Official Rules of Horseshoes

Horseshoes and stake

Horseshoes is a popular game played with four horseshoes and two or four players. Horseshoes are pitched at a stake in the ground with the aim of hooking them around the stake. It can be played in backyards, parks, beaches and wherever you can put a stake in the ground. Although a variety of rules and regulations exist, many games are played using the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America's official rules.


Horseshoe courts are 6 feet wide and 46 feet long. At the center of each end is an area called the pitching box which is 6 feet square. Within this is a rectangle called the pit that measures 43 to 72 inches long and 31 to 36 inches wide. The pit is filled with sand, clay, sawdust or any other material that will minimize the pitched horseshoes bouncing. A metal stake that sticks up 14 to 15 inches is driven into the middle of each pit so that they are 40 feet apart, with the stakes leaning 3 inches toward the opposing stake.

Game Play

Each player has two horseshoes that weigh around 40 ounces. These are specially made for the game and are larger and heavier than the type used on horses. A coin toss is used to decide who will pitch first. The player stands in the pitching box alongside the pit and throws both his horseshoes at the opposite stake, one after the other. The second player then does the same. This constitutes one inning. With four players, one from each team pitches from one end, and the other team members pitch from the opposite end. After pitching, the scores are calculated and players move to the other end to pitch.

Rules and Fouls

Players must make all pitches in the game with the same hand, and should throw both shoes within 30 seconds. A foul line is marked 3 feet in front of each stake, so that the pitching distance is 37 feet. For juniors, women and elderly contestants, the foul line is only 27 feet from the opposite stake. If a player steps over the line before releasing the shoe, it is a foul.


Games can be played so that the first to 40 points wins, or 40 horseshoes are played and the player with most points wins. Shoes that encircle the stake are worth 3 points each and are called ringers. Shoes within 6 inches of the stake are worth 1 point, and those further away get no score. A player with both shoes closer than the opponents gets 2 points. Cancellation scoring allows one ringer to cancel out the opponent's ringer, so that there is no score. If there is a tie at the end of the game, another two innings can be played.