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How to Play the 'Horseshoes' Game

How to Play the 'Horseshoes' Game

Horseshoes is a fun outdoor game played between two players using four horseshoes and two stakes. Here are the important Horseshoes game rules, along with a few tips to play it like a pro.
Vibhav Gaonkar
Last Updated: Jan 20, 2018
A Perfect Ringer
A perfect ringer should completely encircle the stake. In case you aren't sure, place a straightedge from one point of the horseshoe to the other. If it touches the stake, it's not a ringer, and vice versa.
How to Play Horseshoes Game
Horseshoes Game Court
Horseshoes Game Court
To play this interesting outdoor game, you would need a big area to play, probably a big flat field or ground. The dimensions of a regular horseshoes court are ideally 48 ft. long by 6 ft. wide. Alternately, you could use a shorter distance if you are just playing for fun, or if your kids wish to play.

Apart from a playing area, you're also going to need a horseshoes kit, which consists of the four horseshoes and two target stakes, either made up of mallet or iron. Hammer the stakes into the ground, one at each end. Both stakes should tilt approximately ⅛, or 12 degrees towards each other, and should be 15 inches above the ground. Once you're ready with the field and the equipment, it's time to have some fun. Here are the instructions to play Horseshoes.
Game Objective
The objective of the game is to pitch the shoe in a way that it perfectly encircles the stake. Even if this doesn't happen, the attempt should be to pitch it as close to the stake as possible.
Horseshoes and the Target Stake
Horseshoes and the Target Stake
  • To begin the game, divide the four horseshoes among both the players; each player pitches two horseshoes in a turn.
  • Both players should stand at one end of the field, adjacent to the stake pit. The ideal target stake-to-player distance in tournaments is 37 ft. However, for a casual game, players could pitch from a closer distance. Decide your comfortable distance, and mark a line at the respective spot. Both players should pitch from behind this line throughout the game.
  • Ensure that the area around the target stake is clear before starting to play. Horseshoes are quite heavy, and can cause severe injury.
  • Now, each player pitches the shoes in an attempt to ring the stake or get it as close to the stake as possible.
  • Once both players play their respective turns, play continues from the opposite stake, which was the target stake previously.
  • If the shoe is within 6 inches of the stake (6 inches could be marked ), the respective player receives one point. If the pitch turns out to be a perfect 'ringer' (encircling the stake), the player receives 3 points. Both players could decide on a target score required to win the game. The first player to reach this score wins.
Holding the Horseshoe
The ¼ Turn Grip
The One-fourth Grip
Being one of the popular grips among professionals, it aims towards ¼ rotation of the shoe sideways. To use this grip, hold the horseshoe with your thumb resting over one of the shank/shaft, and the other fingers under it, such that the points of the shoe are facing towards the left.

Hold the horseshoe flat without bending your arm, and swing it and pitch the shoe.
The ¾ Turn Grip
The Three-fourth Grip
Quite similar to the previous grip, this one aims towards the ¾ sideways rotation of the shoe. The only difference here, apart from rotation, is that the points of the shoe must face towards the right instead of the left. Otherwise, the gripping technique remains the same for this style. You could do some practice swings to get a hang of it.
The Flip Grip
The Flip Grip
Again, the name says it all. The aim of this type of grip is to achieve a flip of the shoe during its flight. To try this grip, hold the shoe firmly in the exact center of the bend, with your thumb over the bend, and other fingers underneath. Though this grip is a bit tricky, a lot of players find comfort in using it.
Achieving a Perfect Throw
If you're right-handed, stand to the left of the stake, and vice versa. Stand with your back straight, leaning slightly sideways towards your pitching arm.
Keep your arm straight, and minimize wrist movements. Holding the shoe a little loosely would allow it to turn. However, avoid holding it so loose that it will slip from your hand.
When throwing, take rough aim, and achieve a swing by moving your arm in a backward-to-forward fashion. If done correctly, the shoe should float lazily without wobbling around much, and should follow the correct trajectory.
Release the shoe when at eye-level. It should ideally move in the shape of a perfect arc, wherein, the peak point in the center would be as high as 7 - 8 ft., post which the shoe should descend and ring the stake.
If you get all the above techniques right, you would achieve a perfect pitch, resulting in a ringer. As the old saying goes, practice makes a man perfect.
Horseshoes Game Tips
In case you're a beginner, begin with either of the 'turn grip' throws.

Take a step or two forward when pitching the shoe. This would provide added momentum to your swing.

Try achieving a balance between the speed and the direction of your throw. If you find that the shoe ends up too far from the stake, lower your speed. If the shoe does reach but doesn't encircle the stake, try varying the direction of the throw, similar to the mechanism of a catapult.

Try both the grips to decide on the one that suits your style of play. Doing a few practice swings with each grip would help you decide better.

Now that you're well-versed with the Horseshoes game rules, step on the field and aim for that stake. Good Luck!