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Author Unknown
There was a day when a lucky ringer along with a few points would win a horseshoe game. This is still true at many family reunions and company picnics. In tournament competition it is a different story though. A player who is interested in winning at any level of competition, and more particularly one who is interested in becoming a tournament champion will have to learn how to throw ringers with regularity.

Phase one: the mechanics of pitching a ringer

1. Select a brand of shoe. Any one of the 40+ brands on the market most listed in the NHPA sales brochure will work. If you have access to all brands you may choose one because some aspect of the shoe appeals to you more than another. The size of your hand may cause you to choose a wide shank or a narrow one. Gripping the shoe on or near the calk might cause you to choose a shoe with slopping calks.

Once you have decided to pitch a certain shoe, give it a good trial before going to another brand. The shoes are balanced differently and you cannot get a shoe to work for you unless you give it adequate time.

2. Wear comfortable clothing. It is important that you wear comfortable clothing whether you are practicing or playing tournaments. The shoes on your feet should be comfortable and have soles that will grip the surface on which you are to stand. The shirt should have roomy shoulders so that there will be no binding or skin irritation. There should be no loose ends flapping in front of the arms and legs.

3. Choose a grip and a turn. Choosing a grip is one of the most important steps you will take on the road to pitching ringers. When you choose a grip you are also deciding which turn you will use.

The same grip can be used for more than one turn. For example, the most common grip is the 1-1/4. This grip can be used for the reverse 3/4 or the reverse 1-1/4. The second most popular grip is the 1-3/4. This can also be used for the 3/4 and the reverse 1-3/4. The third is a flip of one revolution. This can also be used for multiple flips.

If you are just beginning it is recommended that you adopt either the 1-1/4 or the 1-3/4 turns. However, if you are already using some other turn and have confidence it, you must decide for yourself whether you will try to make it work or change to another turn. any type of pitch is permitted by the rules and most will work.

If you happen to be close to one of the top pitchers there is some wisdom in adopting their turn. They have mastered it and will be able to teach you how to throw it.

4. Adopt a stance; just where you stand at the start of your step will depend on the length of your stride. Stand so that the step will carry the front foot almost to the foul line. If you have a short stride stand even with the stake. If you have a long stride back up as far as you must to avoid stepping on the foul line.

Right handed pitchers should stand on the left side of the stake. It is permissible to pitch from the other side, but if you do pitch from the right side be sure to do so at both ends of the court. The opposite is true for left handed pitchers.

The placement of the feet in relation to one another is a thing which varies widely. The most natural seems to be to stand with the feet even. However, good pitchers will trail with the right or left foot. Placing the left foot forward tends to shorten the stride while placing the right foot forward will lengthen the stride. These different positions of the feet will change your entire delivery, so it is recommended that you adopt a stance which is comfortable and stay with it.

5. Address the stake Whether you call it sighting, addressing the stake, taking a bead on the target, or some other name, there is a precious moment just before you start your delivery which is very important. In that moment you get mentally "ready" to pitch.

Some pitchers hold the shoe in front of their faces and look through it. Some hold it at various angles and look over it. Some hold it near the chest, over the head, beside the right ear, or down at the side while staring at the opposite stake. Some swing their arms and others shuffle their feet.

All are trying to get the feel of the shoe and be at ease so that the delivery is natural and easy. Regardless of the method you choose it is fundamental to all that you square your shoulders with the target and avoid dropping the right side too low.

6. The step and the backswing At the beginning of the step the weight should be distributed equally between the two feet in such a way that the pitcher feels perfectly balanced. The weight must shift to the right foot as the step

begins toward the target stake just as though the pitcher was starting to walk. The knees bend and the pitcher leans forward as the backswing begins. The arm and the shoe should fall freely and close to the leg and should define an arc which is in line with the target stake. If it is natural, and allows you enough leverage to lift the shoe to the target, any length of backswing will be satisfactory.

7. The follow through and release The swing forward should retrace the path of the backswing with the release coming at eye level and the arm continuing upward after the release to the natural completion of the swing.

The follow through is important because it is here where the finishing touch is put on the pitch. Once you have turned the shoe loose, its fate is decided. Many a pitcher has hurled epitaphs at shoes after they have been released, but not one shoe has ever changed its course in flight. The leveling of the shoe, the turn, the height, the alignment are all wrapped up in the point of release and the follow through. The lift of the shoe must come from the whole body as the knees straighten rather from too much arm motion.

Generally speaking the height of the shoe should vary from seven to ten feet. The shoe should not be gripped too tightly. The whole routine should be as simple and natural as possible. The more simple the delivery, the less chance for error.

8. Turning the shoe. The turn is accomplished by shifting the weight of the shoe with a roll of the forearm. The shoe would not turn at all if you were able to hold it level, and release it, without dragging your fingers and rolling your forearm.
By letting the shoe hang down and leveling it before the release you cause it to turn. The amount of the turn is increased by waiting longer to level the shoe and is decreased by leveling it sooner. Each pitcher must regulate the amount of turn so that it opens at the stake.

9. Develop timing. Timing or pitching rhythm is difficult to acquire and difficult to keep. Some never get it, others who do get it lose it in pressure packed situations. A few seem to always have it, these pitchers are the tough ones.

Rhythm is nothing more than doing the right thing at the right time. The bending of the knees and the lean forward must blend with the backswing, the forward step must blend with the forward swing, and the lift of the body must end with the release of the shoe.

  1. Practice! In the first phase of learning to pitch practice is a must. It may be more beneficial to practice alone than against an opponent. Your attention could be more profitably directed to the parts of your own game, than to the thought of trying to win one. Once you learn how to pitch you will develop confidence to compete against other pitchers. The old adage "practice makes perfect" is still true. Practice every chance you get until you understand what makes a ringer go on the stake.

Phase two:
From ringer thrower to complete performer;
The transition from the practice court to the tournament atmosphere is a big one. Fitting the mechanical aspect of pitching ringers into game conditions requires many adjustments.

1. Court manner A pitcher should follow the rules in every detail, particularly those rules which are designed to allow their opponent to pitch without interference. This includes standing in the back of the opposite pitchers box while the opponent delivers their shoe and making no sound or motion that will hurt their concentration. Horseshoe pitching is seen at its best when both pitchers are "on" and battle each other with skill rather than psychology and distraction.

You may insist on the enforcement of the rules, and on the measurement of shoes in doubt, without being a poor sport. No pitcher will be offended by your insistence on the benefit of the rules, but he will be offended by your efforts to evade the rules in order to hurt his performance. He wants to be out pitched rather than out foxed.

2. Dress: Wearing apparel need not be expensive. Any type of sportswear will do, but it should be two things, comfortable and neat. A player's last name and state should be on the back of their shirt in two inch letters. The first name should be on the front of the shirt.

3. Hide your emotions: You can never master the game of horseshoes unless you can first master your own temperament. Strive to be cool at all times and if you cannot be cool, at least appear to be cool. Irritation can come from many sources: opponents who try to "psyche you, spectators who run behind the stake, poor conditions of the playing courts, the weather, and perfect ringers bouncing off the stake are some good examples. A display of temper will only hurt your game and will take away from spectator appeal

4. Develop your rhythm and your mood. Many of the best players seem to be in a state of self hypnosis when they are at their best. This requires a good general attitude toward the game, and the need to find your timing. The physical and mental attitude of a pitcher will be different from time to time and they must learn how to adjust for it.

5. Compete regularly. Once you have mastered the art of throwing ringers you need to compete regularly to keep your competitive edge. Pitching on top of double ringers knowing that each miss will put three points on the scoreboard for your opponent makes a difference. Adjusting to the speed of your opponent is also different from practice, where the tempo of the pitching is entirely up to you. The presence of a pencil has transformed 80% pitchers into 60% pitchers and regular competition will help in all these areas.

6. Make plans and keep records. While it is not necessary to make foolproof plans and to keep records in detail, it is beneficial to do a reasonable amount of both. Making a long range plan to compete in certain events will help you overall attitude. Keeping track of your ringer's percentage will tell you when you are up or down and at what rate of improvement you are progressing for any given period of time. It is helpful to keep a record of your practice because it helps you to bear down and creates a certain game like pressure.

7. Correct mistakes immediately. The great ones only make a mistake once. They correct it on the very next pitch. On your way through the first phase of pitching you have learned every detail about your pitch. You know how to increase or decrease the turn and the distance and adjust the alignment of the shoe. How often do you hear a pitcher say, "My shoe has been turning past the stake all day''? Why didn't that pitcher adjust his turn to slow it down?

8. Confidence. No pitcher is complete until they build up confidence in themselves. This confidence comes only when they put together all parts of their game. There will always be physical differences in ability, age, and experience of competitors which affect the peak performance each one can produce. Each person must determine how far their own abilities will take them and base their quest for confidence on their own capability.

9. Pressure. Every pitcher is plagued by pressure. There is no better way to combat pressure than to be ready ahead of time. If a person is in good physical condition, has a healthy mental attitude, and has the confidence in their game, they have half the battle won before it gets under way. One must try to relax and this is doubly difficult in horseshoe pitching since it is a game of such intense and constant concentration. Pressure is a state of mind which can overcome a player to the point where their nerves and muscles do not respond normally and the result is a sub par performance. Some way must be found to free the mind from these shackles and different players employ different methods. Some think of their own game and are able to ignore all outside interference. Others will count to themselves, or think of snowcapped mountains. Anything that will work for you is the thing to use. When you find a formula that will work every time, write it down you will be able to sell it to every pitcher in the world.

10. Waste no practice: Never pitch less than you can pitch. Never practice without concentrating. Bad practice will develop bad habits that will be repeated in games. If you are not mentally ready to concentrate, don't practice. It will do more harm than good. Less practice will be needed than when you were learning. But you will never reach a stage where no practice is needed.

11. Goals. The only goal worth setting is to do the best you can. It is a mistake to set a target which you intend to reach or else. There is no use to grieve over past tournaments, but it is fine to profit from past mistakes, look forward to your next tournament.

Don Titcomb, formerly of the San Jose Club, now a resident in Florida, won the World Championship in 1960 in Muncie, Indiana. Although he was only 35 years old he had been pitching horseshoes for 23 years. During most of those 23 years he had aimed for the title. Winning the world title takes more than the ability to throw ringers. It takes physical endurance, mental temperament, some luck, and an absolute refusal to yield to pressure.

It took Don six hours of pitching a day for six consecutive days to win the tournament, 2878 shoes and 2443 ringers. Getting ready for the championship was no accident. Don Titcomb spends three months in training for a world championship tournament, gradually building up his strength. He throws a hundred shoes a day for the first month. He increases the pace to 200 a month for the second month, and the last month averages 300 to 400. Then there follows a week's rest before the big event.

The strain of competition is so great that each year Don says, "never again." In 1958 and 1959 he was second. Each year he returned, however, until he won the dream title. Once that goal was achieved he relaxed. Don has remained active in the game, winning the 1967 California state title, the Worlds Intermediate Championship and the 1995 World Senior Championship.

The game of horseshoes can be broken down into three basic steps one, throwing an open shoe; two, acquiring alignment and distance; and three, developing a rhythm pitch.
I place opening the shoe first with a beginner to impress upon them the importance of controlling the action of a turning shoe. Once a beginner has confidence in opening his shoe, he can concentrate on alignment and distance. The third step, that of developing a rhythm pitch, is a result of the first two.

Each pitcher will fall into a natural rhythm of his own and should not try to copy someone else in exact detail. The step, the swing, and the release should blend into a natural movement.

A natural rhythm permits a pitcher to pitch with ease and comfort. A pitcher who forces his shoe is an erratic pitcher and can go on only a short period of time. They are streak pitchers, blowing hot and cold. For the long game fought against a player of equal caliber, one can not worry about anything except pitching ringers.

Whether your turn is as little as one quarter turn or as much as two and a half turns, it will be regulated by the position of the hand on the shoe and the angle at which the shoe leaves your hand. For example, my turn and a quarter can be held fairly flat during the release and will angle during the swing. Attempting to hold the shoe flat throughout the swing will destroy the alignment.

My advice is to use the shoe weight as much as possible in making the shoe turn. This will make your pitch easier and help in the development of a natural turn. Success in using the shoe weight in your turn depends on how much you use the weight in your swing. Just as in bowling, getting the shoe out away from the body and letting it drop will cause an increase in momentum, which in turn develops a natural release and turn.

Step one is part of the alignment and distance too. I have never been able to tell anyone exactly when the shoe leaves my hand. All I know is that it leaves when it is ready.

A pitcher should let his body help in the delivery of the shoe by bending it during the down swing, enough to help but not enough to force the pitch.

I can control my alignment throughout the swing by keeping my aiming point down and up the stake with my eyes on a spot six inches from the bottom of the stake. I also try to control the direction of my step by making sure that my feet are turned in the direction of the stake. Right handers stepping out with their left foot should control that step by having the right foot pointed toward the stake before taking a step.

The third step is the most important step, and it is at the same time the easiest one. A good athlete in any sport must be consistent. Horseshoes are no exception. One must develop and keep the same rhythm while they are pitching to maintain a steady game. when you find, keep, and control this rhythm, you will be able to pitch your game through rainouts or other interruptions.

Search for a natural rhythm that will permit you to combine your step, your swing, and your release into one continuous fluid motion.