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Horseshoe Rules – An Official Guide

Horseshoe Rules

The game of horseshoes is synonymous with summertime fun. As an easy game to set up and even easier to play, the whole family can enjoy this classic backyard game. The rules are simple and you can teach them to anyone very quickly. As long as you have the required equipment and space, you can spend hours tossing shoes back and forth.

Play one on one or two versus two; either way, the rules stay the same. If you start to love it and get pretty good, chances are there is a league in your community that already exists. A quick search online could lead you to a whole new world of enjoyment. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We have to learn the rules of playing horseshoes first before we start competing in leagues…

Good news – horseshoes is a popular game because you don’t need a lot of equipment to play! Start with the basics, and you can always upgrade items as required.

Horseshoes — You will need horseshoes that weigh no more than 2lbs 10oz. The width of a horseshoe should be 7 ¼” and the length 7 ⅝”.

Stakes — Two metal stakes are required, one for each pit. The stakes should be roughly 30” long so that 15 inches of the stake can be exposed above the surface of the pit. Place them 40 feet apart from each other.

Pits — If you are not playing on a beach, then this is a requirement. The pit is used to absorb the shock of a thrown horseshoe and keep it from excessively bouncing. A pit should measure 4’ long and 3’ wide. The long side should be parallel to the direction in which you are throwing.

If you haven’t already got the kit, then check out our best horseshoe set reviews.

How To Play

Two or four people generally play horseshoes at a time. With four people, split into two teams of two and have one player from each team be at opposite ends.

How To Play Horseshoe

To play horseshoe:

  1. Flip a coin or a horseshoe to decide who goes first
  2. Each player pitches their horseshoes consecutively
  3. Once each player throws both their shoes, the points are added up

For a shoe to score, it must be within a horseshoe’s width from the stake. You can score two points if both of your shoes are closer to the stake than your opponent’s shoes.


Shoes pitched completely surrounding the stake is called a ringer. To confirm this, use a straight edge object to connect the two points of your horseshoe. If a straight line can connect the two points without touching the stake, then one ringer scores. The scoring system counts ringers as three points.

If you score one ringer on top of your opponent’s ringer in the same end, we use cancellation scoring, and neither counts. The next closest horseshoe will score, provided it’s within a horseshoe width of the stake.


A leaner is when a horseshoe leans upon the opposite stake. If your opponent also scores a leaner, the two cancel each other out according to official rules. There are no varying degrees of leaners. If you score any kind of leaner in the game of horseshoes, then that player scores two points.


To throw your horseshoe, you must stay behind the foul line within the pitching box. This is either a marked or imaginary line that is set 3 feet in front of your stake. So if the opposite stake is 40 feet away, you need only throw your shoe 37 feet from the front of the pitching box.

Pitching horseshoes must always be done underhand. This will not only provide better accuracy, but it’s also the safest way to maintain control over your shoe.

Scoring Rules

Play continues from pit to pit until one team scores 21 points. The first to do so wins the game. You can also designate a shoe limit, and whoever has the most points will be the winner once the shoe limit is hit. Local rules can apply, and you can play to whichever score you see fit.

Top Tips To Win At Horseshoe

The easiest way to win at horseshoes is to get as many ringers as possible. To do this, you must have a consistent throw. Unlike other activities, there is minimal variation in the gameplay. The metal stake is always the same pitching distance and doesn’t move, and your horseshoe is the same weight, and you are in complete control of it. Use this to your advantage and develop a repetitive throwing technique.

If you can throw the same way every time, you will increase your chances of getting more ringers. Also, your bad shots won’t be that bad, and hopefully, points are scored there as well. Find a comfortable routine that you can repeat over and over again.

Just like a pitcher in baseball or a basketball player about to take a free throw, always go through the same motions to make good throws habitual.

Frequently Asked Questions

The stakes in horseshoes are 40 feet apart from each other. They should be positioned at least 21 inches away from all sides of the pit to allow enough room for errant shots to land softly. When throwing, you may throw from the foul line. This line is three feet in front of the stake, so players need only throw their shoe 37 feet, even though the stakes are 40 feet to the opposite end.

No, you do not have to get exactly 21 to win in horseshoes according to America’s official rules. You may go over 21 if necessary. This game is simply a race to see which team or competitor can get to 21 the fastest. Once 21 is hit, the game is immediately finished.

A ringer in horseshoes is worth three points. For a horseshoe to count as a ringer, it must completely surround the stake. To confirm a ringer, use a straight edge to connect the two points of the horseshoe. If they can be connected without touching the stake, that is a legal ringer, and three points are scored.

The best place to stand when throwing horseshoes is as close to the foul line as possible. By doing so, you will shorten the distance needed to throw and thus increase your margin for error. The foul line is located three feet in front of each stake. Therefore, even though stakes are 40 feet away, a player throwing needs to cover only 37 feet with their throw.

Yes, you can play horseshoe on grass, but it is not advisable without proper pits. The grass is not as absorbent as sand and will cause the horseshoes to bounce a lot. This can be dangerous for other players and spectators since horseshoes are made of thick metal.


The rules of horseshoes are simple, which is why this game has become so popular over the years. Although classified as a backyard game, there are still league competitions and organized horseshoes happening all over the country, for example with the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association. However, this is a great game to enjoy with family on a hot summer afternoon. All ages can participate, and games can be played relatively quickly if everyone knows the rules. Grab yourself a couple of stakes and a few horseshoes, and give it a try – the most crucial part being that you have fun!

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