is for the kids to stop asking questions and complete the chores. This version can be found in James Orchard Halliwell’s collection.
Yes. If wishes were horses is at 20004 in the Roud Folk Song Index collection.
Not really. The 16th episode of the first season is titled the same as the rhyme. It loosely uses the theme of how wishes can go wrong but has nothing to do with the rhyme.