Horseshoe rules

The official horseshoe rules are very simple to learn but the game itself takes a lifetime to master. It is a game of concentration, fineness and sometimes, dare I say, luck. The game’s popularity has suddenly seen an increase as it is very inexpensive way to spend a Sunday afternoon while enjoying some fresh air. horseshoe

To set up a game of horseshoe, you must first plant the stakes (the large steel nail) exactly 40 feet away from each other on a flat surface, preferably clay. Each area in which the stakes are planted is called the pits and is where the shoes will land. If you are like me and enjoy playing horseshoe during our bi-monthly BBQ at the park, if space is limited, you can set up only one stake and both players can pitch from the same spot; just ensure that the spot is exactly 40 feet away.

The game can be played in singles, pairs or even teams, tournaments usually being singles. Horseshoe can quickly become crowded as more people join, due to the limited space and the size of the shoes.

There are two different styles of play in horseshoe, either by playing 20 innings or by playing until a player reaches a certain amount of points. Usually we play with points among friends, but tournaments and official regulations state that a set of 20 innings. Although the American Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America dictates that the official horseshoe game consists of pitching 50 shoes. Therefore, depending on which part of the world you are playing in, the length of the game might vary a bit.

To determine who goes first, there is usually a coin flip or a pre-toss to see who is closest to the stake. I usually prefer being second as I tend to perform best under pressure, but if playing with points, the one who goes first has the advantage of reaching the target score first as well!

The game begins as the player tosses two horseshoes at the opposite stake. While pitching, the player is not allowed to move past 3 feet of the stake or the shot is disqualified. As with golf, utmost silence is required by other players when pitching the shoe.

After pitching the first two shoes, the next player proceeds to pitch his two horseshoes. After all the shoes are throw, you proceed to calculate the points for that round in the following manner:

  • 3 points for a ringer
  • 1 point for the closest shoe within 6 inches of the stake

Because the closest distance and ringers are calculated separately, it is possible to have a ringer AND the closest ring, which would give a total of 4 points for that round. If a player has both his rings closest to the stake, then he receives two points.

A ringer, the act of wrapping the horseshoe around the stake, requires that the imaginary line drawn between both ends of the horseshoe encompass the stake. If the stake is outside that line, or crosses through that line, it is only counted as a ‘closest shot’.

The scoring in horseshoe is also one of cancellation, if you both get a ringer, then they cancel out and neither player gets a point. The same holds true for being equally close to the ringer, both points cancel out. Normally however, the game ends up being equally close and only the closest horseshoe counts, moving the score up by 1.

Once the inning is over, both players pick up their horseshoes at the other side of the stake and switch sides, shooting at the other stake. The simple horseshoe rules dictate that the winning is the player with the most points at the end of 20 innings, or in North America, 50 tosses.


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