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Horseshoes – new world encyclopedia

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It is fairly well established that horseshoe pitching had its origin in the game of quoits (involving the throwing of a metal or rubber ring over a set distance to land over a pin) and that quoits is a modification of the old Grecian game of discus throwing, known from the Olympic Games.

game of horseshoes


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 B.C.E. It is thought that 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. Horseshoes historians have been unable to discover when the game was changed so that it was pitched at two stakes.

game horseshoes


The game seemed to have been a favorite among soldiers in many wars, where horseshoes were often plentiful. Returning home, these soldiers interested their home folks in the game, and horseshoe-pitching courts were laid out in hundreds of cities, villages, and farming communities. In the U.S., the impetus for the National Horseshoe Pitcher’s Association (NHPA) grew out of the tradition of throwing mule shoes in the Union Army camps during the American Civil War. Courts later sprang up in the backyards of Union states. Rules differences arose regionally, however.

plastic horseshoes game


In 1869, England set up rules to govern the game. The distance between the stakes was 19 yards. The player stood level with the stake and made his pitch with his first step. There was no weight requirement for the shoe, but the outside diameter could not be more than eight inches. The ground around the stake was clay, and all measurements for points were taken between the nearest parts of both shoe and stake. These also became the rules under which the game was played in the United States, but no tournaments were held or records kept until 1909.

The first known world horseshoe-pitching tournament was in the summer of 1910 in Bronson, Kansas. The winner was Frank Jackson, who was awarded a world championship belt with horseshoes attached to it. The games were played on dirt courts with stakes two inches high above the level ground with stakes 38 feet apart.

In 1911, the height of the stake was raised to six inches, with the same scoring system with the closest shoe counting one regardless of the distance from the stake. The top ringer-meaning the last ringer of the round-received the count of all ringers on the stake. Games were to 21 points.

The first ruling body of horseshoe pitching was organized in a court room in Kansas City, Kansas, May 16, 1914. Named the Grand League of the American Horseshoe Pitchers Association, it granted charters to local leagues in many states and its rules were accepted as standard in governing all regular horseshoe pitching tournaments. The stake height was raised to eight inches, which met with the approval of most pitchers, and the weight of shoes was standardized. Thus, in the 1915 annual tournament, no shoes were used that weighed less than two pounds or more than two pounds, two ounces. “Leaners” counted three points, ringers five points, and shoes within six inches from the stake would count one point. The limits of the pitcher’s box were set at three feet each side of the stake and six feet back, and the pitcher could stand anywhere in the box. Stakes were 38 feet apart.

The association published a book titled the Horseshoe Guide, which contained playing rules, officers, a report of the annual convention and the annual tournament, and news of 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. The league was 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 40 feet, which is in effect today. Games were 50 points. In 1920, the game rules were changed drastically. Stakes were raised to 10 inches, stakes were one inch in diameter, ringers counted three points, close shoes one point, and leaners were abolished, counting the same as any close show.

The 1920 winter and 1923 summer world champion, George May from Akron, Ohio, is considered the father of the “open” shoe style, meaning that his pitch was designed to approach the stake with the open side of the shoe facing the stake. He won the title in 1923 with a 14-1 record and a 60-ringer percentage per pitch.

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.

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