The wedding horseshoe tradition has a long history, dating back to ancient Celtic times and continuing into the modern day. This cherished Irish wedding tradition, once an essential part of traditional Irish weddings, has spread beyond Irish borders. It has found its way into wedding ceremonies worldwide, including those in the United States.
Origins of the Wedding Horseshoe
The origins of the wedding horseshoe can be traced back to St. Dunstan, a 10th-century Archbishop of Canterbury. As the legend goes, a skilled blacksmith, St. Dunstan, was visited by a devil who requested horseshoes for his hooves. St. Dunstan complied but caused so much pain that the devil agreed to respect the horseshoe as a symbol of luck to escape the torment.
In ancient times, it was believed that evil spirits could enter a home through the threshold. To ward off such misfortune, horseshoes were hung over the doorway. With its crescent moon shape, the iron horseshoe became a symbol of good luck, fertility, and protection from evil spirits in many cultures, including the ancient Greeks.
Incorporation into Irish Wedding Traditions
In Irish weddings, the wedding horseshoe has become an integral part of the wedding ceremony. This tradition first gained prominence in Victorian times and was popularized by Queen Victoria. The bridal horseshoe, often a real horseshoe or a representation in silver, cloth, or porcelain, is carried by the flower girl or page boy on the wedding day. Some brides may also incorporate a small horseshoe into their wedding gown or bouquet.
The horseshoe is carried with the ends pointing upwards, resembling a crescent moon. Wedding superstitions say this is the right way to carry the horseshoe. It helps to ‘catch’ all the good fortune for the happy couple.
The Role of Horseshoe in the Wedding Ceremony
As the wedding ceremony reaches its culmination, the giving of horseshoes takes center stage. The best man or a happily married woman from the bride’s family presents the lucky horseshoe to the new bride. This wedding gift, symbolizing good luck, fertility, and blessed married life.
In the Church of England and other Christian religions, the horseshoe is often presented at the end of the ceremony. Just before the newlywed couple’s first walk as husband and wife. The wedding guests might also shower the couple with miniature horseshoes or a handful of coins for added luck.
The Wedding Horseshoe in Modern Times
In modern times, the lucky horseshoe has taken on different designs and has become one of the popular wedding traditions in Irish and Scottish weddings. It is often incorporated into the wedding venue decor, wedding or engagement rings.
Some modern couples hang a horseshoe in their new home, a symbol of luck and protection from the vicissitudes of life.
Moreover, the horseshoe has inspired other Irish wedding customs like the Claddagh ring, a symbol of love, friendship, and loyalty, and the Shamrock garters, a token of true love and good luck. Modern Irish brides may also choose to wear white heather, another symbol of good luck, and use the luckenbooth brooch, a Scottish love token given by the groom to the bride on their wedding day.
What Kind of Horseshoe to Use?
Traditionally a real horseshoe would be given to the bride. These days you can create something a little more modern that still ties in the tradition. It doesn’t have to be an actual metal horseshoe as sometimes they can be hard to source.
It makes it extra special if the horseshoe is homemade for the bride.
A DIY Wedding Horseshoe
The giving and receiving of a horseshoe is something that is a little magical and romantic. It is possible to purchase horseshoes but it is very special if the horseshoe is ‘homemade’ especially for the bride. If you are very lucky you may be able to get a real horseshoe that you can clean and decorate.
You may be able to buy a plain plastic horseshoe and then decorate it yourself. The horseshoe needs a ribbon loop that attaches to the ends of the horseshoe so that the bride can hold it easily along with her flowers. It is really important that the horseshoe is able to stay upright in the ‘U’ shape so that it is able to catch all the good luck on the day.
When do you give the bride the horseshoe?
Usually, young children are the ones chosen to give the horseshoe to the bride. This happens at the end of the ceremony after the couple has been presented as Mr and Mrs and then take their first walk together down the ‘aisle.’
As they stop, the children, with adult help if necessary, can come forward to present the horseshoe to the bride. This is often a great photo opportunity as well. The horseshoe(s) should be displayed with the bride’s flowers at the reception after the ceremony. Guests do appreciate the opportunity to look at and admire the flowers and horseshoes.
Where can you buy a wedding horseshoe?
Many traditional bridal stores and stationery shops carry wedding horseshoes. However, it’s sadly a dying tradition, and with that, fewer people are stocking them.
For a wide range of options, you can check online if you have time to wait for shipping. I’ve popped some of my favourites below – click on the link to be taken directly to the shop that sells them.
Wooden horseshoes are beautiful, especially when personalized with the couple’s last name and wedding date for an extra special memento. A reconditioned real horseshoe is a gorgeous choice too, as is a rustic horseshoe with twine.