Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – By Shanks Mare

My life in appalachia - By Shanks Mare
I had several folks comment on Don Casada’s use of the phrase ‘by shanks mare’ after I published his guest post-Leaves of November.

Going by shanks mare is an old mountain way of saying-you walked. In other words shanks mare is none other than your own feet.

I’ve heard the old saying my whole life. I’ve mostly heard the phrase used when someone was making light of having to walk a long way when they didn’t intend to.

I snapped the photo above of The Deer Hunter headed out along the ridge to cut firewood of course he was going by shanks mare.

Are you familiar with the old saying too?


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.


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  • Reply
    October 21, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    My Dad loved to say this! Haven’t thought of that expression in years. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Garry Ballard
    November 26, 2016 at 5:14 am

    In Australia when I was a boy we’d say Shank’s Pony meaning walking. Haven’t heard it for a long time now though. Also an old English term for legs was shanks, hence an English King back in William Wallace’s time was known as Edward the Longshanks.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 6, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Tipper—I’m late jumping in here (been away all day signing books), but like Don, I’ve heard it all my life. I was intrigued that Ed Ammons says he wasn’t familiar with it, yet Don and I grew up in Swain County and I assume Ed did too (Ammons is a common family name there). Interestingly, I recently used the phrase in an article and a fellow who commented on it said something to the effect that just thinking of riding a horse that far made him ache. I gently pointed out that shank’s mare referred to walking, not riding.
    Certainly the phrase is common as pig tracks in my lexicon, and I’ve heard (and used) it all my life. Incidentally, shank’s mare was virtually the only means of travel our Grandpa Casada knew. He walked everywhere, as did others of his generation.
    Don and I knew a wonderful old bachelor by the name of George Monteith who may have been the ultimate practitioner of shank’s mare. He walked many a mile every day, and when FDR dedicated the Park at Newfound Gap in 1940, he supposedly walked from his home on lower Forney Creek to the main ridgeline of the Smokies, then walked out along a route which would be close to that of today’s road to Clingmans Dome, and reached Newfound Gap. He listened to his president then turned around and walked back home. At a guess I’d figure his trip for the day covered somewhere between 40 and 50 miles. Now that’s taking shank’s mare!
    One other thought from Ed’s mention of ridge runners. The title of the Swain County High School annual is The Ridge Runner and a ceremonial bell at the high school is known as “The Ridge Ringer.”
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    December 6, 2011 at 7:14 am

    That’s a new one on me!

  • Reply
    John Stonecypher
    December 6, 2011 at 5:19 am


  • Reply
    December 5, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    That’s a new one for me Tipper!

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    December 5, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Have heard and used shank’s mare and hoofing it all my life. Learned at my granddaddy’s knee. A Mississippi friend invites visitors to, “Saddle up old Never-shod and come on down.”

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    December 5, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Tipper: my mother told me when i ask for some gas money, go on Shanks Mare. bless her heart she always came up with a couple bucks for gas. it might be a different story with the price of petrol today. by the way ,she was scotch/Irish. k.o.h

  • Reply
    Ken Kuhlmann
    December 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Miss Cindy,
    I too walked to and from school, but not every day. You said that it wasn’t all uphill. How much of it was up hill and how much of it was down hill. I can tell you what percent was up hill for me. Do you know what it was for you?

  • Reply
    December 5, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    I have never heard this phrase! Or, like someone else said, it just didn’t reach me. The definition Mike McLain shared is so interesting, though.

  • Reply
    Uncle Dave
    December 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Shank’s mare was a common mode of transportation along Big Andy Ridge in Lee County, Kentucky when I was youngun. Still enjoy the ride but must admit the gait has changed a mite!
    Uncle Dave

  • Reply
    December 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I don’t recall ever hearing anyone use this expression. Nice to learn about the culture from other parts of country. Thanks for all your great posts Tipper!

  • Reply
    Paul Certo
    December 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Ma frequently used that phrase, though she was born and raised here in the city, with no Appalachian roots. I don’t recall ever asking her where she learned it. Not from her parents; when English words failed them, they reverted to their native Italian dialect. I suspect she learned it from friends at school or work, or possibly from reading books. We grew up hearing “Shanks Mare” though!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    December 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Heard my Dad use the term..when we wanted a ride to the movies on Saturday…I remember saying, “What” and he laughed and explained what he that time it still didn’t register…I thought it was some inside joke between him and Mom…LOL
    We were also told we better get to “hoofin’ it” if we needed to get to school on time…That is before we were lucky enough to ride the bus…
    thanks for the post Tipper,

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    December 5, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Heard it all my life too, originally from my mother who was partly of Scottish extraction.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2011 at 10:37 am

    How cool! I have never ever head that one! Hoofing it is common so it is related but never heard your usage!

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    December 5, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Here in the Ozqark’s both ‘shank’s mare’and ‘hoofing it’ were in common usage as I grew up. We kids mostly used that mode of travel to get where we wanted to go.
    You no longer hear either one very much.
    The times are changing; our phrases are becoming more generic, losing the regional flavor that many areas of the country once had.
    It is sad to know they are rapidly disappearingfrom our rich cultures.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 5, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I’ve always said you could tell us mountain folks by the way we walk. Get us down in the flatlands and we stand out because we always look like we are going either uphill or downhill. I also tell flatlanders that us mountain folk have adapted to our environment by growing one leg longer than the other. Helps us walk around the side of a mountain but we have to go all the way around. Can’t turn and go back! And when we get down in the flatlands we tend to walk in circles.

  • Reply
    jackie shound ringersma
    December 5, 2011 at 10:19 am

    I love this place, learn something new every time I’m here. Have heard the expression throughout my years and knew what it meant but Mike McLain’s post was very interesting. I love learning the origin of our language.

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    December 5, 2011 at 9:50 am

    If I’ve ever heard that one it didn’t register–or didn’t stick!

  • Reply
    December 5, 2011 at 9:22 am

    A rather interesting saying if I say so myself. I will now know what it means when one of my new mountain friends uses the phrase. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    December 5, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I had a great aunt that used this phrase quite often, but she was the only person that I have ever heard use it in person.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 5, 2011 at 8:51 am

    I never heard by shanks mare. We always: hoofed it, took a trail or cut a trail. Over in Swain County we’re all Ridge Runners.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    December 5, 2011 at 8:49 am

    My curiosity was aroused when I heard Don use the phrase, but today’s post reminded me.
    I found this on a web site called World Wide Words:
    It’s Scottish, dating from the eighteenth century. There was a verb, to shank or to shank it, meaning to go on foot. This is from standard English shank for the part of the leg from the knee to the ankle, which comes from Old English sceanca, the leg bone. This verb developed into shank’s naig or shank’s naigie (where the second words are local forms of nag, a horse) and later into shank’s mare. It was a wry joke: I haven’t got a horse of my own for the journey, so I’ll use Shank’s mare to get there, meaning I’ll go on my own two feet. This supposed link with a person called Shank explains why the first word is often capitalised.
    Any other thoughts on the derivation of Shank’s Mare?

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 5, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Heard it all my life,though less in recent times. I suppose that is because folks don’t walk for transportation now a days. We ride every where we go. I even get in the car to drive to the lake where I walk for exercise and it’s on a quarter mile from my house.
    I was down right embarrassed when I realized what I was doing so now I take shank’s mare from the front door.
    I always walked to and from school, it wasn’t unusual most kids walked though it was not really up hill both ways. LOL

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    December 5, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I too have heard the expression as long as I can remember and have put many a mile on the “Old Girl”. My generation seemed to have much less of a problem walking somewhere if you had no other transportation but the many generations before us in Applachia were the real experts at riding “Shank’s Mare”. It’s amazing how mobile they were when many communities were connected by trails or primative sled roads. One can see evidence of this in how the families spread through the mountains, some had a horse or two but many of my relatives rode “Shank’s Mare” from Kentucky, S.C. and other distant locales to settle in present day Swain Co. and then spread to Macon, Clay, Cherokee and other distant areas to settle or visit those who had done so.

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    December 5, 2011 at 8:41 am

    During the year I spent in West Virginia, I heard ballad singer and banjo player Currence Hammons use the phrase “by shanks’ mules.”

  • Reply
    December 5, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Here in PA we call that the “shoe leather express” lol.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 5, 2011 at 8:04 am

    I have heard it used, and read it. I inferred the meaning from the sentence, but it was never used in my house.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Saying shanks mare is new to me. Have heard of hoofing it meaning the same.

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