A Bit of Wisdom by Patrick Henry Reardon

A Bit of Wisdom

I don't recall that anyone ever gave me a horse. If it did happen, however, I wonder if I was polite enough to remember the medieval proverb, "No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth." I doubt that many people have actually looked a gift horse in the mouth. Nobody in my family, I'm pretty sure. Nor among my friends; I made inquiries.

This is unfortunate, perhaps, because the inside of a horse's mouth provides a very interesting and profitable study. The equine teeth, like ours, are divided between biting teeth and chewing teeth, but these two types are arranged quite differently from our own. Between the horse's front teeth (incisors) and its back teeth (molars) there is a large gap, called the "bars," a space of several inches in which there are no teeth.

Now as for the famous rule about gift horses, it has not been uniformly enforced, I think. For instance, sometime in the late second millennium before Christ, there must have been a very smart kid who was given a horse, perhaps as a birthday present. Later on, when he imagined nobody was watching, the boy sneaked a peek into the gift horse's mouth, where he took note of the forementioned interdental gap. Sharp lad that he was, he also spotted an opportunity.


Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).

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