The Dead Horse

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Melody - Seq. by Lesley Nelson
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Long Drag Shanty

They say old man your horse will die,
And they say so and they hope so.
O, poor old man your horse will die,
O, poor old man!

2. For thirty* days I've ridden him,
And they say so and they hope so.
And when he dies we'll tan his skin,
O, poor old man!

3. And if he lives, I'll ride him again,
And they say so and they hope so.
I'll ride him with a tighter rein,
O, poor old man!

4. It's up aloft the horse must go,
And they say so and they hope so.
We'll hoist him up and bury him low.
O, poor old man!

*Alternatively, sixty or ninety may be substituted.


Sailors had a tendency to go into harbor, and spend all their wages before the ship left. This was somewhat depressing, since most of the "attractions" of the port would not take credit. So the custom of "Drawing on a dead horse", or drawing a month's wages in advance, came into being. A kind of ritual developed around the belated "death" of the horse. The ship's sailmaker would use the materials at hand to build an effigy of a horse, and a dusk a solemn candlelight procession would form on deck. The horse would be paraded around the ship three times, and then hoisted on a rope to the topmost yardarm. There, the youngest member of the crew would cut the rope on cue, dropping the horse into the sea. The traditional three-cheer salute was given, and the captain would issue a ration of grog (watered rum) to each man.

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