When you picture the ideal backyard gathering, you probably think of you and your friends drinking beer and nibbling on grilled meat and veggies while the kids are in playing mode, caring about nothing but their games or toys. The thing is, though, that there may be a way to make this picture even more amusing. How about you get a taste of this playing mode as well?

So, if you’re ready to get the all-ages backyard games started, pitching horseshoes is a safe bet. This outdoor classic is a guaranteed way to get everyone up from the table and closer to the action. Plus, it’s super easy to set up. In fact, you can get things going with so much as a couple of stakes and four U-shaped bars. So, let’s kiss that horseshoe for good luck and get the pitching started, shall we?

What You Need to Play Horseshoes

If we were to describe horseshoes equipment in one word, that’d be “straightforward” – without a doubt. While most outdoor games require fancy (sometimes specially designed) equipment, horseshoes are all about keeping it simple. What’s more, this game’s tools are also made of kid-friendly materials such as rubber (and not metal) to keep the little ones safe. So, here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 or 4 people. You can play horseshoes either solo against one opponent or with a partner by your side against two opponents.
  • 2 stakes. Horseshoes pegs are usually 14 inches long and made of metal to provide a stable grip. However, if there are kids around, you can always opt for plastic stakes.
  • 4 horseshoes or U-shaped bars. Each player gets 2 horseshoes (or one when playing in teams). Much like the stakes, you can always play with metal bars or opt for plastic ones to prevent injuries, especially when you’re playing with kids.

The Basic Rules of Horseshoes

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, right? So, since the game itself calls for some pretty basic equipment, it comes as no surprise that horseshoes rules are very easy to understand as well. In fact, they’re so easy that even kids can follow.

  • Step 1

Set up the pits. Designate certain parts of the yard as the “pits.” Covering a specific area (31 X 36 inches wide), these spots resemble a square box toward which pitchers throw their horseshoes. The shoes that land into the pit count as live shoes while the ones that fall outside the box count as dead shoes. According to the official horseshoes rules, you need to set up two pits, one for each player or team.

  • Step 2

Plant the stakes into the ground. Plant a peg at the center of both square-shaped pits. Make sure that the stakes are 40 feet away from the pitching spot (foul line). However, if your backyard is smaller than that, adjust the distance between the two accordingly. To avoid confusion, use a string spray paint or anything available to point out the foul line. Also, do your best to plant the stakes as deep in the ground as possible to avoid knocking them down as you play.

  • Step 3

Decide which player (or team) will pitch first. Flipping a coin and playing a round of rock-paper-scissors are the two most common ways to determine the first pitcher. But, where’s the fun in that? Instead, you can let the shoes decide and (why not?) squeeze some practice time in between. In this case, toss the horseshoes toward the pegs and whoever lands his/her shoe closer to them gets to pitch first.

  • Step 4

Pitch the horseshoes taking turns. The game is divided up into innings. During each inning, each player or team gets to pitch two horseshoes toward the respective stake. Your goal is to “ring” the peg, a.k.a. land it around the stake. Once the player or team is done throwing the shoes, it’s time for the other player or team to pitch. As you toss the horseshoes, make sure not to cross the foul line.

  • Step 5

Count the score. There are two ways to count the score during a match of horseshoes. You can either count all points or deduct points every time a player makes a foul. In all-count scoring, you take into account only live shoes, not dead shoes (check above). These are divided into ringers, leaners or those close to the stake.

The ringers are the pitches that land the horseshoe around the peg while the leaners are the ones that land vertically and lean against the stake. Ringers are worth 3 points; leaners are worth one point and the shoes that land within 6 inches from the stake are also worth one point.

However, when you play with the cancellation rules in mind, things are entirely different. In fact, here’s how it goes. If the opponent throws a ringer and you do, too, in the following turn, no points are awarded to either of you. That’s called a dead ringer. You basically have the chance to cancel out your opponent’s points. The same principle applies to leaners and close-to-the-stake shots.

  • Step 6

The first player or team to score to score 21 points wins. The player or team who reaches the 21-point threshold first is crowned as the winner of the match. However, if some of the players are getting restless and want to cut the game short, you and the other players can agree upon a different scoring goal.

How to Pitch a Horseshoe and Nail Every Shot

If you want to avoid “collecting” a bunch of dead shoes under your belt, then perfecting your pitches is a one-way street. To spare you the missed throws and the thought of your opponents taking the lead, we’ve gathered around the four most effective ways to pitch a horseshoe and make the most out of every shot each time.

  • Adjust Your Stance

Despite what you may think, nailing a ringer is not just a matter of power. In fact, standing the right way can make or break your shot. So, make sure to stand at the left side of the stake if you are right-handed and at the right side of the stake if you’re left-handed. Also, keep your shoulders squared in front of the peg to direct the horseshoe as close to it as possible.

  • Swing Before You Pitch

Contrary to popular belief, the wrist movement has little to do with pitching a horseshoe correctly. Instead, pull your shoulder and arm back and let the shoe slide in your grip as you swing your arm forward. This throwing trick allows you to keep the horseshoes’ throwing rotation in check and avoid landing a dead shoe. You can even take a step forward as you swing to increase the throwing strength. However, this taking-a-step-forward tactic is recommended only when you want to land the shoe at a greater distance.

  • Master the 1 ¼ Turn Grip

Even though it sounds impossible to pull off, this turn grip is worth the shot because it’s a surefire way to nail a ringer. Just grip the horseshoe with your thumb on top as the shoe’s arms, a.k.a. shanks, point to the left. Meanwhile, place your index and middle finger underneath the shank as they curl up onto the inner edge. By gripping the horseshoe this way, you basically force it to rotate sideways, complete a 1 ¼ turn in the air and land straight around the stake. It’s all math!

  • Try the Flip Throw

Instead of remaining flat during its flight like the 1 ¼ turn grip, this throw flips vertically as it reaches the stake. Just grip the horseshoe at the center of the bend and place your thumb either at the bottom or the top, depending on what feels comfortable for you. Then, swing your arm slightly and let the shoe slip toward the peg. It’s that easy!

Final Thoughts

Are you looking for an easy way to entertain your friends, family, even kids? Then, playing horseshoes is the perfect solution for your impromptu outdoor game tournaments. Just don’t get disappointed if you don’t make any decent shots when you start. After all, practice makes perfect.