How to Play Horseshoes

Scoring a Game of Horseshoes

At the end of each inning the number of shoes is tallied.

The first task in scoring is counting up the live and dead shoes. Live shoes are shoes that landed within playable boundaries. Dead shoes are those that landed outside the pit area or somehow otherwise break a rule of the game, as well as -- and this will make sense in a minute -- shoes that are dead ringers.


There are two ways to score a game of horseshoes: counting points (called the count-all method) and the cancellation scoring method. Let's talk about how to score with count-all rules first.

In count-all scoring, each player has the chance to score a maximum of six points per inning. Live shoes will either be ringers, leaners or close to the stake. Ringers are horseshoes that land around the stake; ringers net you three points, the most points awarded in the game. Leaners are horseshoes that have landed vertically and are leaning against the stake rather than encircling it. Leaners are worth one point. Any horseshoe that lands within 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) of the stake is considered close to the stake and also counts as one point. If both your live shoes land closer to the stake than those of your opponent, you earn two additional points that inning (including if one of those shoes is a ringer). Some play a variation of this scoring method, where only ringers are awarded points. No points are awarded for dead shoes.

These aren't the only rules of the game, though -- there are also cancellation rules. Under cancellation rules you score points the same as in count-all but with a twist. In addition to earning points each inning for the live shoes you throw, you also have the chance to cancel out the points your opponent scores. How? Pitch the same game. For example, say your opponent throws a ringer, which should count as three points. If you, too, throw a ringer in your following turn during the same inning no points are awarded -- you cancel out each other's' points; this is called a dead ringer. The same cancellation throw rules apply to leaners and shoes close to the stake, as well. No points are awarded for dead ringers or any other tied shots.

Horseshoes FAQ

What are the rules to horseshoes?
Horseshoes 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 (pitches) a horseshoe, trying to catch the shoe on a stake in the ground, or at the least land the shoe within 6 inches of the stake. General rules state that adult men pitch shoes from 37 feet, and women, kids and senior citizens pitch from 27 feet; kids younger than 9 can pitch from 20 feet. The top 2 to 4 inches of soil or sand in your pit should be loose and level.
Where do you stand when throwing horseshoes?
It depends on your age. Adult men throw, or pitch, from 37 feet, while women, kids and senior citizens pitch from 27 feet. Kids younger than 9 years old can pitch from 20 feet.
How do you score points in horseshoes?
If you get a horseshoe around a stake, you earn three points. If your horseshoe leans against the stake but doesn't encircle it, you earn one point. Any other horseshoe that lands within six inches of a stake also earns one point.
How deep should the sand be in a horseshoe pit?
The top 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) of soil or sand in your horseshoe pit should be loose and level. Anything deeper than this can be firm material.
What size is a regulation horseshoe pit?
A regulation horseshoe pit requires the stakes to sit in a box that's no bigger than 36 by 72 inches in size.

Author's Note: How to Play Horseshoes

Prior to researching and writing this article, I'd never pitched a horseshoe in my life. But now, who's up for a game?

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Branch, John. "Perfection in the Horseshoe Pit." The New York Times. July 20, 2010. (May 31, 2013)
  • Brandon, John. "How to Build a Horseshoes Court." Popular Mechanics. Aug. 7, 2012. (May 31, 2013)
  • Cedar Shores Campground. "The Game of Horseshoes." (May 31, 2013)
  • Krautwurst, Terry. "The Gentle Art and Sport of Playing Horseshoes." Mother Earth News. July/Aug. 1988. (May 31, 2013)
  • Lanhum, Stephanie. "Pitch In: How to Play Horseshoes." The State Journal-Register. June 21, 2012. (May 31, 2013)
  • National Horseshoe Pitchers Association. 2013. (May 31, 2013)
  • Scottberg, Erin. "5 Summer Skills to Master Before Labor Day." Popular Mechanics. (May 31, 2013)
  • Special Olympics Missouri. "Horseshoes." (May 31, 2013)