What is the idiom in English which express "you only started to do things when it already happened, there was no preparation"?

For example, America only started to make more masks and ventilators when the number of coronavirus patients increased. They should have done that much earlier, probably 2 months ago.

This is translated from Vietnamese: "You only start to make stables, when you lost cows"

2 Answers 2


To close the stable door after the horse has bolted is pretty much the same as the Vietnamese one you offer.

I would say it is slightly stronger than your definition of "doing things when it happened, without preparation" in that it also implies your response is too late to have any effect at all, and therefore ultimately pointless. Without straying too off-topic, hopefully, I might suggest this is not quite the case in the conoravirus ventilator example: the USA (and elsewhere) should have prepared earlier, but it's still worth making more ventilators now. (Related idiom: better late than never). A better example of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted might be banning entry from infected countries when you already have thousands of domestic cases. However, it is still the closest idiom and potentially would be used in this (ventilator) case anyway.

  • A variation is to lock the stable door. Mar 27, 2020 at 7:07

"Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted" comes to mind. Here's a thread on the English Language and Usage stackexchange that goes into some detail.

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