I looked it up and think it's something to do with "hobbyhorse", and that it seems quite a popular expression in the early 19th Century,but English as my second language I have doubt with my own conclusion/findings.

  • Originally a hobby was a small-to-middling size horse, later extended to a wicker figure thereof (in morris dancing and such), and eventually the children's stick-toy. From which derives the most common sense today: favourite occupation or topic, pursued merely for the amusement or interest that it affords, and which is compared to the riding of a toy horse (OED). – FumbleFingers Dec 3 '15 at 4:12

The meaning of the phrase

ride one's hobby

depends on the context. The phrasing is archaic, rather than modern. Modern phrasing would be more likely to be something along the lines of

indulge, pursue, or occupy oneself with, a hobby.

So I will assume the meaning of the phrase you're asking about is one or more of the meanings that phrase might have had in the early 19th century.

Originally, and through the 19th century, 'ride a hobby' sometimes referred to riding one of a breed of small, agile, fast horses. These were the Irish Hobby horse. The breed is now extinct. Its closest living relatives are the contemporary Irish Connemara pony and the Irish Draught. Recent research (Maternal Heritage of the Thoroughbred, E. Hill, M. Bower 2010) has shown that the hobby horse contributed 61% of the modern thoroughbred's maternal genes; Arab and Oriental (non-Arab) mares contributed only 8% and 31% respectively.


(Public domain illustration depicting the Irish Hobby [charging down the hill at right]. Art Mór Mac Murchadha Caomhánach riding to meet the earl of Gloucester, as depicted in an illustration to Jean Creton's Histoire du roy d'Angleterre Richard II.)


(A Connemara Pony, descendent of the Irish Hobby. By Satu Pitkänen, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.)

The first, earliest meaning of 'hobby' that might fit with

ride one's hobby

is this, as reflected in the first (earliest) definition of 'hobby' in the OED, which supports the definition with quotes using the meaning through 1861:

  1. A small or middle-sized horse; an ambling or pacing horse; a pony. Now Hist., arch., or dial.

Some sources give this sense of 'hobby' as the direct origin of the contemporary sense of 'hobby', via its reference to a pastime of Henry VIII:

Henry VIII greatly admired the “Irish Hobby” for its natural, ambling gait and comfortable ride. He began racing his own specially bred Hobbys against horses owned by others of the English nobility. By 1816, Henry’s pastime would lead to the word “hobby” being entered in the dictionary with a new meaning: “a costly pastime indulged in by the idle rich.”

(From "The Irish Hobby Horse", October 21, 2015, at a blog titled dermotmccabe. Emphasis mine.)

The OED Online definition of the modern sense of 'hobby' does not agree with that story of the entrance of 'hobby' into English:

  1. A favourite occupation or topic, pursued merely for the amusement or interest that it affords, and which is compared to the riding of a toy horse (sense 3); an individual pursuit to which a person is devoted (in the speaker's opinion) out of proportion to its real importance. Formerly hobby-horse n. (sense Compounds 1).
    1816 Scott Antiquary I. xi. 248, I quarrel with no man's hobby.

In this sense, and in the quote given from 1816 supporting it, the modern meaning of hobby derives from the riding of toy hobby horses, rather than Henry VIII's indulgence.

Another possible sense of

ride one's hobby

derives from yet a third sense of 'hobby'. In addition to the contemporary sense of 'hobby', which was common in the early 19th Century, and the real horse called the 'hobby', also common, one could ride a velocipede called a 'hobby':


(Hobby Horse, about 1818. Smithsonian Institution, Negative #: 61-347.)

The image shows one found in the United States, believed to be of French origin, but the inventor of the velocipede was German. A British cartwright produced an improved version which became a short-lived fad in London, 1819:


(A lithograph depicting the son of the British cartwright who popularized the velocipede in 1819 riding one. From a public domain photo.)

This, then, is the third meaning that

ride one's hobby

might have had in the early 19th Century; that is, it could refer to an English dandy riding a velocipede, a 'hobby' as defined in the OED Online:

†4. A kind of velocipede, introduced in 1818, on which the rider propelled himself by pushing the ground with the point of each foot alternately ....

["hobby, n.1". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/87460?rskey=cdtZ8E&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed December 03, 2015).]


The three possible meanings of "ride one's hobby" in the early 19th century were these:

  1. ride a real horse called a hobby;
  2. ride a toy horse or, figuratively, pursue an occupation or topic merely for amusement;
  3. ride a velocipede.
  • Thanks! It's #2 – in a figurative sense. I'm rather curious why an expression like this just faded away later. If you do a search on Google Books, you can find a number of books published in the early 19 Century used this expression. – Janef Dec 4 '15 at 19:47
  • @Janef, you're welcome. Although the phrasing is archaic, it's still used now, and will be readily understood (in the figurative sense). I prefer "riding" to "working on", "indulging", etc. also, and don't hesitate to use "riding"--but then, I don't hesitate to appear the geek, either. – JEL Dec 5 '15 at 2:03

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