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Luck and Horseshoes

Horseshoes have long been thought to be lucky. Many believed (and some still do) that a horseshoe with the opening on the upside catches the luck. When the opening turns down, the luck spills out. There is some discrepancy as to whether this spilling out is a good thing or a bad thing. Some believe the luck is lost, others that it is now released to work its good in the near proximity. Some believe that a horseshoe must actually have been worn by a horse, and the more miles it has travelled, the more luck it can hold1.

Horseshoe on Door Image

How horseshoes came to be considered lucky is not known. However, we may conjecture it is partly due to the fact it was made of iron, long the strongest metal known to man. That it was used on horses (the most prestigious and useful animal known to ancient and medieval man) probably had much to do with it. Also, the number of nails to be driven to hold a horseshoe into a horse's hoof for many years was seven (now it is more commonly eight). Seven, because of its prominence in the Bible, has been considered a lucky number.2 Another explanation is that a horse moving over cobblestones can throw off sparks from its horseshoes, so people viewed them as objects of power.

Old, worn horseshoes were often found lying about as the result of a horse losing a shoe, or was simply because it was changed out (like old car tires). Some thoughtful farmer likely hanged an old horseshoe on a nail one day just to set it aside to find a use for it later. He may have found that on that day something especially good happened (perhaps he needed a bit of rain). When he took the horseshoe down he had a bad day. Although a serendipitous coincidence of events do not necessarily equate to cause and effect, the coupling of an action with a subsequent or simultaneous event may create a belief that the two events are related. If the farmer happened, by chance, to be fortunate several times when the horseshoe hung a certain way, he might soon form a belief system around the hanging of the horseshoe.3

Folklore tells a strange story of how the horseshoe came to be lucky. In a short vignette by Pokie Parmidge it is because the Devil saw a horse galloping over cobblestones throwing sparks. He grew envious and had a blacksmith nail a pair of horseshoes on his own hooves. But they hurt his sensitive appendages. The blacksmith would not remove them until the devil promised not to enter a house where a horseshoe hung over the door. The smith refused to remove the shoes until the devil promised not to enter a doorway where a horseshoe hangs4.

Today, many people display horseshoes for nostalgic or decorative purposes. They are commonly found on logos, in photographs, and in art. Do horseshoes really gather luck and keep out the devil? Ask a fan of that NFL football team where a horseshoe is emblazoned on the side of the player' helmets. He will either tell you "aye" or "neigh", depending, of course, on how the team is doing this season.

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  1. Lucky Horseshoes
  2. CSICOP on Horseshoes
  3. Superstition and Psychology
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