≡ Menu

How to Play Horseshoes

Horseshoes is a classic Outdoor Game played with 2 or 4 people, using 4 horseshoes that are thrown one of two stakes that are placed at either end in a sand filled pit. Players alternate turn tossing the horseshoes attempting to be the nearest to the stake. Stakes are placed 40 feet apart.

The game is divided into innings. Each inning consists of 4 pitched shoes, 2 by each Player.  The first player to throw will toss both shoes before the second player takes his turn.  A Player may toss from either the left or right pitching platform, but in any one inning, both shoes must be tossed from the same platform.   Players must throw from within the platform, not stepping out of it during a toss.

Types of Pitched Shoes.  At the end of each inning, the 4 thrown shoes are either “Live Shoes” or “Dead Shoes.”   A Live Shoe is one which has come to rest within the pit area after a legal toss.  A Dead Shoe is a fouled toss.  This is any toss not thrown according to Horseshoes rules.  This term may also refer to a ringer that has been “cancelled” by an opponent’s ringer.


Most Horseshoe scoring is done by cancellation scoring.  In cancellation scoring, the ringers of one contestant cancel the ringers of the opponent. Cancelled ringers are also referred to as “dead” ringers.  Only one Player can score in each inning.

The second type of scoring occasionally used is called Count All Scoring.  Both players receive all of the points that they score.

Ringers and Points are called Shoes In the Count, while shoes that do not score any points, such as Fouls or shoes further than 6″ from the stake.

Ringers – A ringer is a Live Shoe that comes to rest while encircling the stake. The stake must be completely within the two points at the end of the horseshoe, which are called Heel Calks.  A ringer has a value of 3 points.

Points – A Live Shoe that is not a ringer, but comes to rest six inches six inches or closer to the stake.  This shoe has a value of 1 point. This includes a “leaner”.  If both of one player’s horseshoes are closer than the opponent’s, two points are scored.

Point Combinations

  • 6 Points – Two Ringers are Thrown
  • 4 Points – One Ringer and One Closer Shoe
  • 3 Points – One Ringer or 2 Ringers for one Player and 1 for the other, also called Two Dead and Three or Three Ringers Three.
  • 2 Points – Both Shoes Closer to the Stake.
  • 1 Point – One Shoe within 6″ of the Stake, or nearest Shoe within 6″ of the stake.  If there are 2 cancelled (dead) ringers and no live ringer, the closest shoe to the stake, which is in count, shall score 1 point.
  • 0 Points – Neither player is with 6″ of the stake, or Players each throw a Ringer and cancel each other.  These are called Dead Ringers.

Games are usually played to 21 points.  Players must win by 2.

The contestant pitching first shall deliver both shoes (one at a time) and then the other contestant shall deliver both shoes (one at a time). A contestant may deliver the shoes from either the left or right pitching platform, but in any one inning, both shoes must be delivered from the same platform. A contestant shall pitch the entire tournament with the same hand/arm, except in the case of a medical emergency (to be determined by the Tournament/League Officials).

Throwing a Horseshoe

Always toss from the same spot. Do not move from one side of the peg to the other. There are four tosses in horseshoes.

The flip. The horseshoe is held in the center of the arch. The thumb on the topside. When it i tossed, it rotates no more than 360 degrees. Some will try not to have it flip at all as it approaches the peg. The flip is used more than any other toss.

The one and quarter turn. Hold the shoe by one of the shanks. The open end faces left or right. As it is tossed underhanded, it rotates one and a quarter turns. If you are right handed, it faces left. Left handed faces right.

One and three quarter toss. The only thing different is that the open shoe faces opposite than that mentioned above. The toss is exactly the same.

The three quarter turn. The shoe is held facing out (to the right for a right handed), (to the left for a left-hander). On the toss the shoe rotates three fourths a turn.

The grip should be firm. Too tight and it goes high. If it is too loose, it goes too low. Your release point should be parallel with the ground straight out from your chest.

Making a Horseshoe Pit


  • 2 – 6′ 2×4’s or 2×6’s, cut in half. (treated wood)
  • 2 – 8′ 2×4’s or 2×6’s cut in half.  (treated wood)
  • Sand – enough to fill both 36×48 inch boxes at least 3-4 inches deep
  • 2 – 3′ steel posts (about 1 inch diameter)
  • 1 Box – 2 1/2″ Deck Screws
  • Tools: Saw, electric drill with screwdriver, sledge hammer, measuring tape, shovel


  • Start by making a frame for the pit. Make a rectangle with 2 of the 36″ boards and 2 of the 48″ boards. Screw the pieces of wood together at the corners to make one frame.  Overlap using the 48″ boards.  Repeat exactly for second box.
  • Measure the Playing Area. 48 feet from the back of one pitching area to the back of the other.  This includes 2 feet of clear space behind each box.  The width will be 6′.
  • Place Box Fronts 36′ apart.  The long side should be parallel to the length of the playing area.
  • Mark the outside perimeter of each box on the grass so you will know where to dig.  Lift the boxes and set them aside.
  • Dig. Dig so that the frame top sits a tiny bit lower than ground level.
  • Set the frame in to the pit.  Find the center of the pit, and set the stake.  Lean it slightly forward (about 3 inches) toward the other stake. Pound it in with the sledge hammer so that 13-15″ of the stake extends above the level of the ground outside the pit.
  • Fill the frame with sand. Remember that the stake needs to be sticking out 13-15″.
  • Repeat for the second pit.

The depth to which the stake needs to be pounded will determine how long a stake is needed. This in turn will depend on your soil type. In a heavy clay soil, a 24-inch rod pounded in ten inches might be sufficient. However, the stake takes a real beating, so err on the side of burying a greater length than seems necessary, rather than skimping.

Over time, the sand will seem to “disappear” both by being knocked out of the pit and by sinking into the soil below. Digging the hole a bit deeper, and lining the bottom with landscape cloth or similar material will make it last longer.

Professional pits sometimes are filled with a product called “blue clay” instead of sand. It has a wonderful “bounce” when horseshoes hit it, but it is pretty expensive.
For the least expensive alternative, it is possible to forget the boxes entirely, and set two stakes 40 feet apart, then just roughen up dirt around each stake to a depth of about 3 or 4 inches. It’s minimalistic, but it works (for a while, at least).