Horseshoes is an outdoor game played between two people (or two teams of two people) using four horseshoes and two stakes. The game is played by the players alternating turns tossing horseshoes at stakes in the ground, which are traditionally placed 40 feet (12.19 m) apart. Modern games use a more stylized U-shaped bar, about twice the size of an actual horseshoe.


In Greece and Rome, athletic contests and games of various kinds generally formed some part of religious observances and festivals. One of the four Grecian national festivals was the Olympian Games. These Grecian Games consisted of boxing, putting the weight, chariot races, archery, and discus throwing. The discus was similar in form to the modern quoit but not in size and weight. It was a circular plate of metal or stone 12- or 13 convert|11|in|mm in diameter. It was pitched or thrown with a strap or thong passed through a circular hole in the center, the strap being released by the player as he swung it so the discus would go the greatest possible distance and you have to throw it off one foot.

Iron plates or rings for shoes may have been nailed on horses' feet in Western Asia and Eastern Europe as early as the second century BC, though there is very little evidence for the nailed horseshoe prior to AD 600. Nonetheless, there is a theory that the camp followers of the Grecian armies, who could not afford the discus, took discarded horseshoes, set up a stake and began throwing horseshoes at it.

Horseshoe historians have been unable to discover when the game of quoits or horseshoes was changed so that it was pitched at two stakes, but it is pretty well established that horseshoe pitching had its origin in the game of quoits and that quoits is a modification of the old Grecian game of discus throwing.

Following the Revolutionary War, it was said by England's Duke of Wellington that "the War was won by pitchers of horse hardware." In 1869, England set up rules to govern the game. The distance between the stakes was convert|19|yd. The player stood level with the stake and delivered his quoit with his first step. There was no weight requirement but the outside diameter could not be more than eight inches (203 mm) . The ground around the stake was clay and all measurements for points were taken between the nearest parts of both quoit and stake. These became the rules under which the game was played in the United States but no tournaments were held or records kept until 1909. The game seemed to have been a favorite among soldiers in most wars. Returning home, these soldiers interested their home folks more than ever in the game and horseshoe pitching courts were laid out in hundreds of cities, villages, and farming communities. The impetus for the NHPA as we know it today grew out of the throwing of mule shoes in the Union Camps during the Civil War. Courts sprang up in the backyards of Union states. Rules differences arose regionally.

The first horseshoe pitching tournament in which competition was open to the World was held in the summer of 1910 in Bronson, Kansas. The winner was Frank Jackson. He was awarded a World Championship belt with horseshoes attached to it. At this time, Jackson had never heard of being able to hold a shoe so it would open toward the stake, but he had been practicing to find some way by holding his shoe with his finger around the heel calk so he could pitch ringers. The games were played on dirt courts on stakes convert|2|in|mm high above the level ground with stakes convert|38|ft|m apart. Jackson had acquired the skill of pitching a ringer over the convert|2|in|mm|sing=on stake and laying his second shoe on top of the stake time after time so his opponent couldn't keep his ringer on. Each man drew a number in this tournament and Number 1 played Number 2, Number 3 played Number 4, and so continued until every man had played. Then numbers were drawn again by the winners, and play continued in the same way until the last winner was declared the World Champion. Game points were 21, ringers counted five, leaners three, and close shoes one. There was no regulation shoe size or weight. In 1911, the height of the stake was raised to six inches (152 mm) with the same scoring system with closest shoe counting one regardless of the distance form the stake. The top ringer received the count of all ringers on the stake. Games were still 21 points. One pitcher had a shoe in which the curve on one side was four inches (102 mm) more than on the other side. At a Topeka Tournament, Jackson used a pair of shoes he had made by a blacksmith, who bent the calks so the shoe would slide better in the sand and help him slide ringers on the stake.

The first ruling body of horseshoe pitching of which any record was found was organized in a court room of the First District Court, Kansas City, Kansas, May 16, 1914. A Constitution, By-Laws, and Rules were adopted and officers elected. The name chosen was the Grand League of the American Horseshoe Pitchers Association. The association granted Charters to local leagues in many states and their rules were accepted as standard in governing all regular horseshoe pitching tournaments. They established the rule that like values always canceled like. They raised the stake to eight inches (203 mm) , which met with approval of most pitchers. They established the weight of shoes so that in the 1915 Annual Tournament, no shoes were used that weighed less than two pounds, or more than two pounds, two ounces. They kept the rule that leaners counted three points, ringers five points, and no shoe more than six inches (152 mm) from the stake would count. Pitcher's box was three feet each side of the stake and six feet back. The pitcher could stand anywhere in the box. Stakes were convert|38|ft|m apart. The association published a book called the "Horseshoe Guide," which contained playing rules, report of the Annual Convention, officers, the Annual Tournament, and other contests. On February 26, 1919, the National League of Horseshoe and Quoit Pitchers was organized at the National Tournament in St. Petersburg, Florida, with representatives from 29 different states attending. They were given a charter under the laws of the State of Ohio, June 17, 1921.

In the 1919 Tournament, the distance from each stake was changed to convert|40|ft|m, distance that is in effect today. The convert|8|in|mm|sing=on height of the stake at this time leaned one inch toward the other stake and the stake was 3/4 inches in diameter. Only 19 pitchers pitched in the Tournament. Games were 50 points. In 1920, the game rules were changed drastically. Stakes were raised to convert|10|in|mm, stakes were convert|1|in|mm|sing=on in diameter, ringers counted three points, close shoes one point, and leaners were abolished. In 1923, the lean of the stake toward each other was changed to three inches (76 mm) . The 1920 Winter and 1923 Summer World Champion, George May from Akron, Ohio, has been recognized as the father of the "open" shoe. He won the title in 1923 with a 14-1 record and 60 ringer percentage. However, in the winter of 1909, a game was played in Florida in the sand where sometimes all four shoes would bury themselves so deep in the sand that they would all be covered out of sight. While digging out the shoes that had been pitched by Dr. F.N. Robinson from New York, and one of the pitchers who was digging out the shoes made a new discovery and said, "Doc, your shoes all come fork to." This had never been previously noticed even by the doctor himself. The other pitchers then began to question the doctor to find out how he did it, but the doctor didn't know, only that it became natural to him to release his shoe so that it fell open toward the peg with a one and a quarter turn. He had held the shoe with his first finger around the heel calk as all others did at the time. As far as is known, this was the beginning of trying to control the open shoe in pitching, now known by every good pitcher. It was not until the late 1930s or early 1940s that the stake was raised to convert|12|in|mm, and in 1950, the stake was ruled to be between 14 and convert|15|in|mm high. The present day rule of 40 points for an official game was changed effective January 1,1982, the last major rule change governing play. On May 10, 1921, the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of the United States was also incorporated under the laws of the State of Ohio with headquarters at Akron, Ohio. A year or two later these two National Organizations were consolidated under the name of the latter. At the National Convention at Lake Worth, Florida, February 16,1925, the name was changed to the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America ( [ NHPA] ). It is estimated that upwards of fifteen million enthusiasts enjoy pitching horseshoes in the United States and Canada in tournaments, leagues, recreation areas, and backyards. The NHPA membership totals about 15,000 with 6,200 in the league program.

This successful handicap league program allows beginners as well as seasoned players to pitch together. It is a good program for attracting new players to take their first step into organized horseshoe pitching. The NHPA strives to promote and organize the sport and to standardize the rules, equipment, and playing procedures. The top priority is to serve as a unifying agent between state associations, local clubs, unorganized groups, and individual players. Indoor courts are constantly becoming more popular. Year after year, more indoor courts are being built in the non-sunbelt areas. These courts make horseshoe pitching a year-round sport. Besides World Tournament Awards, championship awards are given at all NHPA sanctioned tournaments, and numerous awards in many categories are given to the NHPA League program. Six classes are recognized as Championship. They are: men, women, boys, girls, senior men, and elders (70+ years old and pitch from 30 feet). Women and juniors also pitch from convert|30|ft|m. Senior women's classes are held when enough entries are received to support the division. [Contributed by David Sullivan from the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA) website [ NHPA History] ]

Game play

Official Rules of the Game of Horseshoes from the NHPA

The NHPA, the recognized governing body of the sport of horseshoe pitching, maintain an up-to-date set of rules, guidelines and specifications for the game on-line at their website: [] . Widely accepted as being the official way to play the game, they outline the style of play, the two most common scoring methods (cancellation and count-all), acceptable equipment, and exact court specifications as well as additional methods of organizing tournament and league competitions.

There are other entities that have their own versions of the game and sanction their own events, but the largest recognized volume of sanctioned tournaments and leagues (by far) are those of the NHPA.

BOH Cup style of play

The game begins with a coin toss to decide who goes first. The winner of the toss throws both horseshoes-one at a time-at the opposite stake, and then the second player throws both of their horseshoes-again, one at a time-at their end. After scoring, the next round is done in reverse order, or by throwing back at the original stake. Play continues until one player has at least 15 points at the end of a round. [ NHPA] sanctioned games are generally played to 40 points, or a shoe limit of 40 or 50 shoes.


In horseshoes, there are two ways to score: by throwing "ringers," or by throwing the horseshoe nearest to the opposite stake. This scoring system gives rise to the popular expression "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades." A ringer is a thrown horseshoe such that the horseshoe completely encircles the stake. Disputes are settled by using a straightedge to touch the two points at the ends of the horseshoe, called "heel calks." If the straightedge doesn't touch the stake, then the horseshoe is a ringer.

The nearest horseshoe to the stake within 6 inches counts one point. If both of one player's horseshoes are closer than the opponent's, that player scores two points. A ringer scores three points. A leaner, the case where a horseshoe literally leans on the stake, in pro horseshoes counts for 1 point. In amateur games, a leaner usually counts for two points. In the case of one ringer and a closer horseshoe, both horseshoes are scored for a total of four points. If a player throws two ringers, that player scores six points. If each player throws a ringer, the ringers cancel and no points are scored. Such occurrences are called dead but are still used towards the pitcher/ringer average. Most games are played to 21, winner must win by two.


External links

* " [ Info on Sport of Horseshoe Pitching]
* " [ Rules] ", National Horseshoe Pitching Association.
* " [ How to Pitch Horseshoes] ", NHPA.
* " [ A Fictional Short Story About Horseshoes: Huggy and the Eggtones] ",
* " [ A History of Horseshoes]
* " [] - A resource forum for all lawn tossing games, including horseshoes.

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