The first Tuesday in November is the date of the Melbourne Cup, a 3,200 m (1 mile 1,740 yards) long horse race which started in 1861. There can’t be many horse races that have a public holiday associated with it but that is the case in Melbourne. The public holiday is only for people living in Melbourne and some regional Victorian areas but the event is still celebrated with lunches and parties in other Australia states and territories.

The Melbourne Cup is just one (important) part of the Melbourne spring racing festival. Covid lock downs in 2020 and 2021 meant that racegoers couldn’t attend the live event so this year is the first time the race is open again to the public. Unfortunately, it is a cold, overcast and possibly wet Tuesday today but that won’t deter visitors.

Symbols representing racing and equestrian have been used in jewellery for centuries. The bangle pictured at the top of this post and below is a good example. It is gold, and the front panel contains a horseshoe crossed by a whip. There are some leaves around the centre display and some more on each side panel. This style of bangle, which is adjustable to three sizes, was produced throughout the Victorian period and into the 20th century.

The representation of horseshoes and whips on jewellery may just be to show a person’s interest in horse riding and associated activities or it may be because the horseshoe is supposed to symbolise good luck. I have written about the symbolism of horseshoes in an earlier post. Generally, the good luck arose from the fact they were made of iron and so could be used to protect a house from elves or fairies, as well as from the devil. In 1852, Edward Flight published a book explaining how the horseshoe came to be a charm against witchcraft and the devil, titled ‘The True Legend of St Dunstan and the Devil’. Bishop Dunstan, who lived in Britain from 903AD to 988AD, was asked by the Devil to re-shoe his cloven hoof. Bishop Dunstan did so but deliberately caused the Devil great pain. Dunstan only agreed to release the Devil if he agreed never to enter a building with a horseshoe over the door unless invited. 

Early 20th century enamel riding crop pin/brooch marcasite horseshoe (in Navette in Ruby Lane)

And have you ever wondered if the horseshoe should be shown facing up or down? In the British Isles, when the horseshoe is facing up with the rounded part at the bottom, it represents the shape of a cup and is believed to gather good luck. A horseshoe facing down, with the rounded part at the top, and nailed above a door, is supposed to pour good fortune down on any person entering through the door. So it appears either position is fine.

Antique horseshoe pin