‘Horseshoes’: Rules & Tips On Winning

Sabina Nisioi
Sabina Nisioi
horseshoes game

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Ready, steady,… throw!

The ‘Horseshoes’ game is a great activity if you’re looking to have some fun anytime soon! But watch out – if you want to give it a try, you need to do some prepping in advance. Don’t freak out and don’t hit the ‘back’ button. It’s not that complicated and we promise to walk you through the entire process – from setup to purpose, players, and rules. 

A brief history of the ‘Horseshoe’ game

Before diving into rules and tips on winning, let’s take a look at how it all began. Apparently, the ‘Horseshoes’ game appeared in the 20th century and it quickly spread around the world. Of course, every region came with its own variation, turning the ‘Horseshoe’ into a popular outdoor activity. 

The majority of sports have a governing body that oversees rules, membership, and official events. This one is not an exception. In 1921, the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association was formed to manage and sanction horseshoe competitions. The game is officially called ‘Horseshoe Pitching’ and is divided into five divisions: juniors, open men, open women, seniors, and elder men. The organization brings together a number of state associations, clubs, and unorganized groups and players. It also organizes an annual world tournament, as well as state tournaments, regional events, and leagues.

Just to see the difference, at the 1907 World Championships, the pegs only protruded 2 inches from the ground. In 1920, the Chicago Horseshoe Tournament used a peg that protruded 8 inches above the ground.

The NHPA’s main mission, according to them, is to promote the sport and standardize the ‘Horseshoes’ rules and playing procedures.

Materials and equipment

  1. First things first: this game requires horseshoes to get things started. If the players are adults, you can choose metal horseshoes. Requirements:
  • They should not weigh more than 2 pounds and 10 ounces or 1.19 kilograms. 
  • Also, they should not exceed 7.25 inches in width or 7.6 inches in length. 

*Note: If you want to have teens or kids playing this game, go for some plastic horseshoes. These are a much safer option. It’s also useful to have color-coded horseshoes between players as well.

Then, you will also need:

  1. 2, heavy 1-inch stakes, 36 centimeters long. The stakes need to withstand constant hitting by heavy horseshoes. Driving the stakes about 22 centimeters into the ground leaves 14 inches of required stake height above the ground. While solid metal stakes are ideal, hollow ones can also work.
  2. Something for keeping score. Create a new note on your phone or use paper and a pen.

Players and purposes

  • The ‘Horseshoes’ game involves 2 players that take turns throwing 2 horseshoes at stakes that are placed 40 feet apart. The goal of the players is to get their horseshoe as close to – ideally, around – the stake as possible. In most cases, only the closest horseshoe scores a point. ‘Ringers’ get 3 points. 
  • One ‘inning’ is made up of 1 complete set of throws. An official game consists of 25 innings, but you can play as many innings as you want.

How to play ‘Horseshoes’? Game setup 

We’ve mentioned from the very beginning that you will need to set up the game before actually going into action. In 3 easy steps, we will teach you how to make your own ‘Horseshoe’ court.

Let’s make something straight first: the ‘Horseshoes’ court can consist of just the stakes or of 2 ‘pits’ made of various materials. As you become more engaged with the game, you’ll have time to improve the setting. But for now, the best thing you can do is to keep things simple and get started. As your love for the game grows, making your court more complex will become a passion.

Step 1: Drive 2, 1-inch stakes 40 feet apart into the ground

The exposed portion of the stake should be 14 to 16 inches long. The stakes can lean toward each other, but not more than 12 degrees, or 3 inches, away from the center. The 2 opposing stakes should be pointing in the same direction. Vertical stakes are perfectly acceptable if you prefer.

Step 2: Form a ‘horseshoe pit’ around each stake

A 3 foot wide by 6 foot long pit is ideal. The stake should be placed in the pit’s center. To begin, mark your pit area and loosen the soil within the pit. Loosening the soil allows the horseshoe to land more securely.

Horseshoe pits come in a variety of sizes. The width ranges from 31′′ to 36′′, and the length ranges from 43′′ to 72′′. The simplest and the best court layout consists of two 3-foot-by-6-foot pits. 

Step 3: Draw foul lines

Each side of the court requires the establishment of two foul lines. The first foul line is marked 37 feet away from each stake or 3 feet in front of each stake for men. The second foul line is located 10 feet ahead of the first foul line. This line is designed for women, children up to the age of 18, and elderly players.

Because of the establishment of these foul lines, men throw from 37 feet away, and women, children, and the elderly throw from 27 feet away from each stake.

‘Horseshoe’: Rules

Here’s what you need to know about ‘Horseshoe’ regulations:

  • Establish how many innings will determine a complete ‘Horseshoe’ game. Officially, 25 innings make up a game, but you can go for 10 or 15, or play to 30 or 40 points.
  • Determine who goes first by flipping a horseshoe or tossing a coin. A ‘flipped shoe’ can be ‘smooth side’ or ‘rough side’ up.
  • Now, you may begin. A player must throw both of their shoes before the next player throws. Each throw must be behind the determined foul line.
  • An important ‘Horseshoe’ regulation involves the ‘dead shoe’. These can not earn points and they refer to crossing or stepping over the foul line when making a throw. 
  • Players can throw from the right or left side of the horseshoe pit. This area is called ‘the platform’.
  • Players must alternate who goes first, from inning to inning.
  • Keep track of the scoring shoes after each inning by making a tally.
  • After the predetermined number of innings, the player with the highest score is declared the winner.

How to win at ‘Horseshoe’?

Start practicing! There are 4 different ways to throw a horseshoe and we’re going to explain all of them. Find the one that suits you and get ready to impress (and beat) your friends at this game.

1. The flip

Begin by holding the horseshoe in the center of the arch with the flip grip. Maintain a thumb on top and three fingers gripping the inner edge. For support, place your pinky on the side. The shoe will flip as it flies through the air when thrown, hence the name. When you let go of the shoe, the arch should pop up.

For experienced players playing on shorter courts, the flip grip provides more consistency in their pitch. This grip is also commonly used by recreational players on courts shorter than 40 feet.

2. The reverse flip

The arch of the shoe flips down instead of up in the reverse flip. The grip is identical to that of a standard flip. 

The reverse flip is rarely used and is usually reserved for horseshoe pitching experts. The reverse flip is difficult to execute and is not recommended for inexperienced players.

3. The ¾ turn 

Begin the ¾  turn with the sides of the shoe pointing to the right. Place the shoe flat in front of you. For stability, keep your thumb on top and your pinky below. Your remaining three fingers should be curled around the inner edge. The shoe should rotate counterclockwise when thrown.

You may notice your shoe wobbling in the air when using the ¾ turn. You can avoid this by holding the shank closer to the horseshoe’s end. Rotation will be flatter and faster.

4. The 1¼ turn

Begin by holding the horseshoe flat in front of you and grasping the shank’s center. The shanks should be pointing left. Maintain a thumb on top of the shoe and three fingers curled around the inner edge. Press your pinky up from beneath the horseshoe to stabilize your grip. Once you’ve mastered it, move the shank closer to the edge of the horseshoe, whichever is more comfortable for you.

Both the ¾ and the 1 ¼ aim to rotate the horseshoe enough to land around the stake. The 1 ¼ turn is primarily used by professional male players. In contrast to the ¾ turn, this one turns clockwise in the air.

Since ‘Horseshoes’ involves throwing and, of course, horseshoes, you’ll need to take this game outside. It’s perfect for backyard gatherings with friends, a team building activity for teens, or an outdoor activity for kids. So, if you’re getting tired of the old classic ‘Cornhole’, football, or badminton, give this one a try! The ‘Horseshoe’ is pretty straightforward and it definitely stirs up the competitive spirit!

If you’re looking for indoor games, you can check out our dedicated section on eTeamBuilding!

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