How to Play Horseshoes: Great Backyard Games


When it comes to backyard summer games, horseshoes is a true classic. Whether you choose to play at the beach in the sand or just in your yard, pitching some shoes is guaranteed fun.

This is the fifth and final installment in our Great Backyard Games series. Don't miss my earlier posts on how to play petanque, badminton, croquet, and frisbee.


Horseshoes, stakes, and the sand pitThe Equipment:

To play horseshoes, all you need are four shoes and two stakes. For true regulation play, you should create two sand pits about 40 feet apart with the stake positioned in the center of each pit. This is fairly simple to create on your own. My friends made their own playing field by digging out two rectangle pits, throwing in a bit of concrete to anchor the stakes, and filling the pits with sand from the hardware store.




horseshoes backyard pits
My friends created their own backyard pits for horseshoes.

If you want to create your own backyard pit, the NHPA (National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America) has directions for you.

Too much trouble? You can also simply drive the stake into sand or grass. Just be aware that as the horseshoes hit the stake, the stake will move, shift, and possibly be dislodged from the ground during the course of play.

Playing the Game:

Horseshoes can be played by two individuals or two teams. A good old-fashioned coin toss determines who will pitch first.

We play our own version of backyard horseshoes. Each game is divided up into innings. During each inning, each player gets to pitch two shoes. The goal is to "ring" the stake with the horseshoe. Ringing means that the horseshoe must be hooked on the stake and that both ends of the horseshoe must clear the stake.

Want to learn the official playing rules? Take a peek at the NHPA's playing rules.

A leaner earns two points


Ringers are worth three points. Leaners (the horseshoes that lean on the stake) are worth two points. When there are no ringers or leaners in a game, the person who throws the horseshoe the closest to the stake earns one point. However, to qualify for a point, the horseshoe must be within a shoe's length distance of the stake.

If player one rings the stake and then player two rings the stake on top of the first shoe, then it's player two who earns the three points. This is one of our quirky rules, and I believe that in more traditional games, no one scores if two ringers are thrown back to back.

Only one player can receive points for an inning.

A total of 15 points is the overall goal and will end the game.

Where to Play:

The three best places to pitch shoes are backyards, parks, and beaches. Some parks and beaches may already be equipped with horseshoe pits.

Where to Buy:

My friends really love their St. Pierre American Professional Series Horseshoe Set ($39.99) from

Target offers a nice set of silver and gold Franklin Sports Horseshoes ($19.99).

To be honest, horseshoes are quite heavy and not suited for children. There are some wonderful kid-friendly horseshoe sets available, though.

Back to Basics Toys has a set of rubber horseshoes ($11.99) that would be great for the kids who want to play alongside the adults.

Do you play horseshoes?


Images via Shari Altman

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