One of quite a number of songs I’ve learned from Maud Karpeles’ The Crystal Spring: English Folk Songs Collected by Cecil Sharp. Dear old Cecil had the tune and first verse of this song from Michael William Johnson at Ilmington in Warwickshire. Mr Johnson was one of the Ilmington morris dancers; as far as I can see this is the only song that Sharp noted from him.
Some versions of this song feature in Christmas folk plays, and are linked to the theme of death and resurrection – see http://mainlynorfolk.info/shirley.collins/songs/pooroldhorse.html for more on this.
Sometimes, however, a cigar is just a cigar. And in this case, as far as I’m concerned, the poor old horse is just a poor old horse. Certainly you can read it as a metaphor for the frailties and indignities of human old age, but there’s no resurrection, just an inexorable decline into the grave.
Poor Old Horse