Word Geek: Stalking horse


This month Word Geek decided to look at the phrase ‘stalking horse’ and its origins.

The phrase has two common usages. Generally speaking, a stalking horse is someone or something used to distract or conceal someone’s true intent or purpose so they can test their rate of success with lower risks.

More specifically, it is used in the world of politics to describe a technique whereby a candidate stands in a leadership election with the purpose of letting another stronger candidate come forward. In both instances, the main party only comes forward and reveals themselves when they feel positive about the success they can achieve.

The phrase originally came from a similar and more literal technique, used for catching birds such as wildfowl. As birds would flee at the sight of humans but ignore cattle or horses much longer, hunters developed the technique of hiding behind their horses in order to get closer to the flocks, until they were within firing range.

There’s a funny example of this in the film Jeremiah Johnson (1972), when two characters are hunting elk in the Rockies:

Jeremiah: Wind’s right, but he’ll just run soon as we step out of these trees.
Bear Claw: Trick to it. Walk out on this side of your horse.
Jeremiah: What if he sees our feet?
Bear Claw: Elk don’t know how many feet a horse has!

At The Language Factory we’re open and honest via all our channels of communication, so you won’t find any stalking horses here. However, if you need a leg up on your next project, even whilst keeping a tight rein on your costs and timings, email us at enquiries@thelanguagefactory.co.uk.


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