About the WV Golden Horseshoe Award
One of the highlights of the eighth-grade year is the opportunity for a student to become a
Knight or Lady of the Golden Horseshoe. This prestigious program takes its name from the golden
horseshoes given to the early explorers of West Virginia. In 1716 the Governor of the Virginia colony,
Alexander Spotswood, saw the need for exploration of the land west of the Allegheny Mountains,
most of which is now West Virginia. The governor organized a party of about 50 men, all of whom
adopted the pledge, "Sic jurat transcendere monte," which means "Thus he swears to cross the
mountains." Governor Spotswood presented each member of his party with a small golden
horseshoe to commemorate the bravery of those who crossed the mountains into Western Virginia,
beginning the Golden Horseshoe tradition.
Detail of Pin given to Students
This historical tradition was revitalized in the late 1920's. To promote the study of state
history, the idea of forming West Virginia Clubs was proposed by Phil M. Conley, an editor of The
West Virginia Review. In late 1929, Mr. Conley took his idea to State Superintendent of Free Schools
William C. Cook. Superintendent Cook believed that the State Department of Education should take
the lead in promoting a comprehensive study of the state. He proposed expanding Conley's idea by
honoring the highest-achieving students with a state award. In 1930 some 2,736 clubs were
organized with more than 48,000 students as members. In the first Golden Horseshoe ceremony, held
in 1931, 87 students from 46 counties were honored as Knights and Ladies of the Golden Horseshoe.
The Golden Horseshoe became known as a symbol of scholastic achievement to honor students who
excel in the study of West Virginia. Since that time approximately 15,000 eighth-grade students have
received a golden pin in the shape of a horseshoe, much like those given by Governor Spotswood
some three hundred years ago. This pin symbolizes the student's knowledge and understanding of
their state's proud heritage.
The program of studies in combination with state awards is unique in its statewide
recognition of scholastic achievement. Each year approximately 22,000 eighth grade students
spend the school year studying a comprehensive West Virginia curriculum. The curriculum
engages the students in the intense study of the history, geography, economy and government of
the Mountain State. The primary goal of the program is to promote pride in our state, develop
intellectual and participatory skills as well as foster attitudes that are necessary for students to
participate as effective, involved, and responsible citizens. The State Department of Education,
in effect, uses the Golden Horseshoe award to honor "all-state" West Virginia Studies students.
Each year 221 eighth-grade students are honored for their knowledge of the state in a one-day
ceremony held in Charleston. The Golden Horseshoe winners have outscored their classmates in
school and county wide testing competitions and made top scores on a West Virginia Department
of Education test which measures their grasp of West Virginia Studies. Students also write an essay
focusing on some aspect of West Virginia current events. A minimum of two students from each
county and one student from the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind at Romney are
selected for the award. The other 110 honorees are selected from the 55 counties based on each
county's eighth-grade population.
While in Charleston to celebrate the Golden Horseshoe Day, the honorees are treated to a
tour of the Capitol and Cultural Center and a luncheon held in their honor. The high point of the
Golden Horseshoe Ceremony is the induction of the students into the Golden Horseshoe Society.
The State Superintendent of Schools presides over the induction ceremony. Each student kneels
and, with a tap of a sword on the shoulder, is dubbed either a Knight or Lady of the Golden
Horseshoe Society. Each student is presented a Golden Horseshoe pin and the 70-year honor and
Facts About the WV Golden Horseshoe Award
The Golden Horseshoe originated in the early 1700s in
colonial Virginia when then-Governor Alexander
Spotswood saw the need for exploration of the land
west of the Allegheny Mountains, most of which is now
West Virginia. The governor organized a party of about
50 men to explore the frontier. At the end of the
exploration, he presented each member of the party with
a golden horseshoe. Translated from Latin, the
inscription on each horseshoe read, "Thus it was
decided to cross the mountains." On the other side was
written,"Order of the Golden Horseshoe." Because of
this, the recipients became known as "The Knights of
the Golden Horseshoe."
The Golden Horseshoe is probably the most coveted
award bestowed upon West Virginia students each year.
During the induction ceremony, students kneel and the
State Superintendent, using an antique sword, dubs
students as "ladies" or "knights" of the Golden
The Golden Horseshoe Test has been administered in
West Virginia since 1931 and is the longest-running
program of its kind in any state.
Two hundred twenty-one West Virginia eighth graders
receive the award each year. The two top-scoring
students from each county are given the award (total of
110), as are another 110 students selected throughout
the state based on population. In addition, the
top-scoring student from the West Virginia School for
the Deaf and Blind is presented the award.
Recipients during the past seven decades include
citizens from all walks of life, state Supreme Court
justices, legislators, attorneys, business leaders and
In conversations with Department of Education
officials, West Virginia native Homer Hickam
indicated that his one regret
was not winning the Golden Horseshoe award as a
student. The author of "October Sky" was presented an
honorary Golden Horseshoe award in 1999 because of
all the positive reinforcement he has given the state.