Metal Detecting Horseshoes

18th June 2016 — 19 Comments

Bar Horseshoes

The horseshoe is traditionally said to bring good luck and I’ve found a few in my time. I’ve even used one as a talisman and nailed it to the door of a shed I had erected. They were never thrown in the hedge and discarded. The more common shoe was always nailed to the door with the ends pointing up.


“Horseshoes have long been considered lucky. They were originally made of iron, a material which was believed to ward off evil spirits, and traditionally were held in place with seven nails, seven being the luckiest number. The superstition acquired a further Christian twist due to a legend surrounding the 10th century saint Dunstan, who worked as a blacksmith before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. The legend recounts that, one day, the Devil walked into Dunstan’s shop and asked him to shoe his horse. Dunstan pretended not to recognize him, and agreed to the request; but rather than nailing the shoe to the horse’s hoof, he nailed it to the Devil’s own foot, causing him great pain. Dunstan eventually agreed to remove the shoe, but only after extracting a promise that the Devil would never enter a household with a horseshoe nailed to the door.

Opinion is divided as to which way up the horseshoe ought to be nailed. Some say the ends should point up, so that the horseshoe catches the luck; others say they should point down, so that the luck is poured upon those entering the home. Superstitious sailors believe that nailing a horseshoe to the mast will help their vessel avoid storms”. Extract from Wikipedia.

I guess the idea was that it would act as a kind of storage container for any ‘good luck’ that was floating by. To hang it the other way meant it was bad, as all the good luck would fall out. So, next time you find another horseshoe, remember to look after it for it could be the prelude to finding some thing big!

Dave Knight of Ontario in Canada was detecting on a bleak day with fog, drizzle and a cold wind. In his mind was all the treasure he was going to find, and that spurred him on. It didn’t quite work out like he’d imagined, but was pleased to find an early Lower Canada halfpenny token, literally on his last pass, which is in the time-honoured detectorist manner.

SHOE copy

Courtesy Dave Knight

He also found an unusual horseshoe, similar to a couple he’d found on earlier visits to the same field. As you can see from the picture these were not open like the traditional horseshoe. This type is called a straight bar or corrective shoe and was designed for a number of reasons, but primarily to correct heel related problems for an animal with a broken up hoof wall unable to hold enough nails to keep the shoe on.

Whether these shoes have the same lucky qualities as the conventional type, Dave has yet to find out. He says that he regards detecting in the cold, mud and rain as a kind of challenge. Maybe the next time it’ll all be worth it … with the help of those ‘magical’ shoes, of course!

The term ‘bar shoe’ encompasses any type of shoe with a closed heel rather than an open heel. I don’t claim to be an expert, but those wishing to know more are advised to consult Mr Google. The sites are numerous – this is just one of a kind.

Another Unusual Find


Courtesy Keith Dodds

I suppose finding a horseshoe for most detectorists is no big deal, and they may discard them as ‘hedge fodder’, but they can prove to be very interesting. Keith Dodds posted an example on the NRH detecting forum recently, one that was last used in the 17th and 18 centuries. You will notice the spatulate ending to the arms gives a ‘keyhole’ appearance – bottom, middle in the illustration below.

Information of this nature – and all things to do with the countryside – may be gleaned from a small book, Rescuing the Past, edited by Ann Cripps. ISBN 0 7153 6071 X. Worth checking out! Here’s a page from Ann’s book:




Illustration Courtesy of Ann Cripps



You read above that shoes were traditionally held on with SEVEN nails, because that was deemed to be lucky. I’d never seen one (apart from Ann’s illustration above). When Tony Bibby found an example, he concluded that the blacksmith couldn’t count. He now knows it was deliberate. Thanks to ‘Bibbsy’ of the BMD forum for allowing me to use his find.


Courtesy of Tony Bibby



Courtesy of The Georgian Forge

A hoard of rare Celtic shoes, known as wavy-rim shoes can be seen on the thegeorgianforge pages. Take time to explore this great site with useful and interesting information on horse and oxen shoes.



Amy Downes

“Detectorists get a bad press …”

From an article in The Post Hole. Alexandra Cameron talks to Amy Downes, Finds Liaison Officer for South & West Yorkshire. The full interview makes interesting reading and can be seen by clicking HERE.

“Metal detectorists get bad press, but the vast majority of the ones I meet are enthusiastic about archaeology, and responsible about the way they pursue their hobby. It’s worth remembering that most of their finds are from the topsoil, where objects are very much at risk of damage from farming. The finds are usually already out of context, and detectorists rescue them from further damage or destruction. The data being produced from recording detected finds does have the potential to change our understanding of archaeology.”


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19 responses to Metal Detecting Horseshoes

  1. Another great lesson John.. We all find our share of horseshoes and it is nice to have a bit of history with them

  2. I put a small coil down a rabbit burrow (In Oz) and got a weak target. I dug out the stump it was under and proceeded to dig down. I think i dug out one of Captain Cooks horeshoes, been there a long time.
    Re David and Oria, sounds like names found on someones find.

    • You must learn archaeologist’s terminology, Ray. Always refer to finds like this as possibly, probably or is reputed to be (and so on) a shoe from one of Captain Cook’s horses.

  3. Ive been detecting since 2004 and always keep my horse shoes, I might buy that book by Ann Cripps, everything that we detect indicates further possible finds in a given area. A couple of years ago I did a talk on shards of glass found whilst detecting, I borrowed a mixture also of roman glass from a museum, ( keeping track lol )and mixed them up with other shards to see who would recognise the roman against the relatively modern.
    Interesting thread.

  4. im very surprised to learn that horse shoes were used in celtic times .I .just imagined they just didn’t do that sort of thing in them days ….I did find a horse shoe in my local forest when I 1st started detecting next to a tree it had a queen 3 x Elizabeth 2nd pre decimal pennies with it ….

  5. Thanks John
    Another great informative post.
    For donkeys years I had a very lucky horseshoe nailed to the front of my gate, I was given it by our retiring pub landlord it was an aluminum race horseshoe of the Queens horse Aureole (1950–1975) and apparently at the close of racing all used horseshoes are auctioned off for funds to the injured jockeys charity, then about thirty years ago I bought a Scarborough Lucky Duck made of glass and glued it inside of the horseshoe and my luck nose dived and remained that way for months on end and me being wise to all of this superstition stuff decided to pries the duck off the gate and slung it into orbit, my good luck soon returned. When I had to replace the gate I removed the horseshoe but before I had the chance to remount it my wife had binned it without letting me know and I kept scouring about looking for it until she finally admitted to its demise.
    So be warned about these Scarborough and Whitby “Lucky Ducks” they are not what they say on the box.

    • Was my birthday recently … and I was given a small ‘lucky glass cat’ from York. Should I keep it … or just depend on my Joan the Wad?

  6. great write up John I have always put the toe downwards to keep the luck in but an old American friend said you” put the toe up to stop the Witches sitting on it!”

  7. When I lived in Hemel Hempstead I found three horseshoes. At the Three Horseshoes pub. That was quite lucky I would say… Never found one since… Always a pleasure John; thanks again! Cheers!

  8. I have glued a horseshoe to my coil for luck. I get lots of signals.

  9. Angus Morrison 19th June 2016 at 8:04 AM

    I once found a half horseshoe, and thought it was uninteresting rubbish. As it turns out, horseshoes were often split and nailed onto cattle hooves as they were driven south from the highlands to the great cattle markets of the south. These droving days were at their height in the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th – early 19th Centuries as salted beef and leather were required in massive amounts to supply the armies and navies fighting against the dictator in Europe and the high seas. So my half horseshoe had a story behind it after all…

  10. I found my 1st horse shoe and I thinks it’s really old. Where can I go to get it checked out? Any info is greatfully received thanks Sara

  11. Good read John. Thanks for posting.
    I have always collected interesting horse shoes, but eventually unless the air and wet weather is kept out they will break down into waste scrap iron.
    A few I have covered in cure rust and then given them a few coats of black paint sometimes even clear lacquer spray.
    Over the years that I have put items on display folks seem to have shown much pleasure from holding really ancient horse shoes as other items on the table.
    Happy Hunting Folks,

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