‘to run like a hairy goat’: meanings and origin



In Australian English, the nouns hairy goat and hairy dog have been used to denote a racehorse which performs badly or is considered to be slow or useless.




These are, in chronological order, the earliest occurrences of the noun hairy goat that I have found:

1-: From the column Bric-a-brac, published in Quiz and the Lantern (Adelaide, South Australia) of Thursday 13th September 1894:

A countryman visiting Adelaide wanted to get an old horse for work on his farm, something worth less than a pound a leg, and he got it, a regular crock, for £2 10s. The horse was taken across the water to the farm, and picked up in condition so much that one day the farmer remarked to his son, “I shouldn’t wonder if that nag wasn’t a trotter.” The boy thought so too, and he proved his belief by riding the animal 20 miles to a township and entering him for a trotting race. The moke got a place. A little later Master Hayseed rode the fifty shilling purchase a greater distance, and entered him for another race. There was a totalizator in existence, and the boy invested ten shillings on his mount. Oh! how the crowd roared when when [sic] they saw the equine go to the starting post. “Take him to the orsepital.” “Currycomb his legs.” “Shove him out in the field for a scarecrow.” “Tie him up to a hearse.” “What are yer doin’ with that there hairy goat?” Such were some of the free and easy expressions heard on all sides, but the youngster only spoke soothing words to his Pegasus and grinned at the taunting crowd. And he had good reason to grin, for when the flag fell his mount went to the front and remained there. The others were not in the same circus. Master Hayseed, when the race was over, stepped calmly up to the totalizator office and drew a dividend of £26. He was the only one to back the winner. Then he went home, and if you don’t believe this yarn ask some of the farmers in southern Yorke’s Peninsula if it isn’t true.

2 & 3-: From Boondi’s Budget for the Smoke Room, published in The Referee (Sydney, New South Wales):

2-: Of Wednesday 27th May 1908:

It was by the merest chance that Richmond came to Sydney that year. During the Winter Hyperion, Valentia, the Valetta colt, New Holland, and a lot more had been very heavily backed for the A.J.C. Derby, both straight out and in doubles, and in the hope of downing all these Joe Thompson, Bill Branch, and Ned Gough offered trainer Jellet a nice present to “take over his hairy little goat,” as they irreverently called the speedy Richmond. On arrival here everyone styled him “the goat,” but “Augur” bored deeper down, and wrote, “Certainly Richmond didn’t look like a Derby horse as he left the paddock, but he galloped like one when he took his preliminary, his beautiful close style of going being admired by all who noticed it.” His breeding was all right, too, for he was by Maribyrnong out of a daughter of the Premier and Melesina, and no doubt it was from the Premier strains he got his wonderful gameness. It was amusing to see the bookies who paid his passage over doing the ghost dance as the “little hairy goat” went out to victory, and when the blue riband was placed round his neck the delighted “fielders” cut it up and wore it in their buttonholes as “Mascottes” for the rest of the day, for out of those that they had peppered during the Winter, Malta ran second, and Valentia third, and the time, 2.42½. tells its own tale. The “hairy goat” had saved the fur-coated “bookies.”

3-: Of Wednesday 28th April 1909:

The late “Dicker” Hamilton used to declare that on one occasion he left the training track for breakfast while Richmond was at work. “Dicker,” too, had pork chops and trimmings for his breakfast that day, so he took his time, and enjoyed his meal, and yet when he got back to the course there was the sturdy little Richmond still bowling round as though it were a pleasure to him. Five or six rounds on the tan were nothing to Richmond; but it was no picnic for the boy on top, as the little slug took a deal of riding, and the lads riding work often tried, mostly with success, to cut the game much shorter than their boss, Eli Jellett, had intended. Richmond’s trial for the Champion of 1876, as described by Eli, was a red-hot one; yet the “hairy little goat,” as he was contemptuously termed, got through it with the greatest ease.
Ridden by Tom Hales—and what a treat it was to see Tom ride, with his fine, upright, graceful, and commanding seat—the sturdy little son of Maribyrnong had no fewer than five horses, all good performers, “sooled” on to him; but they were all polished off with the greatest ease. Jellett never lost confidence in the brave “little goat,” however, and one night, in that cheery and jovial room, where turfmen loved to congregate and run their races over again, the back parlor at Goyder’s Hotel, Eli, being chaffed beyond what was “a fair thing,” pulled off a valuable watch and chain and offered to put them on Richmond if anyone would put up their value in cash, but, luckily for themselves, none of the sports closed, for Richmond won easily.
It was by the merest fluke that Richmond came to Sydney in the Spring of 1875. During the Winter, Hyperious, Valentia, New Holland, the Valetta colt, and others had been heavily backed, both straight out and in doubles, and in the hope of downing all these, Joe Thompson, Bill Branch, and Ned Gough offered Jellett a good sum to take his marvellous little “goat” to the Lovely Harbor State. Of course, the “goat” was the “butt” of all the funny men on the papers when he got here, and they declared Eli was “balmy” to think that hairy fright was a horse good enough to win a Derby; but his beautifully close style of galloping soon altered that song, and it was amusing to see Joe Thompson leading his jubilant brother bookies in a war-dance round the paddock when the “goat” put down all the cracks, and bowled home as he pleased.




These are, in chronological order, the earliest occurrences of the noun hairy dog that I have found:

1-: From Racing Notes, published in The Chronicle (Adelaide, South Australia) of Saturday 23rd May 1908:

When Mr. P. A. Connolly found that Dyed Garments had a chance in that race he was naturally anxious to get his own horseman to do the riding. And he was coming over, but just before leaving Perth a Melbourne rider on his way to the Continent reached Fremantle. Sutherland asked him questions about Dyed Garments. “Oh,” returned the Victorian, “he’s a big, hairy dog; he’s not a horse at all.” So Sutherland remained in the West. He changed his mind after the Sydney Cup, and met Mr. Connolly in Melbourne, and came on to Adelaide with him to ride Dyed Garments here. The latter cost his owner a bit of money in the w.f.a. event on the opening day. Neither Kennedy nor Mr. Connolly fancied him much owing to the distance being too short. But as True Scot failed to show much form in the Goodwood they thought the “hairy dog” might succeed if it turned out that Mr. Rowen’s horse was not at his best.

2-: From Turf Gossip, published in The Australasian (Melbourne, Victoria) of Saturday 23rd May 1908:

The Trial Steeplechase winner Conde is a really good sort of young horse, and he is thoroughbred. […] None of the other starters in the Trial Steeplechase look like paying for training. Most of them were of the “hairy dog” class.

3-: From Turf Gossip, published in The Australasian (Melbourne, Victoria) of Saturday 20th March 1909:

That fine mare Simmerette had nothing to beat—a Flemington trainer described her opponents as a lot of hairy dogs—in the two-year-old race, and she won pulling up.

4-: From Warwick Farm Meeting, published in The Worker (Wagga, New South Wales) of Thursday 4th August 1910:

There was a parade of yearlings advertised to take place, but owners did not take kindly to the train journey, and not a single youngster went up. A couple of locally-trained “hairy dogs” did a bit of of [sic] a sprint down the straight, but no one knew what they were.




That use of the nouns hairy goat and hairy dog has given rise to the phrases to run like a hairy goat and to run like a hairy dog, and variants, meaning, of a racehorse, to run very slowly, to perform very badly.

These are the earliest occurrences of those phrases that I have found:

1-: From The Turf, published in The Sunday Times (Perth, Western Australia) of Sunday 25th February 1912:

The early backers of Cadonia for the Australian Cup must be chewing the cud of bitter reflection after the showing of the son of Prudent King in the St. George’s Stakes won by Trafalgar. He had 2lb. less than he has to carry in the Cup—and he ran like a “hairy dog.” Cadonia was never dangerous at any part of the race, but, then, weight-for-age form (according to some of the shrewd gentlemen who follow the game so closely) is all wrong.

2-: From World of Sport, by ‘Wakeful’, published in The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, New South Wales) of Monday 7th April 1913:

The British racing fraternity was startled just before the last mail left by the extreme punishment meted out to Coulthwaite, a leading trainer, and to Chadwick, a prominent jockey, both of whom have been warned off the turf by the National Hunt Club stewards. This means that only a revocation of the decision will permit of either man taking any further part in racing. They were found guilty of serious offences in connection with the running of two horses, Jacobus and Bloodstone, but from what can be made out of the case neither the trainer nor the jockey did more than what is done every day on the Australian turf—run last one day and first the next. It appears that Jacobus, at Sandown Park, on February 8, when ridden by Chadwick, failed to finish the course with 12.6 in the saddle. On the following Tuesday, with a handicap which had been reduced by 3lb., the same horse, again ridden by Chadwick, was successful in the Warwickshire Steeplechase at Birmingham by three-quarters of a length. A somewhat similar variation of form had also taken place in connection with Bloodstone, and when trainer and jockey were carpeted their explanation was considered unsatisfactory. The Hunt Club stewards are very touchy when compared to some stewards I know, especially those doing duty on Adelaide courses, where it is no uncommon thing to see a horse perform like a hairy goat at one meeting, and a week or so later come out and make the opposition look very trashy.




In extended use, the phrase to play like a hairy goat, and variants, have come to mean, of a sportsperson, of an actor, etc., to perform very badly. The earliest occurrence of that extended use that I have found is from The Referee (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 18th June 1930:

First day results in big golf competitions almost invariably provide a number of surprises. At Kensington, Sydney, on Saturday, when the qualifying rounds of the amateur championship of N.S.W. (held by lvo Whitton) were played, there was only one real surprise. This was Whitton’s failure to qualify outright for the match-play stages of the game. One critic has written that the famous Victorian “played like a novice,” but this is sheer fancifulness. Whitton never does anything like a novice, but his play was certainly very ordinary. In the forenoon he was never going like a champion and was repeatedly off the fairways. He was also uncertain on the greens.
When asked what specially was wrong with his game in the morning Whitton replied, “Everything. I played like a hairy goat.”

The following from the column Smoke Room Gossip, published in The Referee (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 6th August 1930, seems to indicate that that extended use of the phrase to play like a hairy goat was already well established:

Every one has met the golfer who “played like a hairy goat,” but Roy Quinn, of Urana, has a new simile. “How did you get on?” he was asked. “Played like a motor boat,” he said, “putt, putt, putt, on every green.”

The phrase is applied to an actor’s performance in the following from Laughter and Tears, published in Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 11th December 1937:

Never before had the producer witnessed such atrocious acting. Here was Judson, an actor with a high reputation, acting like a hairy goat. In the first act Judson played the part of a drunken husband who comes home to find a note from his wife saying that she has left him! Yet, Judson was making an unholy mess of it.
At the end of the act the producer rushed into Judson’s dressing-room. Checking his torrent of abuse, he approached the settee where Judson lay sprawled. A letter was on the floor. The producer picked it up, read it, then examined Judson. He was dead drunk—the letter was from his wife saying that she had left him.




The phrase to run like a hairy goat has occasionally been used in the opposite sense, i.e., in the sense to run very fast.

For example, the following is from A brief encounter…, by Barbara Hines, published in The Canberra Times (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory) of Wednesday 26th November 1969—the Australian politician Al Grassby (1926-2005) had just been elected as Member of the Australian Parliament for Riverina; his wife, Ellnor Grassby (born 1937), was the owner of the boutique Chez Elle, and Valda Brown was the manageress of that boutique:

[Ellnor Grassby] manages to look in at Chez Elle for two, perhaps even five hours a day. And she always accompanies Mrs Brown on buying trips to Melbourne and Sydney since she figures in these matters “two heads are better than one”.
“Some days I mightn’t go near the shop at all, yet in the elections I ran in and out like a hairy goat. Valda just expects me when she sees me”.

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