Learn How To Play Horseshoes – The Ultimate Guide

learning how to throw a horseshoe

If you’re looking for a unique outdoor game experience you might want to consider playing horseshoes. It’s a brilliant game which continues to grow in popularity and can be played with friends and family members of all ages.

The game is most popular in North America however it’s played worldwide. It’s a super easy game to set up and can be played in any outdoor setting including your own backyard.

We’ll let you in on everything you need to know about how to play horseshoes. So let’s jump in now and take a look at the rules, how to set up your pitch, what equipment you’ll need and how to keep score.

I know, it sounds like a lot to remember but don’t worry. we’ve got you covered!

The Equipment You’ll Need To Play Horseshoes

Before we can get started you’ll need to gather the following items together.

  • An outdoor area or space around 40 feet long
  • Two sets of two horseshoes (preferably different colors so you can differentiate between teams)
  • Some metal rods or stakes
  • A hammer (for setting up your stakes)
  • Chalk or string (to mark out your foul line)
  • Sawdust, sand or clay (for a pit – you’ll only need this if you want to permanent/professional pitch) otherwise grass will be fine            

The Rules of Horseshoes

Horseshoes can be played with either two players or four players. If there’s just two of you then you’ll be playing against each other, pitching (throwing) two shoes per turn. If you’re playing with four people you’ll play in teams of two, again pitching two horseshoes per turn.

The aim of the game is to pitch your horseshoe as close to the stake as you can. To score a point you have to land your horseshoe closer to the stake than your opponent. Whoever’s horseshoe lands closest scores a point.

If you pitch a really good horseshoe and it lands directly around the stake then you’ll score three points. This is called a “ringer”.

The smaller the horseshoe the harder it is to score a ringer. That’s why most people use bigger horseshoes that are specifically designed for gaming and not for horses.

These gaming horseshoes are twice the size of a real horseshoe which means you have a higher chance of wrapping it around the stake.

When you throw your horseshoe it’s called “pitching”. A turn of two throws is called an “innings”. Usually the first player to reach 40 points wins the game although you can adjust this scoring target to suit the players.

If playing with small children you might find changing the final score target to 20 works as young children tend to play at a much slower pace and may have shorter attention spans.

If you’re wanting to step it up a notch and get a little more competitive then here’s a link to an actual horseshoe competition rules and scoring sheet

Setting up your pitch

picture of horseshoe pit

First you’ll need to hammer some stakes into the ground. Stakes are usually made of metal and should look a lot like a long rod or a pole. Try and keep the diameter of your stakes to a one inch minimum. Any wider and you run the risk of making it too hard to score points.

Now it’s time to set up your pitching box stakes. Position them 40 feet apart from each another. When you’re hammering the stake into the ground it’s best to keep 15 inches of your pole sticking up out of the ground. This is where you’ll be aiming when you take your turn.

Some people like to set up the stakes so they lean a little towards each other, if you’re going to do this then be sure that the lean doesn’t incline by more than 3 inches.

Typically a horseshoe pit is filled with clay or sand because the soft surface stops the horseshoes from bouncing when they hit the ground. Other options might be sawdust or soil but if you’re playing a casual game in the garden you can just play on the grass rather than digging and filling a pit.

So, how big is your pitching pit? Well typically for backyard play the dimensions are 36 x 48 inches.

Finally you’ll set up a foul line 37 feet from each stake for men and 27 feet for woman and children. If any player steps over the foul line whilst pitching then this is considered a foul throw.

Horseshoe Scoring

The basic scoring system goes like this:

  • If your horseshoe is the closest to the stake then you get one point
  • The horseshoe must be within at least 6 inches from the stake to score a point
  • If both of your horseshoes were closer than your opponents then you get 2 points
  • If you score a ringer you get 3 points
  • If one of your shoes is closer than your opponents and you also get a ringer you get 4 points
  • If you both score a ringer then each ringer cancels the other one out. That means no one scores.

How to Throw a Horseshoe

how to throw a horseshoe

Safety first. Before you even think about throwing your horseshoe have a good look around and be certain that the other player has already left the pitch. It’s only safe to throw your horseshoe once the pitch is clear.

The two most commonly used grips for horseshoes are as follows

The Flip Grip Throw

This style is mostly used in casual games, simply hold the horseshoe on the middle bottom (the end without a gap) in your fist or between your thumb and your index finger and then throw it whilst aiming for the stake. Some people like to take a couple of steps before releasing the horseshoe to create some momentum, making the throw more powerful.

1 ¼ Turn Grip Throw

This grip is a little harder to handle and is a style that’s typically used by professional players. Start by holding just one of the sides of the horseshoe with the open end up and then throw the shoe aiming at the stake. It’s said that for a perfect shot the horseshoe should turn 1 ¼ times. Hence the name.

Here’s a great clip of a game of backyard horseshoes, helps give you an idea of pitching styles as all four players show a different technique.

A Brief History of Horseshoes

For those interested here’s a brief rundown on the history behind the game of horseshoes.

It’s not documented when or where exactly the game of Horseshoes originated from, some say the game was invented by blacksmiths, otherwise known as farriers but it’s also suspected that the game may have evolved from Discus which was played by the ancient Greeks.

Other articles suggest that Horseshoes dates back to the second century BC and was played by soldiers who were trying to keep themselves amused during tough times away from home. Although the soldiers would have used their own shoes rather than actual horses shoes.

The first record of it being played in an official tournament was in 1910. Back in those days the stakes were only 6 inches high and you only played to 21 points. The scoring rules were officially changed in 1982 from 21 to 40 points per game.

The first organisational meeting of the American Horseshoe Pitchers Association was held in 1914 and the game is still played competitively in many parts of the world today. The National Horseshoe Pitching Association is a good place to go if you’d like to find out more about rules, tournaments and leagues.

Now that you know all there is to know about playing Horseshoes why not gather your friends and family together and play a game. You’ll be hooked in no time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you play on grass?

Playing in the backyard? Absolutely. In fact we think that grass is the surface most people play on at home.

Where is the foul line in horseshoes?

Depends. Normally it’s marked three feet in front of each pole. People change it though depending on who is playing, for example small children may not be able to throw far so would want the foul line closer.

How much do professional Horseshoes weigh?

Approximately 2.5 lbs.

How deep should the sand be in a horseshoe pit?

For Professional tournaments and players it’s 8 inches. 4 inches will suffice for all other events and games.

Where can i play horseshoes near me?

Visit to get started. For more informal groups check your local meets up here or simply do a google search.

Written by Shane O'Connor

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