The Horseshoe, its place in the luck of the people
An alternative history of the horseshoe from the pen of the Time Travelling Tea Tent
Words by the esteemed Dr Charles Davis and illustrations by Lady Barnes…
Many of us will be aware of the horseshoe, its place on the foot of our equine colleagues, but not so many will be familiar with its history and significance in the rise of civilization and its impact on the fortunes of those that have had direct contact with them.
This should not be confused with the significance of horsehats and horsegloves, which we hope to address in a further presentation. In its simplest form, the horseshoe is designed to protect the wearers foot, or anatomically speaking, the toes from wear by either nailing, gluing or tying an artificial item to the base of the wearer’s hooves.
These are most usually considered of as being metal, iron & bronze but in the archaeological record have been found in wood and leather. Leather has continued to be used into the Edwardian period for some specialised purposes, such as lawn mowing and in ballroom dancing; were consideration has been needed for the preservation of the surface.
The first records of protective hoofware come from Asia, but by the beginning of the first millennium, we find the Romans offering a range of shoes, under the name of hipposandal. These are of course not to be confused with sandals for hippos, which appear much later when seaside holidays became more popular and fashionable.
This also highlights the issue that the horseshoe is not just for horses but has been also used on donkeys, mules and asses, but the deployment of chicken shoes, remains a development that stretches the greatest minds.
The first nailed shoes, do not appear until the 9th century and by the 13th, they are in ready manufacturer by blacksmiths and the specialist farrier, being of a more recognizable form to that of the modern shoe. By the 19th century it is possible to mass produce them and they also become more of a fashion statement for the dandy, fashionable horse about town & country; including the infamous Shetland platform shoe, Adid-ass racing trainers and Clydesdale wellingtons.
The horseshoe has long been considered as lucky. Those made of iron, a material believed to ward off magic & evil spirits and often held on by seven nails, which was considered to be a lucky number. Mentioned in many tales, one has saint Dunstan, who worked as a blacksmith, having the Devil walk into his shop and ask him to shoe his horse. Dunstan agreed to the request; but nailed the shoe to the Devil's own foot, causing him great pain. Dunstan agreed to remove the shoe, but only after a promise that the Devil would never enter a household with a horseshoe nailed to the door. Dunstan later became Archbishop of Canterbury, so it would appear lucky for him, but was never allowed to carry out the honorable profession of blacksmithing again, due to his bad business practices.
Which way up a horseshoe should to be nailed is open to debate. Ends up, so that the horseshoe catches the luck, but the ends down and the good luck to be lost. Others say they should point down, so that the luck is falls upon those entering the home. Having a falling horseshoe, points down, on anyone, does sound unluckier so I can only say that the luckiest thing about a horseshoe, is that while nailed to a wall or elsewhere, it can’t kick you. Somewhat like having the bullet with your name on it.
Lastly, superstitious mariners used to believe that a horseshoe nailed to the mast will help their ship avoid storms. This can easily be explained though, as the iron will interfere with their compass and they will never be able to get out of port, thereby remaining safe. The horseshoe remains the footwear of choice for the equine of all species until they learn the benefits of roller skates, skateboards or they build larger Segway’s….which incidentally are notoriously unlucky.