Building your own
"Backyard Horseshoe Court"

  So you wanna pitch 'shoes in your backyard with your kids or neighbor without constructing a professionally designed regulation court... Well, it is easy as planting two stakes in level ground. Measure off 40 feet and drive two 36 inch x 1 inch smooth iron rod into the ground at an angle of about 12 degrees from vertical until 14 inches remains above ground so each leans toward the opposite stake. Use a shovel to loosen the top 2 to 4 inches of soil (any deeper and the stake may not have good anchorage). A steel plate welded across the part of stake driven into the ground would help anchor the stake. Place foul lines at 27 and 37 ft from each stake...the 27 ft foul line is to be used by children up thru 18 yrs of age, women and elder men (70 yrs of age or more) and the 37 ft foul line is to be used by all other adult men. There you go....start pitching shoes.

  Pretty soon you will find the stakes tend to loosen and ringers bounce off stakes when they are vertical or leaning backwards, and you find the loose soil has been knocked away by the pitched shoes. That calls for a little more work...like burying a wood log below the loose soil about 6 or 8 inches and drilling a hole at the correct angle in which to drive the stake, thus anchoring the stake better. And, maybe you decide to build a wood backboard to retain the loose soil, making it easier to kick it back around the stake.

  Play with those improvements for a while...and you find the loose soil does not 'hold' the shoes very well. Another improvement might be to use moist sand or better yet to use moist blue clay...this will tend to hold pitched shoes where they land. Things are working pretty good now...but the pitching area is wearing rough and you want to have a hard, reasonably smooth walking surface on which to stand and pitch. Pouring narrow concrete pitching platforms is easy enuf to do, and that more or less tops off your improvements that make pitching fun.   

Congratulations on your hard work. Your courts have evolved pretty much the same as they have for most everyone else. NHPA Official Playing Rules evolved the same way, thru experience...from recreational to professional design installations. Read the NHPA Rules and the court construction articles on this website before you start construction...and make your 'evolution' in one step. It is a great game whether you wanna pitch in your backyard or at the City Park. It can be played by one or as many people as the number of courts can handle. It is played for practice, for league play and for tournament play. Check this website for the name, address and phone number of the NHPA Regional Director in your area and find out more about horseshoe pitching activities available to you. Check out the pictures and sources for professional horseshoes too....


A sample backyard pit layout.
Anchor stake in buried log or bucket
of concrete. See Court Constr.
article for more details.

BASIC "Backyard" RULES

The required court layout for a game is two stakes fastened securely in the ground 40 feet apart. The stakes should be of iron or soft steel one inch in diameter protruding 15 inches from the ground, each leaning approximately 3 inches (12-deg. from vertical) toward the opposite stake.

Each stake is placed in the center of a "pit" measuring between 43 and 72 inches long and measuring between 31 and 36 inches wide. Moist blue clay works best as a cushion substance in the pit but other types of moist clay as well as loose dirt and sand are acceptable. On both sides of the pits are long, narrow (approx 6' long and 18" wide)"pitchers platforms" from which contestants are to pitch their shoes. When platforms are extended an additional 10 ft they can accomodate short distance pitchers and when extended full length on both sides of the court they provide walkways for the contestants.

The object of the game is to pitch the horseshoe so that it comes to rest encircling the stake; failing in that, it comes to rest within six inches of the stake.

"Horseshoes" manufactured for pitching (real horseshoes are not readily available or uniform in size and weight) are to be used, each weighing approximately 2-1/2 pounds and having an opening no greater than 3-1/2". Each contestant pitches two shoes in succession.

When a contestant is pitching, the opponent shall quietly stand to the rear of or behind the other platform.

A contestant cannot start to walk to the opposite end until both players have pitched both shoes.

A shoe making contact outside the pit before it comes to rest does not count in the scoring and if it lies within scoring distance of the stake it may be removed before the next pitch by either contestant.

Foul lines shall be marked at 27 feet and 37 feet from the opposite stake across the pitching platforms. Shoes pitched by adult males must be released from the platform behind the 37 foot foul line. Shoes pitched by "elder" men, age 70 or more, may optionally be pitched from platforms behind either the 37 foot or 27 foot foul line (provided that they remain at one pitching distance and not switch back and forth) and provided that as 27 foot pitchers, they cannot pitch from behind the 37 foot foul line. Women and all youths up thru 18 years of age may pitch from any platform at any distance from behind the 27 foot foul lines. Men with physical handicap may also observe the 27 foot foul line rule.

Multiple court installations should have safety barriers or buffers to protect contestants on adjacent courts and spectators.

Scoring Rules - There are two methods of scoring: (1) Cancellation system, and (2) count-all system.

Cancellation System - Closest shoe to the stake within 6 inches scores 1 point, two shoes closer than opponent's scores 2 points, one ringer and closest shoe of the same player scores 4 points, each uncancelled ringer scores 3 points. All equal ringers count as ties (no score). All ringers count towards total ringer percentages. A leaning shoe has no value over one lying flat touching the stake. The player that scores or ties a score receives first pitch. Most cancellation games are played to 40 points. Other point limits are acceptable if agreed upon beforehand. It is also legal to play to a pre-set shoe limit, with 40 or 50 shoes being the most popular. Ringer averages are a measure of skill and are used for "seeding" contestants in tournament play. Ringer averages are calculated by dividing total ringers pitched by total shoes pitched and multiplying the result by 100. (i.e. 25 R div by 50 S = .500 x 100 = 50.00%)

Count-All Scoring - Contestants shall receive credit for all points. The maximum is 2 ringers (6 points) and the minimum is both shoes beyond 6 inches from the stake (0 points). Count-all games are pitched to a preset shoe limit - 20, 40 or 50 shoes are popular choices.

Three Handed Game

No longer shown in NHPA Playing rules, the three handed game is still popular as a backyard activity. In three handed games,when two of the players each have a ringer and a third player no ringer, the party without a ringer is out of the scoring and other scores according to conditions pertaining if only two were in the game. Otherwise, regular cancelation rules apply.

Contributed by Duane Goodrich