I'm decorating a couple of Wolfie's shoes to give as gifts to two friends who are getting married soon. It got me to thinking of why the horseshoe is considered lucky. Like everything, there are plenty of superstitions, old wives tales and myths surrounding horses.
According to ancient folklore, small-framed 'fairy folk' existed during the Stone Age across what is now Northern Europe and the British isles. When migrating Celtic tribes began invading the lands around 400BC, the fairies hid in forests and camouflaged themselves by wearing green – much like today's leprechauns. The new settlers told stories about the mysterious, magical 'little people' living in the woods, who were also referred to as elves and goblins.
The goblins were accused of causing many misfortunes among the settlers, from casting spells to prevent cows from giving milk and chickens from laying eggs to causing infertility in couples. Legends also told of babies kidnapped by the fairies. It was believed that the primitive goblins feared the metal weapons of their enemies, and were therefore afraid of iron.
To ward off goblins and evil spirits from their homes, the people hung iron horseshoes over their front doors. Horseshoes were doubly frightening to the little people because they looked like the Celtic moon god's crescent. The horseshoe resembles the crescent moon and is thought to protect against the evil eye. Similar shaped charms were used amongst the Chaldeans and the Egyptians. Related to animal worship, it approaches the form of a serpent biting its own tail, a universal symbol of eternity. The horseshoe invokes the crescent moon shape of pagan moon goddesses and so invites their protection.
Horseshoes are considered for their healing powers, and are believed to cure hiccups (this would probably work, if the horse stood on your foot whilst still wearing the shoe!) and for their protective influence. Horseshoes were commonly made from iron. Iron was considered to have magical powers and repels fair-folk and witches, keeping your house free of mischievous demons, imps, pixies and elves.
Traditionally there used to be 7 nails in horseshoes, invoking the traditionally lucky number. There is a time honoured belief in the magical power of iron. Blacksmithing is considered to be a very lucky trade because it involves work with fire and iron. Blacksmiths were often identified as sorcerers and the efficacy of fire as a bane to demons. It is believed that a witch cannot walk under a horseshoe and if the devil gets too close to a horseshoe, he will be sucked in.
There is also a tale that the Blacksmith engaged to shoe the Devil made the shoes red hot, then burned the Devil's feet with the hot iron…..the Devil then tried to withstand the pain, but screamed to have the shoes removed when the Blacksmith began to drive nails to hold the shoe in place. The Devil remembers the pain so vividly that whenever he sees a horseshoe he slinks off into the shadows. The Devil will go nowhere near a home which has a horseshoe over the doorway.
Although the lucky emblems status has survived over centuries, there's still some debate over the proper way to position a horseshoe in order to repel bad fortune. Some believe that a horseshoe with the two ends pointing up collects good luck and keeps it from falling out, while other traditions state that the two ends should point downwards so that luck pours onto those who walk through the door.
There are two things that are mandatory if the horseshoe is to bring you good luck. The horseshoe must have been worn by a horse and the horseshoe must have been found not purchased.
The horseshoe superstition seems likely to be the result of a combination of folklore and myth. It's one I like to believe in though. Unfortunately today's horseshoes are mostly made of aluminium and often have 8 holes and not the traditional 7 but they still look good hanging above the door and I consider Wolfie to be a lucky horse, so I'm sure they will offer protection and bring good fortune.
There are numerous old wives tales and myths involving horses. I think the only one I pay any real attention to is 'Changing a horse's name is bad luck'. I would never change a horse's name.
Here are some of the ones I found –
A circular ring made from an iron horseshoe nail can be used as a talisman and gives the same protection against evil as the horseshoe itself
It was thought that warts could be cured by circling them in horse hair
Mythical cure for colic – Pour turpentine into a saucer, and hold it against the horse's navel. It'll suck it up and the colic will be gone (if only this one worked!)
It was once thought that whooping-cough could be cured by going to the stables and inhaling the breath of a horse; being breathed upon by a piebald horse, or riding upon its back was another supposed cure. Horse hairs chopped very finely and fed to a child in bread and butter, were thought to be a certain cure for worms, and the horse spurs (an old word for the chestnuts on horses legs) were believed in the eighteenth century to be a cure for cancer if dried, ground and drunk frequently with new milk
If you break a mirror the misfortune can be averted if you lead a horse through the house. Same applies if you spill salt in the kitchen
Horse brasses protect the wearer from the evil eye
Seeing a grey horse on the way to church is considered lucky for the bride and groom
Carrying a rowan-wood whip prevents witches from casting a spell on your horse
If you put horse skulls under the floor of a house they improve the tone of a piano that was above them
When its master dies, a horse will shed tears
Spotted horses are magical. Grey horses and horses with four white socks are unlucky.
There are also the 'old sayings' about horses with white feet, white legs and blue eyes.
There are two poems regarding white feet in horses
One white foot, buy him
Two white feet, try him
Three white feet, sell him to a friend
Four white feet, pass him by
One white foot, keep him not a day
Two white feet, send him far away
Three white feet, sell him to a friend
Four white feet, keep him to the end
Some horse people tend to believe that black feet tend to be harder than light feet, but there does not seem to be any research that indicates there is any proof either way. Wolfie has one white foot and three black and white feet and so far he is proving to have 4 very good feet.
Four white stockings were said to be evil. However, two hind and one fore was good. One hind and one fore on opposite sides were excellent.
There is also the saying that you don't buy a horse with blue eyes.
I used to know a pony who was coloured. He was black and white but I wouldn't call him a piebald, he was marked more like an American paint horse and had Indian paw prints on him. He had two blue eyes, 4 white legs, 4 white hooves and a prophets thumb print. He was a fantastic jumping pony with a great temperament. He was never lame and had good feet. In reality, a horse's colour or markings does not determine its temperament or ability.