I’ve had a pretty awesome streak of good news, lately. I found out I’m going to Europe in December, I got a job coaching soccer (my other great passion), my best friend just had a beautiful baby boy, the numbers in my bank account multiplied thanks to my income tax return, and I managed to win $200 on the slot machines at Charles Town Races and Slots (W.V.)! I didn’t even use my own money, since the casino gave me $25 free slot play. Go me!
Now, I’m pretty superstitious in general. Yes, I am one of those people that lifts her feet over railroad tracks, holds her breath over bridges, has a pair of lucky socks and a lucky belt for horse shows, and I will never walk under a ladder.
With all the luck I’ve been having, and my curiosity for all things horse-related, I couldn’t help but ponder why, exactly, horseshoes are considered lucky. I mean, nearly every horse loving female has some kind of horseshoe jewelry—I have a necklace my college roommates gave me for my birthday a few years back—but I would confidently bet (since I’m on a streak these days) that only a handful of people actually know why the horseshoe is a symbol of good fortune.
Since we’re talking about history here, it’s best to start at the beginning. While the original inventor of the horseshoe is unknown, early Asian horsemen began using “booties” made from leather and plants thousands of years ago. In the first century, the Romans made rudimentary shoes out of leather and metal called “hipposandles.” By the sixth and seventh centuries, European horsemen began nailing metal shoes on, and around 1000 A.D. bronze shoes made an appearance.
Iron became prominent between the 13th and 14th centuries, and hot shoeing, which most farriers utilize today, made its debut in the 16th century.
In jolly ol’ England, both coins and horseshoes were cast from iron, and sometimes the horseshoes were more valuable. During the Crusades of the 12th century, horseshoes were often accepted instead of money to pay taxes, which in turn, kept the cavalry horses shod during the wars. It was during this time period that horseshoes began being regarded as a symbol of luck.
One of the basic reasons they’re considered lucky is because they are made of iron. Iron was considered magical because it was able to withstand fire and was stronger than other metals. These beliefs are thought to originate in prehistoric times and are universal throughout ancient cultures.
Pliny the Elder, an author, naturalist and philosopher in the early Roman Empire, described the attributes of iron in his Natural History. Apparently, it served as a preservative against harmful witchcrafts and sorceries for adults and children. You could protect yourself by tracing a circle about your body with a piece of the metal or by swinging a sword around your body three times. Moreover, gentle proddings with a sword where a man had been wounded were reputed to alleviate aches and pains, and even iron-rust had its own healing powers.
Blacksmiths most often handled iron, which was considered a lucky profession. Blacksmiths got to play with fire and iron, which made them doubly magical. You were the coolest kid on the block if you were apprenticing in the blacksmith trade! It was widely believed that blacksmiths could do just about everything, from healing the sick to presiding over marriages. And, because they worked with horses, they were granted much power and prestige.
Finally, horseshoes were often held on the hoof with seven nails. The number seven has been regarded as sacred since ancient times. Seven colors of the rainbow, seven deadly sins, seven days in a week, and so on, and so forth.
Horseshoes that have been found are considered to be the luckiest.
The position of the horseshoe also determines its luck. Some people believe that you must keep the open part of the shoe pointing up so the luck doesn’t spill out, while others say you should point the open part down so the luck falls into the home or dwelling. Horseshoes were often mounted over doorways or on city gates to help bring in luck and ward off evil spirits.
Ancient customs all over the world believe that a horseshoe hung in a location where it can be reached, such as a doorway, brings luck to whoever touches it.
Of course, I’ve failed to mention one of the most basic reasons horseshoes have always held a lucky superstition about them. What is that, you may ask? It’s simple, really. Horseshoes go on horses, and horses have been highly regarded as a sacred, powerful, holy, magical, lucky animal for thousands of years.
So, are horseshoes really all that lucky? There’s certainly a lot of evidence that says they are. I guess it just depends on how much you’re willing to believe.
I’m pretty sure my horse pulled a shoe in the field last fall, and I’ll keep wearing my necklace, just in case!
For a fantastic, in depth look at the lore and legend of horseshoes, check out “The Magic Of The Horse-Shoe” written by Robert Means Lawrence.
One of web writer Coree Reuter’s favorite parts of working at The Chronicle of the Horse is adventuring up into the attic. While it's occasionally a journey that requires a head lamp, GPS unit and dust mask, nearly 75 years of the equine industry is documented in the old issues and photographs that live above the offices, and Coree is determined to unearth the great stories of the past. Inspired by the saying: "History was written on the back of a horse," she hopes to demystify the legends, find new ones and honor the horses who have changed the scope of everyday life with this blog.
Curious about anything in particular? Have a question or an interesting topic? Please e-mail Coree, she'd love to hear from you!