Skip to Content

How to Play Horseshoes: Horseshoes Rules Guide

Have you ever played horseshoes before? Are you wanting to learn how? Are you in need of an easy guide to follow to get started? If you are asking yourself any of these questions, this article can help you find some answers and have some fun while learning how to play horseshoes.

To learn the rules of horseshoes and some helpful tips, keep reading!

How To Set Up A Horseshoe Game

To set up a game of horseshoes is fairly simple, but important in order to have a good game.

The dimensions of the court should be 50×10 feet with 6 stakes placed either 30 or 40 feet apart from one another. The stakes should be set in a 6×6 box, either physical or metaphorical. As far as what horseshoes to use, tradition states that the horseshoe should be 7 1/4 inches wide and 7 5/8 inches in length.

Check out our full article about the dimensions of the horseshoe court here.

A standard weight is no heavier than 2 pounds 10 ounces, and while you could use a lighter weighted horseshoe you should keep in mind that you do want some weight to help reach farther when you throw it.

Once this is all set up, you are ready to start playing!

You can find great Horseshoe Sets Here from Amazon that have great ratings for a decent price. That’s where we got our family set.

Rules and Scoring: How to Play Horseshoes

In the game of horseshoes, there are 7 simple rules to follow.

Rule 1:

Similar to the game of baseball, the overall game is split into innings and instead of 9 innings like baseball, there is 25 innings total. If this intimidates you, don’t worry they go pretty fast. During each inning, each player will throw twice.

Rule 2:

In order to decide who throws first, you can either toss a coin or a shoe.

Rule 3:

When a shoe has been thrown by a player and is either in the air or on the ground, is referred to as a “pitched shoe”.

Rule 4:

All other players that are not currently throwing a shoe are required to stand behind the person that is throwing and are not allowed to interfere in their turn.

Rule 5:

The player that has just thrown their shoe is not allowed to walk toward the stakes or toward their “pitched shoe” until the inning is ended.

Rule 6:

When a shoe is thrown and lands out of the designated court area, they are considered “pitched shoes”, although they are also considered a foul and the player does not receive a point for that throw.

Fouls can be given for the following reasons:

  • an improper throwing of a shoe
  • a player neglecting to stay behind their opponent when throwing to cause distraction or disruption
  • touching “pitched shoes” before the inning is over
  • if a shoe hits the edges of the court or outside of the court
  • and stepping on or over the foul line.

Rule 7:

If at the end of all 25 innings the score is a tie, the tie can be broken by extending the game an extra inning.

How to Count Points

Now that all the rules have been set, how do you score to know who’s winning? There are 6 elements to scoring a game of horseshoes:

Element 1:

The “pitched shoe” that was thrown and landed closest to the stake earns the player 1 point. The caveat is that the shoe must be within 6 inches range of the stake.

Element 2:

The two “pitched shoes” that are the closest to the stake versus the closest opponent’s shoe receive 2 points.

Element 3:

If a player throws a shoe and scores a “ringer”, that will automatically give that player 3 points. In addition to that, if they score another ringer in any other inning after that, they will receive 6 points from that ringer. (source)

Element 4:

Similar to the third element, if a player scores a “ringer” and causes a former horseshoe that already had a “ringer” to have another one, they will receive 3 points.

Element 5:

If at the end of an inning, all shoes are the “pitched” the same distance from the stake it is a tie and no one will receive points for that inning.

Element 6:

If the shoe is thrown and lands leaning either against the stake or the edge of the court, it still has the same value as a shoe that is laying flat on the ground.

What Is a Ringer?

A ringer is the action of a “pitched shoe” circling around the stake multiple times. As we discussed above in regards to scoring, when you score a ringer you earn 3 points unless the following player scores a “ringer” and moves your horseshoe off the stake. (source)

It is not uncommon for it to be questionable whether or not a “ringer” was scored. You can determine this by measuring the edge of the horseshoe in question to the stake by using a straight edge.

If the straight edge reaches the opening of the horseshoe, that determines that there was no “ringer” scored. If the straight edge does not touch the opening of the horseshoe, a “ringer” was scored and that player will receive 3 points.

You can find great Horseshoe Sets Here from Amazon that have great ratings for a decent price. That’s where we got our family set.

Does a Leaner Count in Horseshoes?

A leaner is a “pitched shoe” that has hit the stake but landed diagonal, leaning against the stake as opposed to landing flat on the ground. It is important to note that leaners do not count for any more points than shoes that score a “ringer”.

If one player were to score a leaner and then the following player was to score a ringer right after, they would cancel each other out and neither player would earn points from that inning.

Ultimately, if your technique is trying to score points with leaners, it probably won’t go over very well for you. Leaners only earn points if they are the closest horseshoes to the stake at the end of the inning, other than that relying on leaners to get you points is not the way to win a game of horseshoes.

Can You Bust in Horseshoes? (Go Over 21 Points)

You can either play highest score after a certain amount of innings wins, or first to a set score wins. A fun addition is to add a bust rule.

You can bust in horseshoes if you’re playing with bust rules in place. That means if you score over 21 points, you must subtract that overage from your score and continue playing. You may only win by ending an inning with 21 points exactly.

For example, if you were to have 17 points and then throw the shoe and score 7 points, you would then have 24 points in total. When this happens it is called a “bust” because you have scored a number of points that have pushed your overall score above 21

You scored 3 points above 21 so you will end that inning with a score of (21-3) 18.

Proper Horseshoe Throwing Techniques

In the game of horseshoes, you definitely can just give it a go and throw in whatever way feels natural to you, but there are some techniques and tips that could help you score better.

To begin, you will want to start standing in a position that will allow enough space and room for you to take a step forward as you throw while still staying behind the line that enters the court. It would be ideal to step forward with the foot that matches the hand that you are throwing with whether that be your right or left hand.

When you begin to pitch, you will want to hold the horseshoe parallel to the ground with the opening of the horseshoe pointed towards the ground.

When you position your hand to throw you should intend to throw the horseshoe clockwise which means that depending on which hand you are throwing with, that will determine whether you throw the horseshoe left or right.

While this next technique is not always possible to accomplish every time, you should always aim to have the opening of the horseshoe facing the stake when it lands. It will be trial and error to figure this out, but a key component is the amount of force you throw with.

  • In addition to the amount of force you throw with, you will also have to keep in consideration the amount of weight you put on each foot.
  • You will want to have equal weight on each foot to help you have a steady base when you throw for the benefit and safety of yourself and the horseshoe.

When you do release the horseshoe from the throw, make sure that your body is centered towards the target, your knees are kept bent and flexible, and you keep your eyes on the stake instead of the horseshoe.

You can find great Horseshoe Sets Here from Amazon that have great ratings for a decent price. That’s where we got our family set.

Horseshoe Game Courtesies

There are always ways to implement good sportsmanship and the game of horseshoes is no different.

The first courtesy is to make sure that when you are not the one throwing, to stand a safe distance away from the court.

Even if your teammate is the one throwing, it is just safer and more polite to let them have their space to make the throw than to have people right next to them.

The second courtesy is to be aware of your surroundings when you are holding a horseshoe and especially when you are the one throwing it.

You don’t want to let the horseshoe out of your control and then end up leaving the court and hitting someone. An easy way to do this is to check all around you when you step up to throw and make sure all the other players are sufficiently far back from the space where you are throwing.

The third courtesy is to leave the person who is throwing alone.

This means that in addition to being physically removed from the space they are throwing in, you should avoid distracting them in any way. This could include yelling, teasing, throwing things, etc.

The fourth courtesy is simple.

Observe all the playing rules that were previously discussed. This will help ensure a fun and fair game for everyone.

The next courtesy is to keep all emotions under control.

This is the basis of sportsmanship. If you cannot avoid getting into heated arguments and disagreements then you should probably excuse yourself from the game. Heightened emotions can cause more problems than their worth when the game is just supposed to be to have a good time.

The last courtesy is to be present while the game is going on.

No one wants to have to go and find a player that wandered off when it is their turn to throw. This also is helpful to keep track of an accurate score as well as to avoid getting hurt because you weren’t paying attention and weren’t aware of your surroundings.

Common Horseshoe Terminology

The game of horseshoes has its own terminology and if you haven’t played it before, it can get rather confusing.

Here are a few common terms and their meanings for you to become familiar with:

Calks: On the ends of a horseshoe there are lifted ends on both sides of the opening. These are on the horseshoe to help it not skid and move after it lands.

Double Ringer: We already have discussed that a ringer is when a horseshoe completely circles the stake, a double ringer is when the horseshoe circles the stake two times around.

Flipped-up Shoe: This is a similar process to flipping a coin in football to see which team will act first, but you are flipping a horseshoe instead of a coin.

Inning: Again similar to an inning in baseball, it is a period of time that the player throws two rounds of horseshoes on the court.

Pitcher’s Box: This is the area where the game is played, which includes the stake at the end that the players will throw to.

Leaner: If a shoe is thrown and lands with one of its ends leaning against the stake it is considered a “leaner”.

Sharing is caring!