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Horseshoe Pit Clay vs Sand? Best Horseshoe Pit Material

There’s a good chance that you have played a game of horseshoes. What you might not know is what the best material to put the spike in is. Competitive horseshoe players use one of two materials, clay or sand.

While both are viable options, sand is a better option to use in horseshoe pits. In order to determine the best material their cost to build, the difficulty of maintenance, and the effect on the game will be analyzed. These attributes help mark clay as a viable but inferior material to sand.

Read on to learn more about these two different materials and their different attributes.

Horseshoe Pit Using Clay

This is the material many people would be unfamiliar with. It is commonly found in competitive tournaments but is less common in casual play in parks or backyards. Those of us who have never been to a professional or competitive horseshoe tournament will have likely never seen it used before in horseshoe pits.

One reason it is less common than sand is the cost to fill a horseshoe pit with it. Clay is considerably more expensive to buy than sand or other cheap fillers like dirt or sawdust. Rocky Mountain Clay is a company that produces clay sells horseshoe pit clay in 600-pound loads for $220 a load.

To fill a standard size horseshoe pit that is 4′ by 3′ and 6 inches deep requires one load, and to make a full-court with two pits will take 1200 pounds. The standard freight cost to ship an order of this clay is another $115 (this is not a fixed cost, it can go higher depending on your location.)

After doing some calculations, this comes out to $555 to build a horseshoe court with two pits, which is a pretty hefty price.

  • Another reason that casual horseshoe players haven’t seen it used as much is because of what it takes to maintain a horseshoe pit with clay.
  • While it is an excellent surface for horseshoes when properly maintained, this is easier said than done.
  • While wet, clay is a soft pliable material that helps to catch horseshoes when tossed by players.
  • When dry, it becomes rock hard and cracks.
  • To prevent this, the clay must be kept moist and turned regularly.

Turning is sprinkling water on the top of the clay before using a shovel to turn over the top 2 – 3 inches of clay. This helps to keep the clay soft and wet throughout and provides an acceptable surface for horseshoes.

Turning can go wrong if the clay is oversaturated with water. When this happens, the clay turns into a “slick” or a loose slurry of clay and water. If slick builds up around the stake or on top of the pit, the pit will likely be unusable until it begins to dry out. Clay pits must be covered and continually kept watered when not in use.

When properly maintained clay is a superior pit material for competitive players. The goal of the pit is to prevent horseshoes from bouncing or sliding after they land in the pit. Soft clay meets both of these qualifications and does them better than a sandpit will.

Pitching a horseshoe on a clay pit is more difficult because your throws need to be more accurate and you cannot rely on your horseshoe sliding closer to the stake after landing.

Horseshoe Pit Using Sand

In contrast, sand is a material that most people have seen used in horseshoe pits. While the hard-packed sand at your local park isn’t completely true to pits used in competitive play, there are only small differences between a casual and professional’s sandpit.

First off, sand is much cheaper to use and replace than clay. While clay needs to be specifically bought from companies that produce it, sand can be bought from most local landscaping and outdoor companies.

For example, Home Depot has a 50-pound bag of sand for $5.67. In order to fill a standard horseshoe pit, this will cost you just under $47 or under $100 for a court (two pits). There’s no need to pay for freight since you can drive to your nearest store and easily load these into your vehicle.

  • In terms of maintenance, sand is much simpler than clay.
  • Both for competitive and casual play the sand will need to be evened out with a shoe or small shovel between horseshoe tosses to keep it flat.
  • If using an indoor court loose sand may need to be brushed back into the pit after play if sand is knocked outside by horseshoes.

You can try and prevent this by spraying the sand with water before beginning to toss the horseshoes. When not in use the sandpit can be covered, especially if it is outside, to prevent debris from contaminating the sand.

Sand is an inferior material for competitive play. As long as the pit is filled with several inches of sand the horseshoes won’t bounce when tossed. However, they will slide for a short distance after landing. This lessens the need for accurate tosses and is a reason that sand is less used in professional tournaments.

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Which Clays Should You Use?

Most locations that use clay horseshoe pits use a variety of common blue clay.

  • This is clay that can be found around the United States in construction sites or mining locations.
  • There are a variety of companies that take this rough clay and process it so that it has consistent qualities across the different batches.

Blue clay is more common than red clays because it sticks less to the horseshoes and doesn’t leave a residue on the horseshoes after use. Kentucky Blue Clay will be used in the pits during the next World Horseshoe Pitching Tournament.

Which Sands Should You Use?

When using sand, especially for casual players, there isn’t much difference between different types. You want to find sand that has a relatively even consistency across it and won’t clump up or harden.

An easy way to find sand like this is to look for sands like play sand. These sands are meant for children’s sandboxes and the sand particles are sifted to ensure they are softer than rough sand.

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