Museum Monday: Lucky Horseshoes

By Claire Schmotzer

Lucky Horseshoes have a long history in the West. Many historic buildings in Nevada have a horseshoe hanging over the door to bring prosperity and good luck. Friends of Black Rock High Rock keeps their horseshoes inside the main museum case, but may add one to the door soon.

History of Horseshoes

Horseshoes date back at least to Roman times. The Romans used boots called hipposandals to protect their horses’ feet. When technology improved, horseshoes did too. Nailed horseshoes entered the historical record about 1000 years ago. At first, horseshoes were forged from bronze. Later, iron became the metal of choice. By the Crusades, horseshoes were common throughout Europe and the surrounding area. In this era, horseshoes could be used to pay taxes because of the value of the iron. Farriers forged horseshoes until modern times, when mass production techniques took over production. Today, farriers use old techniques and current technology to care for horses’ hooves and properly fit the shoes.

Horseshoes don’t just protect a horse’s hooves against damp or rough terrain- it is also a popular sport! Horseshoes is a sport similar to ring toss. It became popular in the early 20th Century, and is often enjoyed at picnics and social gatherings today.

Horseshoes for Good Luck

Horseshoes became a symbol of good luck sometime within the past 1000 years. Perhaps this is because of the iron. Iron formed coins and other currency, and brings prosperity. Iron warded off evil spirits in ancient times. Horseshoes hung for luck had space for seven nails because seven is the luckiest number. All horseshoes hung above doors are lucky; however, different cultures hang them in different directions. In some cultures, the points of the shoe face downward so that luck falls on those who pass under it. In Nevada, most shoes hang points up so that luck collects in the u-shape. Here, a points-down shoe would lose all luck.

Regardless of direction, horseshoes belong over doors to bring good luck into buildings. The location dates back to the 10th century, when legend has it that Saint Dunston placed a horseshoe on the devil, and only removed it when the devil promised to never enter buildings with a horseshoe at the door. Sailors nail horseshoes to the masts of their ships to bring good luck on their journeys.

Friends of Black Rock Collection

At the bottom of our main display case, you’ll find 5 horseshoes. They are artifacts that represent different styles of shoes used in the area. Cowboys, emigrants, and ranchers used shoes like these on their horses and mules. One of our shoes still has the nails in it!

A note on Mustangs

Wild horses don’t use horseshoes- their hooves naturally harden in the field. There are many mustangs in the NCA, and you’re likely to see them roaming the public and private lands along route 34. Wild burros like to hang out in the rangeland along highway 447. The Bureau of Land Management works hard to manage the herds. Due to overpopulation issues, sometimes horses and burros must be removed from public lands. When this happens, the animals receive veterinary care before being placed for adoption or sent to off-range pastures. Visit the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program website to learn more about herd management and how to adopt a mustang or burro. The BLM is seeking bids for new off-range pastures until May 3, 2019.

Learn more about horseshoes in general on Wikipedia. Learn more about the animals you might see in the NCA on our wildlife page.