What is the Game of Horseshoes?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The game of horseshoes or horseshoe pitching is a game in which players attempt to encircle a stake with thrown horseshoes. It is closely related to quoits, a very similar game, and it has been played for centuries in Europe. Evidence suggests that the Greeks and Romans played some version of the game, and it was very popular in England by the 1800s. International players may compete for titles and prizes at competitions organized by various host nations.

Evidence suggests that the Greeks and Romans played some version of horseshoes.
Evidence suggests that the Greeks and Romans played some version of horseshoes.

The basic equipment for horseshoes is very simple. Players need a level court, a stake, and a set of horseshoes. Some companies sell the supplies for horseshoes, but people can also improvise with iron or wooden stakes and found shoes or shoes purchased from a farrier, a professional who specializes in shoeing. The shoes used in professional horseshoes have standardized sizes and weights, but in casual play, this is not as important.

Two to four players can play horseshoes in teams. The first team tosses its shoes in the direction of the stake, trying to land on the stake or as close to it as possible, and the second team follows suit. A horseshoe which manages to encircle the stake is called a ringer, after the characteristic sound it makes when it hits the stake, and it is worth three points. If a horseshoe is touching the stake, it is a leaner or hobber, worth two points. Finally, a single point is also awarded for whichever team lands a shoe closest to the ring without actually touching it. Casual games go to 21 points, while professionals may play for up to 70.

There are numerous variations on the rules for horseshoes, especially surrounding scoring. In some cases, horseshoes must land within a certain distance of the stake to be counted, for example. The length of the court also varies, and in some versions women are given an advantage by being allowed to throw from a position which is closer to the pole. The basics of the sport are relatively easy to learn, however, and some people find the sport to be an enjoyable method of relaxation.

In some regions, courts or pits for horseshoes are established in public places for recreational players to use at whim. This also allows them to meet other players and socialize. People can also set up horseshoe courts at home, or establish temporary ones at the beach and in other spots. While competitive by nature, the sport can also be very fun, especially in a big group of people taking turns.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I have this really cool set of colored horseshoes. I have one in red, blue, green and yellow. I got them at a game store in Boston a few years ago.

Anyone who has played horseshoes knows that one of the most frustrating parts of the game is losing a shoe. And it happens pretty often. But with these bright colored shoes it is almost impossible not to see them.


Pitching horseshoes is one of my favorite pastimes. I have a games set up on my land and I have thrown at least once probably every day for the last 10 years. I am pretty good but not the best. That title belongs to my son. He once threw ten ringers in a row.

I wish that there was some kind of professional league because he could really clean up. As it is it is just a hobby for us, a way to unwind at the end of a long day


Horseshoes is a great game and easy to play and set up. But be forewarned, any place that you play horseshoes for an extended period of time is going to turn in to a mud pit. Trust me. I know from experience.

Wherever you put the stakes, that patch of land is going to take a serious beating as it has horseshoes skidding against it over and over again. After only a few days you might be looking at twin mud pits. So pick the location of your game carefully, or at least switch it up after every few rounds

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