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In the poem "One and one" of Mary Mapes Dodge there is a line:

Two little ponies must go to a span

It seems, the "span" here is some term belonging to horses. Obviously, some place where they run or stay. But which one? I can't find it in dictionaries.

1 Answer 1

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It is an old usage that refers to a pair of horses driven together:

Span:

  • (obsolete) A pair of horses or other animals driven together; usually, such a pair of horses when similar in color, form, and action.

Wiktionary

Origin:

  • "two animals driven together," 1769, American English, from Dutch span, from spannen "to stretch or yoke," from Middle Dutch spannan. Also used in South African English.

Etymonline

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  • As a sidenote, while span exists in Dutch with the exact same meaning, I'm more used to hearing tweespan (described here); twee is Dutch for two. I suppose tweespan is the colloquial term for this configuration (for horses, at least). Dutch also has the terms enkelspan (single span), meaning that a single horse is used, and vierspan (vier means four), which has two pairs of two horses (one in front of the other).This can be extended to larger numbers.
    – tjalling
    Nov 17, 2016 at 21:31

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