Mythical Monday: Of Horses and Superstition by Mae Clair

Two days ago I do what I do every year when the first Saturday of May rolls around—I look forward to enjoying the Kentucky Derby. I have several friends online who know a great deal about horses (you know who you are 🙂 ). I actually know very little, just that I’ve been fascinated by them since I was a kid. What little girl doesn’t dream of owning a pony? To this day, there is a tradition in my family when anyone has a birthday and is preparing to blow out the candles, we all say “Wish for a pony!” This comes from the number of people in my family who wanted ponies when they were kids (as it turns out, one of them ended up with several horses).

But I digress.

Back to the Derby.

Hubby and I had a quiet Derby Day at home this year. We grilled, enjoyed the beautiful weather and relaxed with mint juleps on our back porch. It was the first time we’ve made them. Probably the last, too, as neither of us liked the simple syrup that goes into the drink.

For the running of the roses, I chose American Pharaoh as my pick.

Now before you say I hopped on the popularity bandwgon, I always pick my horse based on its name. Yeah, I know…real scientific and all that. What can I say? I love names and had a reason for picking this one. I watched both Gods and Kings and The Ten Commandments over Easter, so I was focused on the Pharaoh thing.  Turns out American Pharaoh was the favorite coming in and ended up winning the Derby. YAY!

Casual photo of Mae Clair

Derby Day Fun

And although I didn’t have a fancy Derby Day hat to celebrate, I did wear a floppy spring hat in honor of the event. (Yep, that’s me at the right. Loved the hat; hated the Julep).

So why all this focus on the Kentucky Derby? Because one of the things that stands out for me as a kid was seeing Secretariat take all three races of the Triple Crown in 1973.  Do you realize no horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978? Quick math: that’s thirty-seven years!

I really want to see another Triple Crown winner in my lifetime. Desperately. So every year I watch each race in the Crown event and hope it will happen. It’s kind of like seeing Haley’s Comet or something.

What does all of this have to do with myth? Nothing really, except that I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the superstitions associated with horses and racetracks. As an example, did you know that the color of a horse’s feet plays into superstition?  One white “sock” on a horse is considered good luck, but four is considered bad. There is even a short verse to that extent:

One white foot, buy him.
Two white feet, try him.
Three white feet, be on the sly.
Four white feet, pass him by.

Here are some other superstitions related to horse racing and jockeys:

Peanuts are extremely bad luck and are banned in barns

Never name a horse after a family member

Don’t ship a broom from one track to another

A streak of gray in the tail is a sign of good luck

A black cat at a racetrack is a sure sign of bad luck

And some old superstitions related to horses in general:

A horse’s tail, if placed in water, will turn into a snake

If you lead a white horse through your house it will banish all evil

A horseshoe hung in the bedroom will prevent nightmares

Changing a horse’s name is bad luck

If a horse stands with its back to a hedge, it’s a sure sign of rain

If you see a white dog, you shouldn’t speak again until you see a white horse

Spotted horses are magical

Gray horses are unlucky

As with most things superstitious, I’m sure there are plenty more. Do you know any I missed? How about the Kentucky Derby? Were you cheering on American Pharaoh, too? Have you been lucky enough to see or remember a Triple Crown winner from the past? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

21 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: Of Horses and Superstition by Mae Clair

  1. Pretty hat, but especially pretty girl under it!
    Well, interesting post. I think all kids dream of having a pony, but few get to have one.
    Regarding superstitions linked to horses, in Romania, we have a few:
    A white horse or a horse with a white star on its head is a sign of good luck.
    A horseshoe is hung above the entrance to bring good luck to the people living in that house.
    If horses stand with their back to the bushes a powerful storm will come soon – this is similar with your superstition.
    An unmarried woman who counts 100 white horses will marry the first single man she meets.
    I like to watch, sometimes, horse competitions, those that have nicely designed obstacles, but never went to a live one.
    Thanks for the post and picture!


    • Hi, Carmen. Aww, you’re so sweet with your kind words. And I loved the superstitions you shared, especially that one about the woman who counts 100 white horses. I imagine white horses are somewhat rare, so I’m imagining the amount of time it must take to reach 100! All these old legends are so much fun. Thanks for sharing those from your country. You know that I am always interested! 🙂


  2. Loved the hat. What fascinating old rhymes and lore regarding horses. I’d not heard of most.I know the hanging horseshoe for good luck though over here there is some confusion of should it be up or down. I always hang them up to keep the good luck in. Thanks for sharing a lovely post.


    • Interesting thoughts about the horseshoe, Daisy. I’ve always heard that they should be hung pointing upward too, but I hadn’t thought about it keeping the good luck in. That makes perfect sense. Thanks for commenting!


  3. Great post. I too remember watching Secretariat as it happened. I watched the Derby from my hotel room in Jackson. Then I brought home a hat. You will witness more Popes and monarch changes than Triple Crown Winners. I think I blogged about that last year.


    • Drat, I missed your post about Triple Crown Winners. It really is a HUGE thing for me. Very cool that you remember Secretariat’s wins, too. That horse just blew away the competition and really got people united and excited. Not sure if you’re back from your trip yet, but from the post I’ve seen you’ve been having a great time!


  4. The only time I ever won any serious money on a horse was when I sat in a railway compartment with a National Hunt Jockey all the way from London to Bournemouth, and he gave me three winners. If I’d had the faith to put an accumulator on I would have been the richest kid in town! We’re just coming to the close of the jumps season over here – the Grand National was the other week, and now we are looking forward to the flat races through the summer. Newmarket looms large. But i never was an equestrian – horses are ineffable judges of character, and they get me right every time. ‘Who’s he?’ ‘Dunno. Just throw him. Or better yet, take him down to the stream for a nice roll’. No, I try, but they see through my bravado to the abject, quivering coward that trembles beneath.


    • I love your take on horses, Frederick. Although my husband enjoys the Derby and I was able to talk him into riding one time, he came away unimpressed and would probably imagine himself right there with you in the stream.

      And hey, that must have been some conversation with that jockey. It sounds like he gave you some phenomenal tips! Enjoy Newmarket and your races. I have to become aware of what goes on across the pond!


  5. Don’t you look just gorgeous in your hat! As you know I love horse, as a family we have twenty-four in total and that includes a handful of delightful minis. Love the superstitions and can’t think of any that you missed… However, your post did make me want to run outside and give all the horses a hug…. 😉


  6. Aww, you’re so sweet! And you were one of the people I had in mind when I wrote this post!

    My cousin is the one who ended up with the farm and horses. He’s passionate about the Civil War and took his horse, Baron, to Gettysburg when they were filming and looking for extras.He showed up in a full Union officers uniform but by then they already had everyone they needed. Baron had a nice day out, though 🙂


  7. Love your stylish hat! How appropriate for Derby day. The name of your chosen horse drew me too– who could resist such an auspicious name? I am much enthralled by horses as well and always have one or more in my books. The folklore tidbits were especially fascinating. I had no idea of most of those.


    • Hi, Flossie. Glad you liked the hat and that my horse superstitions were new to you. I thiink they are wonderful companions to include in stories. When I first started writing as a kid all of my stories were about horses and dogs.


  8. Love horses, and love this post, Mae! It’s been years (decades) since I last rode a horse. Miss it on those wonderful spring and fall days when it would be the perfect way to venture out to see the spring flowers or autumn leaves. Never owned a horse, but love them–such magnificent creatures. I remember Secretariat, but I never saw the race (I was a bit young at the time 🙂 )


    • Hi, Julie! Lucky you, having ridden horses. I’ve only been riding a pitiful handful of times in my life and only once as an adult. It would definitely be a lovely way to meander about on spring and fall days. And glad to hear you remember Secretariat even if you were a young one at the time! 😀


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