Horseshoe pitching isn't your grandparents' game any more -- although they're
welcome to participate. It has morphed from discus throwing in ancient Greece
into one of the latest hot sports to hit the Internet.
You may remember it from family picnics or summer camp, but it's a serious
sport with world championships that pay real prize money. And best of all,
it's easy to learn and inexpensive to join.
"There are horseshoe leagues all over the United States and Canada and
all kinds of information on the Internet. Horseshoes is a fun sport for all
ages where you can develop to whatever level you want," says Larry Lynch.
More than 15 million people pitch horseshoes at least once or twice a year.
About a third of them are female, according to Billie Sue Pennington of the
National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA).
One who tosses a horseshoe is called a "pitcher."
Horseshoes is played on a rectangular court six feet wide and at least
46 feet long, either indoor or outdoor. At each end is a steel, iron or other
type metal stake between 14 and 15 inches high. The stakes are usually 40
feet apart, but some classes (there is one for every age and gender) allow
a shorter distance.
The pitcher's box is a square six by six area at each end that includes
a pit and the pitching platforms. The pit is commonly made of clay, but regulations
allow a variety of materials such as sand and even a bread-dough mixture of
wheat flour, oil and salt. The idea is to absorb the impact of the shoe so
it stays put.
|Serious horseshoe pitchers demonstrated their talents at the 1999
|Courtesy of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association|
The pit is what the shoes are pitched on to. The platforms are where they're
pitched from. Pitchers must avoid any contact with the foul line.
Equipment is inexpensive, but if you want to play in competition, you must
own sanctioned equipment. This means horseshoes of maximum weight, width,
and length. For more information on competition regulations, visit the NHPA's
The goal, of course, is to get a "ringer." A ringer is a shoe that comes
to rest encircling, but not touching, the stake. It earns the pitcher three
points. A shoe-in-count is one that comes to rest with any portion within
six inches of the stake. This and a leaner, which touches the stake, earns
"One of the highlights of my horseshoe experience was watching Diane Cantin
of Quebec pitch a 100 percent game in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1989," says
Dianne Beck. A 100 percent game is when someone pitches all ringers.
Even if one gets a ringer, in a method of scoring called cancellation scoring,
one opponent's ringer cancels out the other's. Only one person can score in
each inning. An inning consists of five rounds of two shoes each. Some games
are played on a point limit basis, usually 40. Whoever gets to 40 points first
In the other method, count-all scoring, both participants get the full
value of their shoes.
"Winning is fun, but knowing you have pitched your best and lost isn't
bad," says Dennis Ohms of Utah.
Pitching techniques are very important, according to a website called Horseshoe
Pitching -- The Basics. Beginners usually flip the horseshoe, an ineffective
method. The best technique is called the turn shoe, which features a hold
and release of one and a quarter turns. Body position and arm follow through
are equally important.
Is horseshoe pitching good exercise? Says Ryann McMurray-Reno of Ohio,
"A doctor's magazine called Health lists horseshoe pitching ahead of walking,
running, weight lifting and others as the best form of exercise. You are constantly
moving, bending and lifting, and you throw two and a half pounds of cold rolled
steel 30 to 40 feet."
Many tournaments exist at which to flex your pitching arm. The world tournament
is hosted by the NHPA. The American Horseshoe Pitchers Association and Horseshoe
Canada host national tournaments. There are also regional, state, and local
tournaments throughout the U.S. and Canada. Prizes range from ribbons and
trophies to top prize money of over $3,000 at the world tournament.
To play in tournaments, you should enjoy a challenge. Sam Tomasevic claims
"the biggest frustration is when playing to a game of 40 points and you have
39 and can't put your opponent away." Or, you could just play for fun.
You probably can't make a full-time career out of pitching horseshoes,
but there are a lot of opportunities to use your business skills through one
of the associations. With some experience, you might seek a leadership post
at one of the local or national associations.
Some associations welcome help with publicity and organizing tournaments.
Other people develop websites, their own or for the associations, and sell
horseshoe equipment online.
"The most frustrating thing is starting out. I thought I would never get
better. I never had time to practice because of school and sports associated
with school," says Reno.
"I finally decided that this sport could get me farther than any of the
others, and I learned the total history. I dedicated myself to getting better."
She was rewarded for her work when she won her class at the 1995 World Horseshoe
Tournament with a 16-0 record. "That will forever be the highlight of my career,"
"I would recommend anyone wanting to start this sport talk to area residents
and find out if there is an organization, or visit the NHPA website," she
says. "If they would like to become competitive, practice at least two times
a week, or more."
Tomasevic says the best way to start is to "purchase a pair of cheap horseshoes
-- Diamond tournament Diamonds come to mind. Once someone starts to teach
you about the game, take advice only from them. Too many people giving advice
can hurt you more than help. Fitness is not important. All sorts of people,
big and small, play the game."
Equipment is inexpensive. A good pair of horseshoes can be had for $40
to $60. They come in a variety of colors. You can buy them at a sporting goods
Beck advises you to check with someone involved in horseshoe tournaments
before purchasing equipment if you plan to compete. "If the type of shoes
you buy are not sanctioned, they cannot be used in a tournament." Also, "fitness
is not a necessity, but as in all athletic situations, the fitter you are,
the better you will play."
Reno believes the skills needed to be good at this sport include accuracy,
patience, and good math skills ("You have to keep your own score"). If you
have these and you think you'd like to try horseshoe pitching, she wholeheartedly
urges you to.
"We need more junior pitchers. We are a dying breed because most people
think it's an 'old people' sport."
American Horseshoe Pitchers Association
How to Play Horseshoes
Gives a brief explanation of how to play
New England Horseshoes
Gives information on tournaments and leagues
Horseshoe Pitching - General
Listings of horseshoe associations across the United States