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Finally, answers about the Pennsylvania Dutch nursery rhyme about horses


Some months ago, I asked on behalf of longtime reader Dianne if anyone could give her some info on a Pennsylvania Dutch nursery rhyme that her grandfather used while bouncing granchildren on his knee.

I cannot believe the great responses I got! I am so appreciative. One thing I mentioned in my earlier post is that I can find MANY variations of this rhyme, so while these answers vary, I believe them to all be “correct,” just variants on the theme!

Pat Brame of Spring Garden Township wrote, “I, too, grew up bouncing on my relatives’ knees to this rhyme. My 3 kids did and now my grandkids do also. My Dad, Martin R. Martzall of Denver, PA (85 years old), still gives the rides to his great granddaughters and I got the correct spelling and translation from him.”

As given by Martin:

Reide, reide Geili
Alli Schtunde Meili
Gehn mir jetzt ins Wartshaus ei
Un schenken uns en Tchinnli ei

Ride, ride a horse
Every hour a mile
Now we go into the hotel
And pour ourselves a little gin.

Pat writes, “Of course as kids it was the riding the horse that was the fun part and we knew what the first two lines meant. We only learned the the last 2 when we got older!!!”

She continues, “My Dad grew up speaking PA Dutch and was a German teacher at Cocalico High School in Lancaster County for many years, so he is a great resource for any PA Dutch/German translations!”

Indeed he was, and I am very thankful!

Roy Flinchbaugh of York writes, “My knowledge of Dutch is very limited, but I have a Pennsylvania Dutch Dictionary by Edwin R. Danner of Spring Grove. This was published in 1951 with the cooperation of William Penn Senior High School and Atreus Wanner Vocational School. The major problem with this well wrought book is that it only provides English to Dutch (not Dutch to English, which would have helped me with this rhyme).”

Of Dianne’s phonetic spelling of the rhyme, Roy says the best he can figure the translation is:

Ride, ride a little horse
Eight (something) miles,
My (something)
Have (something)
In order to (something) fodder for the horse.

He says, “I’m sure you’ll get a lot of responses that will be far better than this. But I had to give it a try.” Roy, I’m glad you did! This is much closer than I was able to come directly matching Dianne’s version of the rhyme. Thank you!

Finally, Faye Harbold of North Codorus Township wrote in as well. She writes, “Some time ago, I read the … article in your column and shared it with my brother. He has been studying the PA Dutch language for quite a few years and I thought he may be helpful in your quest. He shared the article with his present teacher, Alice Spayd, and these are the results. Hopefully you can use them!”

Faye’s brother is Dr. Geo Thomas of Thomasville, Jackson Township. Alice Spayd is of Hamlin, Lancaster County, and her info was most helpful too! Here’s what she sent:



Other options include the first two lines of the song the same as before, but the last two:

Marriye welle mer Hawwer dresche
Was Geili Fuder fresse

That one sounds VERY close to what Dianne described. Alice’s notes show it translates literally as:

Tomorrow want we Oats thresh
What little horse food eats

Or, more conversationally, you might say:

Tomorrow we’ll thresh the oats
That the little horse eats for food

Another version of the last two lines:

Die Geili schpringe die Hiwweli nuff
Un schmeisse es Bebi in die Luft

That translates literally as:

The little horse runs the little hill up
And throws the baby in the air

Faye writes, “These are just a few of many versions of this children’s song. The child is placed on the adult’s knee and hefted along to the tune of the song (sung by the adult) similar to riding a horse. The underlined last word or two is not sung but spoken louder and at the same time the child is thrown from the horse. Of course not literally, but in a controlled fall to the floor.”

Thanks to the MANY readers who were able to shed some light on this. Dianne, I hope it is helpful! Thank you for posing such a fun challenge!