Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Why We Say: #4

Animated sequence of a race horse galloping. P...

Animated sequence of a race horse galloping. Photos taken by Eadweard Muybridge (died 1904), first published in 1887 at Philadelphia (Animal Locomotion). (Photo credit: Wikipedia) This horse could not gallop so smoothly if it were all balled up.

“Calm down. Don’t yourself  all balled up.”

If this is not in your lexicon of sayings, then think about those situations when you get yourself so stressed out you can’t cope anymore. I definitely get there from time to time.

This round of Why We Say is #4:  Just what does it mean to get ” all balled up?”


Back in the day when people relied on horses for transportation there could be some real downsides. Never mind feeding them, grooming them, stabling them and such. One real problem was winter travel. Horses  had to be stopped now and then to attend to the ice that would form in their hooves. Balls of ice would gather in the hoof hollows and this would cause them to lose traction. Having your horse slip on an icy road is much like your car going into a skid–unexpected, unpleasant results could occur.


“Poppa why are we stopping?”

“No worries, Sugar. I just gotta flick out them ice balls so old Thunder can get us on home through on this snow and such. He can’t go no further if he can’t keep his feet under him.”

“Do they hurt him?”

“Nah, but he can’t hardly get where he needs to ifn he’s all balled up.  Just snuggle under that quilt and we’ll be back home where your momma is waiting with a nice bowl of porcupine stew for us.”


Getting yourself in a place where there is frustration, confusion, and some tough stuff which prevents you from getting where you’d like to go can get you all balled up. Now, to be honest, I wasn’t thinking horse hooves when I first  heard the expressions. I was thinking more about this critter:

We called them roly-polys when I was a kid because they rolled themselves up in a tight little ball when they got in a fret, looking a lot like little grey BBs. Now, to my shame, we kids liked to flick them to watch them roll. But they’re tough little guys and would wait out the perceived threat to eventually unfurl and go their merry buggy way. So when I hear all balled up I think about drawing myself inward to protect myself until the stress passes and then I go to my merry way.

My Thoughts

I think it ‘s a personal choice of wanting to approach life as a horse or a bug.

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5 thoughts on “Why We Say: #4

  1. I’ve never heard this expression before, but I like it! I’ll have to remember that.

  2. Love this expression! And I love how you took it and gave two stellar examples. I think I’ve approached life in both ways since they both offer different stances on life. I think today I’d like to be a bug, a small little thing just traveling through life appreciating each long step with no idea of where I’d end up.

    P.S. I loved your little story about Thunder, very sweet and to the point!

  3. i never would have guessed at this origin. very interesting.

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