How to Play Horseshoes

The Art of Pitching Shoes

A single player may pitch as many as 3,000 horseshoes during the gameplay of a tournament [source: NHPA]. But before you can pitch 3,000, you need to pitch one. The first one. Let's talk how.

There are two ways to pitch a horseshoe that are basic enough for all levels of players, including those who've never pitched before: the flip and the one and one-quarter turn.


While single-flip pitching is easier for beginners to master, more serious players find they get better results with a turn. We'll walk through the basics of both, starting with the flip shoe (also called a tumble shoe).

Before you can properly pitch a shoe, you need to properly hold the shoe. The open end of a horseshoe, the side with the two tips, is known as the heel or heel caulks; the toe of a horseshoe is the part opposite the heel. The arms of the shoe are called shanks. How you grip your shoe can make or break how successful you are at landing your pitch.

To execute a flip pitch, hold the horseshoe by the toe, at arm's length, gripped between your thumb and index (or index and middle) finger. The heel caulks should point toward the caulks at the stake you're aiming at. Start by swinging your pitching arm like a pendulum, and release the shoe as your arm comes forward, at eye level. No two pitchers will throw with the same technique, but be sure to put enough power behind your swing to send that shoe about 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters).

More advanced pitchers may want to try turns, and one of the most common is the one and one-quarter turn. To execute a one and one-quarter turn, first hold your horseshoe by one shank, with the opening of the horseshoe to the left of your grip (this is for right-handed pitchers; it will be opposite for lefties). Swing your pitching arm back and forth, again like a pendulum, and as you're pitching forward extend your arm, keep the shoe level with the ground and let it go after your arm swings by your leg (although some pitchers may prefer to let go of the shoe closer to chest level).

Each player has 30 seconds to pitch both shoes. Whoever wins the previous inning pitches first in the next. Now that you have basic rules and technique, let's talk scoring.