The Mystique of the Lucky Horseshoe: History and Beliefs

By: Debra Ronca & Austin Henderson  | 
Colorful horseshoes on display and for sale by a local Amish craftsman.
Some people say you should hang a horseshoe with the heels facing up to prevent the good luck from spilling out. Photo by Brian T. Evans / Getty Images

From four-leaf clovers to rabbit's feet, many symbols have been considered harbingers of good fortune throughout history. Among these, the lucky horseshoe stands out as a common symbol of luck and protection, even as beliefs and traditions change over time.

Often seen hanging in closed spaces like barns or stables, given to a newlywed couple, or, more recently, worn as jewelry, horseshoes are thought to bring good luck and protection. Over the centuries, several origin stories emerged about why people the world over believe in the luck of the humble horseshoe.


The Blacksmith and the Devil: An Irish Tale

In the Irish story of the blacksmith and the devil, one day a blacksmith was working hard in his shop forging horseshoes. Suddenly, the devil appeared and demanded his own shoes. The blacksmith, recognizing the devil, took a burning-hot shoe and nailed it deep into the devil's hooves.

The devil was in such excruciating pain, he ripped the horseshoes off and swore he would never go near one again. Thus, the tradition of hanging a horseshoe over the entrance of a house to ward off evil spirits was born.


The Power of Iron

Another story has more to do with the metal in the horseshoes. Early Western Europeans believed that iron had magical powers and could drive away evil. Folklore of the time was rife with tales of mischievous fairies and mystical creatures. Horseshoes, being made of iron, naturally became protective talismans.

Other legends said that witches were so afraid of iron horseshoes, they traveled by broomstick instead of horseback. And 8th-century Chaldeans believed the crescent shape of the horseshoe protected against the evil eye, thus making it a good luck charm [source: Kentucky Derby Museum].


The Significance of 7

The number of holes in a horseshoe isn't just a random design choice. Typically, horseshoes have seven holes to secure them to a horse's hoof. The number seven is revered across cultures for its frequent appearances in nature and life: seven continents, seven seas, seven colors in a rainbow and seven days in a week. This association with the number seven only amplifies the horseshoe's lucky aura.

There does seem to be some contention, however, over how to hang a lucky horseshoe. Some advocate for the heels-up position, resembling a "U," to prevent good luck from spilling out. Others believe in the heels-down orientation, showering blessings on those who pass beneath. Perhaps the solution is to have two horseshoes, hung in both orientations, ensuring a double dose of good fortune!


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • The Dublin Horseshoe Company. "Legend Has It..." 2014. (Dec. 11, 2014)
  • Elftman, Jaime. "Why Are Horseshoes Lucky?" American Farriers Journal, 2014. (Dec. 11, 2014)
  • Kentucky Derby Museum. "The Legend of the Horseshoe." March 11, 2014. (Dec. 11, 2014)