The Legend of the Horseshoe

The Legend of the Horseshoe

Whether you are hollering for your horse trackside, making epic plays on the basketball court or sitting in the nose bleeds of your favorite team’s football stadium, you’ve probably had a good luck charm on hand for some good juju. Those good luck charms include wearing an unwashed lucky jersey or the wise-ol’ teller you hunt down after the hint of a winning streak. Many of these superstitions and good luck charms can be a little kooky but some are just downright silly. As Bud Light reminds us in its Very Superstitious commercials, “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work”.

Some famous sports figures are even known to have some crazy lucky charms & superstitions. Michael Jordan wore his University of North Carolina basketball shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform & former New York Mets reliever, Turk Wendell always wore a necklace of teeth from the animals he had hunted and killed during his off time. Our folks at the Kentucky Derby Museum are no exception either. If avid bettor & veteran Tour Guide, Becky Schroeder is playing the ponies, she will always put her money on a horse if it has the word “Cat” in its name.

One good luck charm; however, has been warding off evil sprits and providing good mojo for hundreds of years. Although the origins are not exactly known, it is believed that the horseshoe became the symbol of luck when the eighth century Chaldeans thought its crescent shape represented various moon goddesses thus protecting against the curse of the evil eye.

Others believe that horseshoes became synonymous with luck in 969 AD when St. Dunstan, the patron saint of blacksmiths in the Catholic Church, tricked the devil. There are several versions to the story but all agree that in the legend St. Dunstan shoed the Devil’s own cloven hoof with great force and pain. After the excruciating ordeal, the devil agreed to never enter over a threshold with a horseshoe nailed above it, being fearful of the tiny crescent-shaped object. A lucky charm to ward of evil was born.

The basic metal makeup even made the horseshoe an easy favorite for as a lucky charm. Most of the early horseshoes were first made of iron, which is a durable metal but also thought to have mystical powers; it has magnetic capabilities; runs abundantly through human bodies & can apparently keep fairy-folk at bay. Witches were said to be so fearful of the iron-made horseshoes that they decided to take flight on broomsticks instead of galloping away on horses for transportation.

Even the amount of nail holes made this protective footwear lucky! Seven holes were made into the shoe to hold it in place on the hoof. As it just so happens, seven is one of the luckiest of numbers on earth as it appears so frequently in nature. There are seven days of the week, seven seas, seven continents & even seven colors in a rainbow.

Many people agree that the horseshoe is, in fact, lucky but can’t seem to agree on how to hang on to that luck. Some superstitious folk hang their horseshoe prong-side up (U) so the luck stays in the cup to protect the home or barn where it hangs. Others decide to hang it heel-side up so that all the good luck flows out to those who pass under it. Take a walk on the backside of Churchill Downs & one will see that many of the seasoned horse trainers can’t even agree on the best way to hang the shoe. Our best suggestion is to hang it both ways to ensure the most luck for your home or barn!

Still considered one of the luckiest of charms, the design, shape, & overall look of the horseshoe has evolved since its original conception hundreds of years ago. With new and expanded knowledge, horseshoes today are not just made of the magical & mystical iron but of other metals including aluminum. Thoroughbreds, in particular, have their shoes made of the lighter AL metal because it won’t act as a weight on their hooves during their races. Although most shoes remain close to the original shape, the crescent moon style that the Chaldeans formally admired has expanded. Farriers have discovered shapes like the bar shoe, a complete oval style used for hoof therapy, is a great option for horses. Today, farriers even recommend that the amount of nail holes be placed evenly on each side of the hoof instead of the lucky seven nail holes. Even the luck of the horseshoe has expanded beyond that of the actual shoe. The superstitious now wear trendy horseshoe earrings & bracelets for a bit of on-the-go luck every day. Gentlemen wear horseshoe-patterned ties & belts to keep luck close by come race day.

So many centuries, cultures & people have believed in the good juju of horseshoes. Even with the expansion of the original version, there has to be something to all this lucky mumbo jumbo, right? Well, at the Kentucky Derby Museum, we whole-heartedly believe in the luck of the horseshoe. Do you?

P.S. If you are ever in dire need of good luck charm, legend has it that the Holy Grail of lucky horseshoes is one that comes from a gray mare’s hind feet.

  • The Legend of the Horseshoe
  • The Legend of the Horseshoe
  • The Legend of the Horseshoe
  • The Legend of the Horseshoe