By Frank J. Buchman
“Don’t touch my hat.”
A livestock judging teammate demanded that one late Saturday night after a national contest. Without a thought, his black felt hat on the table with crown down had been moved onto the nearby bed.
Immediately the hat was returned to original location and his direct order is still remembered a half century later. Cowboys are generally very conscientious about their hats, many having certain superstitions about them.
Obviously, first and foremost, “don’t put a hat the bed, because it brings bad luck.” True or false, a hat is never thrown on the bed, preferably hung on the rack.
One year during the National Finals Rodeo, a cowboy’s mother accidentally placed his hat on the bed. He showed up to compete in a smashed hat after he’d threw it outside and stomped the bad luck out.
Nearly everyone involved with horses is superstitious about certain things.
Competitors agree: “Don’t wear anything new or anything yellow in competition or green if riding English tack.”
Horse shoes are believed to bring good fortune. “Hanging a horseshoe heels up above a doorway brings luck to all. But a horseshoe turned upside down will let all the luck drain out.”
Still others claim a horseshoe should be hung upside down to stop the devil sitting in the bottom of it.
“A shoe from the hind foot of a grey mare is luckiest of all.” The reason one of Boots’ old shoes is still in the tack room, although she’s been gone several decades.
“One white foot, buy him. Two white feet, try him. Three white feet, be on the sly. Four white feet, just pass him by.” John Wayne, Jim Hardy, Rex Allen, Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry obviously didn’t have that superstition.
“Stepping in manure is good luck,” according to one superstitious racetrack groom who doesn’t do his job very well.
Old time horse trainers had superstitions that have carried through generations and are still sometimes quoted.
“Horses with two whorls on their head will be trickier to train. Roman nosed horses are stubborn. A horse with ears that curl will be feisty and hot-heated.” Obviously sometimes they’re right, but often they’re wrong.
Horses can be weather forecasters, according to some beliefs. “It’s going to rain if you see horses standing with their backs to a hedge.”
Breeding top horses is a gamble at best despite proven records to the contrary. Certain breeders insist, “If a stallion dips his nostrils deep into water, he will be a good sire.”
Before modern imaging technology, horsemen claimed to be able to tell the sex of an unborn foal. “Tie a nail to a hair from the mare’s tail and hold it above the mare’s hindquarters. If it swings in a circle, it’s a filly. If it swings back and forth, it’s a colt. If it doesn’t move, the mare isn’t in foal.”
Not many horsemen call horses by their registered names. A high percentage of horses have a call name. “Yet, it’s unlucky to change a horse’s name,” the superstitious claim.
Few cowboys braid manes although there are some who will braid the tail to keep it out of mud and water.
The show people and English riders who do braid manes claim: “Always braid 13 plaits for a gelding, and 12 for a mare.” Others believe it should “always be an even number of plaits, including the forelock to avoid bad luck.”
A horse with an indentation in the neck, often called a “Devil’s Thumb Print” is seen to be lucky. The horse supposedly “survived an encounter with the devil.” Several mares in the pasture have such indentions, and they always seem to have the best foals.
Darker horses are sometimes believed to be difficult. Grey-colored horses were popular centuries ago when they were claimed to “offer protection against the evil power of witches.” Many grey horses in the ranch pasture are there because two mentor horse breeders found considerable success with grey stallions
“When you see a white horse, lick your left thumb. Press it to your right hand and stamp it with your left fist. This brings good luck,” a friend’s grandma believed.
Still when a black cat crosses in front of a colt on the first ride, it’s best to be ready.
Hanging a horseshoe heels up above a doorway brings luck to all, according to certain superstitious people. But a horseshoe turned upside down will let all the luck drain out.