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Lost Skills of Cowboy Superstition

Although they’re generally no-nonsense, rather practical sorts, cowboys—both rodeo and range—can be a pretty superstitious lot
Credit: Erwin Sherman

Credit: Erwin Sherman

One of the most grievous cowboy faux pas you can commit is placing your cowboy hat on a bed. At best, putting a hat on a bed is said to invite mischievous bad luck or foretell an argument; at worst, it’s a premonition of injury or death. This superstition has practical roots; back when bathing was a monthly affair, head lice were a common affliction, and placing a hat on a bed was a good way to spread the itchy nuisances. Bad luck, indeed. Placing a hat brimside-down on any surface is also considered inauspicious, as all the good luck will run out of the crown (it also ruins the shape of your hat!). 

Don’t tempt fate by ignoring these rodeo superstitions: if you compete with change in your pocket, it might be all you win; shaving before a performance is fortuitous—if you clean up for Lady Luck, she’ll favor you; make sure you don’t eat chicken before an event, since you are what you eat; and never wear yellow in the arena—it’s just plain bad luck. 

In some regions, it’s believed that gifting someone a knife is ominous, that such an act will “sever” the relationship between the gift giver and recipient. To negate misfortune, the receiver should “pay” for the knife; a penny will suffice. It’s also considered unlucky to hand someone an open folding knife, and whoever opens a knife is responsible for closing it—these superstitions likely stem from safety practices.

Horseshoes have long been considered lucky charms—but why? In Celtic Britain, iron—what horseshoes were traditionally made of—was said to repel evil spirits. The proper way to hang a horseshoe is heels up, so that the shoe collects good luck. If the heels point down, all the good luck will run out. A horseshoe from the hind of a gray mare is particularly lucky. 

Credit: Erwin Sherman

Credit: Erwin Sherman