How to Play Horseshoes

Horseshoes: Rules and Regulations

People playing horseshoes in a park
While there are regulation court sizes for horseshoes, all you need for a casual game is enough space for a throw.
┬ęPatrick Lane/Somos Images/Corbis

Although you could play horseshoes solo, the game is supposed to be played with two to four players, or in casual games with as many players as you choose; either player-versus-player or pair-versus-pair. Each player throws -- called "pitching" in the game -- a horseshoe, trying to catch the shoe on a stake in the ground, or at the least land the shoe within 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) of the stake. Although you could play with a real horseshoe, competitive horseshoe games are played with pitching shoes. These shoes look and feel like horseshoes but are stylized, and designed for peak game performance.

Games are made up of innings, and each player (or pair of players) pitches two horseshoes at a stake in the ground during each inning. There is no set number of innings; rather, the first player or pair to score 40 points wins the game.


Horseshoes is played on a court. The playable area of a regulation horseshoe court, called the pitcher's box, is 46 feet (14 meters) long by 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide, plus two pitching platforms, each 6 feet (1.8 meters) square, and protective backboards. Two iron rods, each 36 inches (91.4 centimeters) long and 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) wide, are staked in the center of the pit, and centered between the two pitching platforms as well. Those stakes are what you hope to catch your horseshoes on. They're driven into the ground at about a 12-degree angle, with about half of each rod above ground and the two rods leaning toward each other. Foul lines are drawn at 27 feet (8.2 meters) and at 37 feet (11.3 meters) from each stake -- these lines determine the distance from which players pitch their horseshoes. General rules are that adult men pitch shoes from 37 feet (11.3 meters), and women, kids and senior citizens pitch from the 27-foot (8.2-meter) line; kids younger than 9 can pitch from a 20-foot (6.1-meter) distance. The top 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) of soil or sand in your pit should be loose and level [source: NHPA].

Backyard games are similar; they are usually played in dirt, sand or asphalt pits with enough space to get a good toss in, and with at least two players. But all you really need to get a game started is yourself, a horseshoe and a metal rod staked in level ground.