By Betty Freeman Haines

Originally published 10/10/2014


When a group of little old ladies sitting on a front porch refer to someone as a horse’s rear, their intent is to insult that person. However, I recently learned how important a horse’s backside can be.  Now, I recommend that we thank those who refer to us in this manner.

After saying thank you, inform them that the phrase is indeed a compliment. Then, impress them by explaining how history has proved that this part of horse’s anatomy is more important than many of us realize.

The NASA Space Shuttle was equipped with two booster rockets that were affixed the sides of the main fuel tank. The engineers who design these boosters wanted to make them larger. But, the U.S. Standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches and the boosters had to be shipped by rail from the factory to the launch site and this precluded enlarging them.

Why does the U.S. have such an odd railway gauge?  Our railways were designed by English expatriates who used the English standard gauge – 4 feet 8.5 inches.

This gauge was taken from the design of the tramways that preceded England’s railways.  English tramways were gauged to accommodate the ruts in old English roads.

Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in England and the ruts in these roads were formed by the wheels of their war chariots. All war chariots of the Imperial Roman Army had identical wheel spacing – 4 feet 8.5 inches.  Hence, the United States railway gauge was derived from the original specifications for Roman war chariots.

So why did the Imperial Roman Army choose this specific width for their chariots?  Because it was just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.

So, the next time you are asked to conform to an unusual standard or work from a specification, procedure, or process that causes you to wonder: ‘What horse’s ass came up with this?’ You will remember just how important this part of the horse has been historically.

Betty Freeman Haines, an author and award winning columnist, lives in Mesquite, NV.  Her books/e-books, Reluctant Hero and Grieving Sucks or Does It, can be ordered from  


Leave a Reply