Assuming that you are a spectator on the sidelines of a public court, you
will see an expert player perform this way. (right handed pitcher)
The player takes a position on the pitcher's platform, to one side opposite
the stake. Placing the feet carefully, so he/she is well balanced, standing
erect. Gripping the shoe, extending it to full-arm length in front. He/she holds
the shoe -caulks down- at about a 45° angle to the ground. Swinging it up on a
level with the eyes, sighting it at the opposite stake. Bending slightly at the
knees and leaning forward at the waist, he/she swings the shoe backward in an
easy manner. A split second before the backswing is completed, he/she steps
forward. This delivery-step is executed with the foot that is opposite the
delivery-arm. The shoe does not pause at the end of the backswing. The arm
swings forward, straight from the shoulder, like the pendulum of a clock. As the
shoe passes the standing leg, in the front-swing, he/she brings it to a level
position with a free, natural roll of the arm. At this exact moment, the
delivery-step is completed and the body-weight is smoothly shifted to the left
foot. The right knee straightens up to its natural position and the body rises
with the swing. He/she releases the shoe as it swings up in line with the eyes
and the opposite stake.
Released in a level position, the shoe leaves the hand cleanly. The release
is effected with a deft and delicate wrist-motion. There is no jerk or snap of
the arm and wrist. After releasing the shoe, the player's hand swings up, above
the head, in a graceful follow-through. At no time is there any lost-motion in
the delivery. All movements are smooth and well-coordinated. The shoe floats
lazily through the air in an arc that is about 8 feet high at its highest point.
(The height of the trajectory varies with different players.) Wobbling as it
travels, the shoe begins to "break open" just before it crosses the foul line of
the pitcher's box. The shoe drops open-end-first onto the stake. There is a
sharp clink as the shoe encircles the stake. A ringer! A few moments later, the
second shoe is sent on its way to land on top of the first one. A double ringer!
The Fundamentals of the Delivery
Wherever horseshoe pitchers gather to play, you can see many different
styles used in delivering. Some of these styles are smooth and correct. But many
others are not. Merely picking up a pitching shoe and throwing it does not mean
that a person can control it. On many occasions, you can hear a great deal about
the importance of the delivery. But, all too often, the fundamentals that go to
make up the delivery do not receive enough attention. Even though a horseshoe
may represent a symbol of luck to some people, there is little or no luck
involved in pitching ringers. Nor is there any shortcut that will quickly
transform a novice into an expert player. Many hours of patient and correct
practice are necessary to develop a good pitcher.
Described and analyzed are the necessary basic-fundamentals in their proper
sequence. These are: (1) The pitching grips; (2) Stance; (3) Footwork; (4)
Pendulum swing; (5) The follow-through; (6) Timing and rhythm.
The Pitching Grips and Different Turns
A beginner must start with a proper hold on the shoe. It is impossible to
establish a fixed rule relative to the grips. Very few of the champions hold and
deliver their shoes alike. This is because of the variation in the size and
shape of their hands, the length of their fingers and methods of release.
There are several ways of gripping a horseshoe to make it land "open" at the
stake. With the grip for the one and one-quarter (1 1/4) turn, it is possible to
also throw the one-quarter (1/4) turn, and two and one-quarter (2 1/4), and the
three and one-quarter (3 1/4) turn. The one and three-quarter (1 3/4) grip can
be used for the three-quarter (3/4) turn and the two and three-quarter (2 3/4)
turn. Then there are the single and double flop shoes. These are frequently
called "tumble" shoes. Sometimes a turn and a flop are combined. Backward or
reverse turns are quite common.
With the exception of the one and one-quarter and the one and three-quarter
turns, all the others are considered unorthodox and are called "freak" or "off"
turns. A few pitchers have become skillful enough with some of the "freak" turns
to win a state championship title. As a rule, however, an off-turn pitcher
cannot play a consistent game.
The "turns" given a horseshoe are indicated by the number of revolutions it
makes in flight. To make a shoe turn either 1 1/4 or 1 3/4 times around in
flight, it must be held by one or the other of its two shanks. When picking up a
horseshoe, the proper way to hold it is with the fingers wrapped around one of
the shanks. The thumb extends across the top of the shank. It is very much like
holding a dinner plate between your finger and thumb. The index or forefinger
and middle fingers go underneath. But here, the comparison with the dinner plate
ends because the first joints of the fingers curve up over the edge of the
inner-circle of the shoe. The
third finger may be used like the index and middle fingers. Or, if the little
finger is small and unable to balance the shoe alone, the third finger is used
to assist the little finger. Some authorities call this the "gun-handle grip."
That is a good definition too because the grip is very much like that used on a
pistol-butt, with the forefinger acting as "the trigger finger."
Hold for 1 3/4 turn Hold for
1 1/4 turn
While holding for the 1 1/4 turn, the opening of
the shoe is to the left. With the 1 3/4 turn, the
opening is to the right. This explanation applies if the player is right-handed.
Left-handers or "southpaws" hold the opposite way.
To balance your shoe best, grip it about halfway between the heel and toe
caulks. A few days practice will show whether your grip should be shifted a
little either way to perfect the balance. If you want a more full-hand grip,
shift the weight of the shoe from the first to the main joint of your index
finder. This places the shoe farther back in your palm. The best way to place
your thumb is straight across the shank. If you want to change the pointing of
your shoe, merely shift your grip and change the pointing of your thumb. Don't
try the obsolete method of curving your forefinger around one of the heel
caulks! That is as outmoded as the Model T Ford. The correct balance and turn
cannot be secured in any way but the way out-lined.
Features of the One and Three-Quarter Turn
The 1 3/4 turn requires a slightly different muscular action of the arm and
a little more wrist-action than the 1 1/4 turn. Having an additional half-turn
to make, the 1 3/4 shoe opens a little slower. It is not so easily affected by
wind as other type shoes. Most players using the 1 3/4 turn, find that the shoe
balances better when held near the toe. It can be pitched fairly low and made to
wobble nicely in flight. ( A good flight wobble is desirable.) As a rule,
however, the 1 3/4 shoe must be pitched higher than the 1 1/4 shoe. As stated
before, it needs more time to complete the extra half-turn and "break open."
Gripping the shoe near the heel makes it open more quickly. Actually, it
does not turn any faster, but when held near the heel - with the thumb in a
parallel position to the shank - the shoe is already turned in the hand. In
reality, this is a one and five-eighths turn. When gripped near the toe, the
opening of the shoe is pointed halfway between the right and front. (That is
when the shoe is extended, in the flat position, before the player.) This is, in
reality, a one and seven-eighth turn. However, regardless of the pointing of the
shoe, the turn is called the one and three-quarter. The slightest change in your
grip will make a difference in the way your shoe balances and turns. Pitchers
with long, supple swings, find it unnecessary to hold their shoes near the heel
to secure enough turns.
Features of the One and One-Quarter Turn
As a rule the 1 1/4 turn requires more careful attention than the 1 3/4
turn. Less wrist-motion is required to pitch the 1 1/4 turn. It is easier to
watch in flight. It can be pitched rather low and made to wobble nicely in
flight. Usually, the fingers are spread a little more widely on the shank of the
shoe. Holding the 1 1/4 shoe near the toe, with the thumb placed in a parallel
position of the shank, makes it a one and one-eight turn. Gripping near the heel
will produce a one and three-eighths turn. However, this turn is always called
the one and one-quarter. It is not as good a wind shoe as the 1 3/4 shoe. A slow
turning 1 1/4 shoe that lands too flat is likely to rebound off the stake. But
when given a good wobble and made to hook the stake from the right and left
sides, the 1 1/4 shoe is very effective.
How to select a Turn
To find out which turn is best for your style of pitching, experiment with
both for awhile. Choose the one that is easiest to control. After selecting the
turn you prefer, stay with it until you master it. Don't try to change your grip
and turn to conform to that of every expert you meet. Some players, after using
a turn for years, try to improve their pitching by changing to the other turn.
After doing this, they may play well for awhile, then begin to "get off" their
game. This adverse reaction may be due to the fact that their muscles have been
trained for a long time to function for the first turn. When the novelty of the
second turn has worn off, the player begins to lose control because his muscles
have not been properly trained for the new turn.
Some players can switch turns without much difficulty. Many of the experts
can throw all the various turns, but rely on their most natural one for
competitive playing. The average pitcher will do best by sticking to his
original turn, providing it is one of the two championship turns.
Unorthodox or "Off" Turns
Without correct instruction, many beginners make a great mistake by starting
with the three-quarter (3/4) turn. Because it is easy to watch in flight, they
deceive themselves by thinking it is their natural turn. Here are several
reasons why the three-quarter turn is a poor one:
(1) To be controlled in the air, the shoe must be delivered in a low, swift
manner. This calls for a stiff-armed delivery on the part of the player. After
using a stiff arm for awhile, he/she finds it difficult to change to a better
turn. (2) A shoe that turns less than 1 1/4 times in flight is hard to control
because it does not have enough flight-wobble to break the velocity of its fall.
It goes too straight on the stake. More ringers are lost, due to rebound, with
the three-quarter turn than any other, with the possible exception of the
flop-over shoes. (3) The way the three-quarter shoe must be delivered prevents a
player from keeping a consistent line on the stakes. To keep the shoe from
turning too much, he/she has to swing it by the leg in a flat or horizontal
position. To avoid fouling the shoe against the leg, he/she has to either pull
the leg inward at the knee or swing the shoe farther out or away from the leg.
Either method prevents him/her from keeping the swing in line with the stake.
It is possible to make most of the shoes land open with the three-quarter
turn. But there is much more to pitching horseshoes than merely throwing an open
shoe. Zipping low and swiftly through the air, the three-quarter shoe often
skids out of scoring distance when it misses the stake. Very few players are
able to pitch over 60% ringers with it.
A turn that is faster than the 1 3/4 is difficult to watch and control. It
turns too fast to permit the accurate timing required for it to arrive open at
the stake. Besides, pitching a fast-turning shoe requires too much arm and wrist
effort, which works a hardship on the player. The poorest turns of all are the
single and double-flop (tumble) shoes. That is a shoe that turns end over end,
instead of around, in flight. The least bit of wind affects them adversely. Like
the three-quarter turn shoes, the flop-over shoes go too straight on the stake
and rebound badly.
Exceptions Prove the Rule
There are exceptions to these rules, but they only serve to prove the rules,
to use an old cliché.
Curt Day of IN won the 1966 and 1971 World Title with a 3/4 reverse.
Harold Reno of OH won the 1961 and 1964 World Title with a reverse 1 1/4 turn
and Danny Kuchcinski, formerly of PA, won the World Title in 1967, 1969 and 1970
with a reverse.
However these three exceptions tend to prove the fundamental rules. All have
tremendous natural accuracy which is probably superior to all other players.
Furthermore the swing step, rhythm and timing of these experts is almost letter
perfect and fundamentally sound. All throw their reverse turn in a natural
fashion. Day was formerly a star softball pitcher and his release of the shoe
which gives it the reverse turn comes naturally because of the style he
developed pitching softball.
Both Reno and Day seem to lose more ringers from bouncing off the stake in
national competition than other top players which is the biggest fault to be
found with unorthodox turns because of the extra force and effort which must be
put into the delivery.
Turning the Shoe
Without proper instruction, many beginners acquire the bad habit of forcing
their turns with their wrists. When held and delivered correctly, the shoe - not
the player - does most of the work. The late Guy Zimmerman, who was one of the
world's top-flight pitchers, gave the following instructions about securing the
"Hold your shoe at full-arm length before you. Swing it - in the flat
position -up so it is in line with your eyes and the opposite stake. As you
start your back-swing, turn the shoe to the vertical position. Keep the shoe in
this position until after if passes your leg in your forward swing. Then, bring
the shoe back to a level position with a free, natural roll of your arm. Keep
your wrist stiff and in its natural position. As the shoe again comes up into a
direct line with your eyes and the opposite stake, relax your fingers and
release. Be sure to release your shoe in a level position so it will land flat
and 'dead.' Otherwise, the shoe will land on edge and roll."
Most top players make their aim-point correspond with their release-point.
This prevents a variation in the length of their swing. Swing your shoe back and
forth in the vertical position. Note the slight pull exerted on your fingers as
the shoe starts to level into release position. Just for an experiment, swing
the shoe back and forth while letting it hang vertically from only one or two
fingers. Notice how the shoe almost levels itself with your arm roll. Your wrist
merely turns with your arm as the shoe swings into a level or release-position.
This deft, delicate movement of your wrist is all that is necessary to secure
your turn. This wrist-motion is commonly called "wrist-snap" or "wrist-flip."
However, this definition is incorrect. Several different motions can be made
with the wrist without "snapping" or "flipping" it. Prove this for yourself. Let
your arm hang naturally at your side. Touch your thigh with your palm. Swing
your arm up in front of you, letting your palm turn upward, with a free, natural
roll of your arm. There is not "wrist-snap" involved in such a motion,
regardless of how fast you do it.
The late Guy Zimmerman, a former world champion, described the wrong method
of securing the turn: "When you hold your shoe in the flat or horizontal
position, during your swing, your arm is deprived of its free, natural roll.
Thus, the only way the shoe can be made to turn is to force it with a snap or
jerk of your arm and wrist. This works a hardship on your arm. Your shoes will
not open consistently because you cannot regulate the turn with your wrist
alone. It is difficult to swing the shoe - in the flat position - by your leg
without fouling. Like the three-quarter turn pitcher, you must either pull your
leg inward or swing the shoe farther away from your leg. Either way is not
conducive to consistent alignment."
Regulating the Turn
Much patient practice is required to master a turn. A beginner usually
starts by spinning the shoe too much. The grip and method of delivery should
keep the shoe from turning less than twice in flight. For the maximum of
control, a shoe must turn more than one and less than twice around during
flight. If your turn is too slow, raise your trajectory. (Flight elevation of
your shoe.) If your turn is too fast, lower the elevation. In other words, to
speed the turn, swing the shoe up a little more in the vertical position before
leveling it into release position. To retard or slow down the turn, level the
shoe into the flat or horizontal position a little more quickly before
releasing. Shifting the grip a little up (nearer the toe) and down (nearer the
heel) on the shank of the shoe will also speed and retard the turn. But raising
and lowering the trajectory is the best method of regulating the turn because no
variation of the grip is necessary.
It is difficult to describe the release because it occurs too quickly for
the eye to follow. The best way to study your release is through the eye of a
slow-motion video camera. But video cameras are not always available for this
purpose; nevertheless, you can learn a great deal about your release by
employing slow-motion in your delivery during practice.
Your grip should be firm, yet flexible, neither too tight nor too loose.
Holding too tightly causes undue strain on the hand and wrist. Besides, it may
cause your shoe to either turn too much or flop over in flight. If your grip is
not firm enough, the shot may either fail to turn enough or slip from your
fingers before you are ready to release. Finger control is very important. To
release your shoe correctly, you must train your fingers to relax at precisely
the right time. This split-second action becomes automatic with practice.
Your release-point should correspond with your aim-point. Your finger
positions on the shoe's shank must be correct and they must not be allowed to
slip during the swing. Your turn is entirely dependent on the way you grip,
swing and release your shoe. All your fingers - not just a certain one - along
with your thumb, are the governors of your release. Study your release closely.
Notice that your forefinger ("trigger finger") remains in contact with the shoe
longer than your other fingers and thumb. Thus, your forefinger imparts the
final influence to the shoe.
When preparing to deliver, extend arm. Hold the shoe - caulks down - in the
flat position. Grip it just tight enough with the fingers and thumb to keep it
from tipping down. The weight-feel of the shoe should impart the proper finger
tension for a firm, yet flexible, grip. When released, the shoe must leave your
hand cleanly. Don't let it slide off your fingers. The less drag on your finger
the better. Don't try to effect the release with a jerk of your arm or wrist.
Let the shoe flow smoothly from your hand.
At this point, you have been instructed as to the proper ways of gripping,
turning and releasing your shoe. Now you must learn the correct stance and
Ted Allen, one of the greatest champions in the history of horseshoes,
regards proper stance as one of the most important fundamentals.
Several different methods of stance are popular among experts. At no time
should you stand rigid or tense. Your body should be naturally erect, with all
your muscles free from tension. Most good pitchers assume a slight crouch. Stand
to one side, on a line about even with the stake. Stand on the pitcher's
platform - not in the clay around the stake. A right-handed player should stand
to the left of the stake. A left-hander takes his position on the right-hand
side of the stake. Thus, you keep your delivery-arm in line with the stakes.
The stakes are the center of the alignment. Each stake leans three inches
toward the other. When you deliver from the wrong side of the stake, you are
pitching crossfire or off center of the alignment. Not only that, you are
pitching several inches farther than necessary and it is difficult to gauge your
step properly. Always pitch from the same side of the stake at both ends of the
court, i.e., if you stand to the left of the stake at the south end of the
court, stand on the left at the north end.
One of the most popular methods of stance is with the left foot six or eight
inches back of the right. All of the body-weight rests on the right foot. The
left foot is merely used to balance the body. As you swing your shoe backward,
relax your right hip and knee and bend slightly forward at the waist. Your
weight remains on your right foot until your forward step is completed. Then
your body-weight is smoothly shifted to your left foot. Your body straightens up
as you swing forward and release. Such is the style of many top-ranking players.
Some experts stand with the left foot a few inches ahead of the right foot.
Others stand with both feet together. Either way, the body-weight is chiefly on
the right foot. (That is, if the player is right-handed.) Regardless of the
method you adopt, always assume a "square stance." That is, stand squarely
facing the opposite stake, with your shoulders square with the court. Point your
right toe straight at the opposite stake. Your left foot, whether a few inches
ahead or behind your right, should be parallel with your right foot. Don't allow
your right toe to point off to the right. This may off balance you just enough
to cause you to pitch to the right of the stake.
Be sure that you are well-balanced before starting your delivery. Perfect
balance means perfect coordination and accurate alignment. The square,
well-balanced stance will become a habit with practice. Here is why such a
"habit" should be cultivated right at the start: A player pitches 100 shoes and
makes 60 ringers. He/she fails to get ringers with 40 of the shoes. About 15% of
the misses are due to a poor turn trajectory. The remaining 85% of the misses
are due to poor alignment, most of which is caused by the careless way of
The delivery-step governs the swing and follow-through to a great degree.
This step serves a twofold purpose. It makes it easier for the player to swing
the shoe and maintain balance. Employ a normal step, like that used when
walking. A short, easy stride is sufficient to place ample propelling power
behind your shoe. A too long step will throw you off balance and cause a too low
trajectory. The step is started a split second before the arm reaches the summit
of its back-swing. The step is completed about the moment the shoe passes the
standing leg, during the front-swing. The step must be perfectly timed with the
A right-handed player should step forward with his left foot. A left-hander
should go ahead on his right foot. A perfect co-ordination of the right arm and
left leg (or vice versa) enables a player to develop a longer swing, a smooth
follow-through and a well-balanced delivery. Always step and swing directly
toward your mark. Be careful not to acquire the bad habit of cross-stepping.
Stepping out of line is one of the most common faults to overcome. A
"pigeon-toed" step (turning the toe inward) throws the body off balance and
ruins the alignment. Proper footwork is one of the secrets of balance and timing
in all sports. It is too bad that so many pitchers fail to realize this.
Some rather good right-handed players step ahead with the right foot. But,
very few champions are developed with this form. Such a method of footwork
throws the body into a contortion, in the region of the hips, at the peak of
release. A contortion-like delivery gradually affects the spinal nerves and robs
a player of endurance. Study this form closely in front of a full-length mirror
and see how awkward it looks. Notice how it twists your body to one side and
causes you to pitch with a lunging motion.
If you are using such poor playing form, make up your mind to step with your
other foot. (The foot opposite your delivery arm) It may be rather difficult to
make such a change, but it can be done with practice. A better delivery is well
worth the effort. Frank Jackson, many times a national champion during his
playing career, stood with his left foot planted firmly ahead. He did not step
at all. But, he was a powerful man with an exceptionally long backswing. Jimmy
Lecky, a former Arizona State champion, pitched right-handed and stepped with
his right foot. However, this was due to an injury of his left heel and it was
not his natural style. These two great players are exceptions to the rule. The
average player cannot develop an easy delivery with their methods of footwork.
Many years have elapsed since anyone has won a national title with the
wrong-foot-ahead method of footwork. To acquire control of your shoe, you must
learn to control your feet.
Body and Knee-action
The body plays an important role in the delivery. A great deal of propelling
power is placed into the swing by body-rhythm which is co-ordinated with the
swing. An expert player usually drops the shoulders as he/she starts the
back-swing. The body straightens up with the front swing. This body-action is
virtually identical to the one used in bowling or in pitching softball.
Correct knee-action is very important too, Relaxing the right knee and
drawing it slightly inward, behind the left knee, permits the shoe to swing
close by the leg, in a straight line to the stake. The danger of fouling the
shoe against the leg is reduced to a minimum. Proper knee-action helps secure a
uniform trajectory and makes the delivery easier and smoother. Relaxing the
right knee, and shifting the body-weight to the left foot, acts as a spring,
thus checking the forward-swing without an abrupt jar or jolt. As the knee
straightens up to its natural position, the body rises and its weight goes into
Don't crouch too much when delivering. (I have seen some players go down so
low they scraped the platform with their shoes). Bending the knees too much
causes a player to lift extra body-weight when straightening up to release. That
extra weight can cause body sway, which results in poor alignment.
The Pendulum Swing
In reality, a horseshoe is not "pitched," "tossed," or "thrown." It is
swung. The swing is the governor of the pitching distance. There are three parts
to the swing. (1) The Back-swing; (2) The Front-swing; and (3) The
Follow-through. The swing is the most difficult of all the fundamentals to
master. It is here that most horseshoe pitchers fail, because they lack either
the knowledge or the ambition to develop their swings fully. As a general rule,
most players use much the same grip, stance and step, but the factor that
distinguishes them apart is the swing.
Developing a good swing brings into play a number of rarely used muscles in
the shoulder and arm. The gradual strengthening of these muscles requires a
considerable amount of patient practice. Inexperienced players who neglect to
either train or warm-up properly, before entering competition, become victims of
tension or "ringer mortis." When the chips are down and the pressure is on,
their swings deteriorate into little more than stiff-armed, pushing motions.
Once acquired, the bad habit of using a stiff armed delivery, is difficult to
break. The swing must be rhythmic, with the arm kept free from tension, at all
Let the shoe swing backward in an easy manner. Extend it as far back as
possible, without causing discomfort of the shoulder and arm muscles. Going too
far back will cause the body to twist to one side and pull you off balance. The
back-swing may be as high or higher than your head. That depends on the muscular
development of your shoulder and your method of delivery. A long swing, to
secure elevation and distance, is best.
Just before the termination-point (end) of the back-swing is attained, step
forward. Don't allow the shoe to pause at the end of your back-swing. Let the
weight of the shoe start your forward swing. When the shoe swings into line with
your eyes and the stake, relax your fingers and release the shoe. The swing does
not stop here. The hand continues to swing up, above the head, in the
follow-through. The arm swings back and forth, straight from the shoulder, like
the pendulum of a clock. This is called "the pendulum swing." There is no jerk
or snap of the arm and wrist. All movements are rhythmic and perfectly
co-ordinated with the step.
The backward and forward swings should be very much alike. Allow the weight
of the shoe to start both swings. Put little or no propelling power behind the
shoe with your arm. Your body weight is used for that purpose. Don't rush either
your backward or forward swings. Endeavor to keep your swing in line with the
stake at all time. It is well to repeat that the failure to develop the proper
swing ruins more potentially good players than any other thing.
Although the majority of players realize the importance of a good
follow-through, many are unable to define the exact purpose of this part of the
swing. A smooth, accurate delivery is impossible without a proper
follow-through. This applies to a bowler, a golfer and a baseball pitcher, as
well as a horseshoe pitcher. The follow-through is often erroneously defined as
the finish of the swing. A careful analysis shows that the follow-through is not
confined to the arm-swing alone. It is a part of the body-swing too. Actually,
it starts with the stance. A poor stance and a poor step results in a poor swing
and a poor follow-through.
When delivering a horseshoe, the swing of the arm - if completed - would
describe a perfect circle. The follow-through is merely a continuation of the
swing toward completing the circle. In other words, the hand continues to move
toward the stake after releasing the shoe. That short distance traveled by the
hand, before it begins to rise above the head, is the follow-through.
Always try to secure the maximum amount of follow-through with each pitch.
At first it may seem rather futile to concentrate on that part of the swing
which occurs after the shoe is released. For, once the shoe is in flight, the
player cannot alter its course. But, if he will strive to make his hand follow
the shoe on a line to the stake, he will develop consistent alignment and a
Trajectory and Alignment
Pitch the shoes in an arc that is 7 to 10 feet high at its highest point.
Try to pitch a "dead-falling shoe." That is, make the shoe land flat and "dead."
A proper and uniform trajectory is essential in securing the correct turn,
alignment, and distance. When pitched too low, and too swiftly, a shoe cannot
open properly. It may be in perfect line and turning at the right speed, but
lack of height prevents it from landing open. The shoe must be timed in the air.
If a low pitched shoe does go on the stake, it lands hard and is likely to spin
off or rebound. If the shoe misses the stake, it usually skids out of scoring
Keep the shoes well up in flight. But don't waste energy by throwing them
too high. Too much flight-elevation causes a shoe to turn too much. Besides, it
makes accurate judgment of distance difficult. A high shoe, however, has a
decided advantage over a low one. The high floater will hook the stake from all
angles. Keeping the shoes well up in flight requires much less effort in
If difficulty is experienced in pitching the proper distance, don't try to
correct the distance by changing your standing position. Moving ahead or back,
as the case may be, may only increase your trouble. You must "get the distance"
with your swing. If your swing is too slow, or you fail to put enough
body-weight into your delivery, the shoe will not turn enough and land short of
the mark. Too much swing and a too high trajectory may result in too much turn
and overshooting the stake. Here is an example to show the importance of
pitching the shoes at a proper and uniform height:
Two shoes are delivered with an equal amount of propelling power. The first
is elevated to a height of 6 feet. The second reaches a height of 10 feet. That
makes a difference of 4 feet in the height of the two shoes. The first may land
several inches short of the stake. It may not open due to lack of height. Also,
the chances are it will be out of line because it was released too quickly. The
second shoe may top the stake by several inches. It may turn too much and be out
of line because it was not released quickly enough. Again, the first shoe may
hit at the base of the stake and the second strike near the top, Neither scores
as a ringer because they are not open.
Such a wide variance in the trajectory makes accurate pitching impossible.
Many beginners are timid about putting their shoes well up in the air. In their
efforts to "line up the stake" they pitch too low and too hard. The definition
that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points does not apply
to the trajectory of a horseshoe.
Beginners often become discouraged by their inability to line up the stake.
Even experts have their "off days" in securing good alignment. As a rule,
right-handed pitchers have a tendency to pitch to the right of the stake.
Left-handers throw to the left. With the maximum opening between the shoe's
heel-caulks only 3 1/2 inches and the pitching distance 40 feet, the smallest
error in delivering will cause a miss.
When you have difficulty in lining up, (and you will) check all the
fundamentals to see what is wrong. Your trouble may be caused by only one error;
or, it may result from a combination of several mistakes occurring at once.
Check your stance and footwork. Be sure to observe a "square stance." Step
directly toward the mark. A long stride can cause a low trajectory. Check your
grip and don't force your turn. Let the shoe flow smoothly from your hand.
Extend the shoe to full-arm length. Make your aim-point and release-point
correspond. That prevents a variation in your swing. Always follow-through on
each pitch. Watch your trajectory. Don't be tense. Tension destroys
Obstacles and Hazards
The horseshoe game has as many obstacles and hazards as golf. During a
horseshoe game, the stakes are often completely blocked by shoes. They land on
edge in the clay and wedge tightly against the stakes. Often, it is impossible
to knock such shoes down or away and make a ringer at the same time. Here are a
few examples that show how such obstacles and hazards occur:
When an opposing shoe is leaning up in front of the stake, you must try to
place your ringer either over, under or through the obstructing shoe. In a
"tight" game, you dare not waste one of your shoes just to knock an opponent's
shoe out of the way. Shoes that are just short of being ringers can be knocked
or dragged on as ringers by another shoe. When a shoe is laying, caulks up, with
its toe near the stake, you can experience either the good or bad "break" of
having another shoe hit the toe-caulk of the reclining shoe and flip it over for
a ringer. When capping ringers, the danger of losing ringers is greatly
increased by the unyielding iron of the opposing shoes.
There are many more ways of making clever and difficult shots. During
practice, prop other shoes up against the stakes. Try to make ringers while
these obstacles are blocking the stakes. Such practice will help you to cope
with similar barriers when they occur in competition. You must first learn the
knack of making ringers. Then you must learn the knack of keeping them on the
Flight-Wobble and Landing
As in boxing there are "right and left hooks" in horseshoe pitching.
Right-handed players should try to make their ringers hook onto the stake from
the left-handed side. Left-handers should try for right hooks. That way, the
shoes do not go too straight on the stake, thus lessening the hazard of rebound.
The hooking-type shoe, with a good wobble, will stay on much better than one
that is thrown too flat and too straight on the stake. A good flight-wobble
helps break the shoe's momentum in landing. The wobble imparts enough twists to
the shoe to keep it from going on too straight and rebounding. A shoe will
usually stay on when it hooks the stake from either side, just off center of the
Too much flight-wobble can cause a shoe to travel erratically and fly off
the stake. Also, it is difficult to watch in flight. Excessive wobble can be
caused by too much arm and wrist effort. Another cause may be a faulty grip
especially if you try to correct the trajectory with your thumb when releasing
the shoe. Some expert players have more wobble on their shoes than others. That
depends on their grips and methods of delivering.
The "breaks of the game" mean a lot to champion pitchers. The way in which
their shoes land can mean either the winning or losing of a title. When a shoe
lands heel-caulks first, it nose-dives at the stake. It may either jump away or
wedge against the stake. If the toe-caulk lands first, the shoe may either turn
over backward or skid past the stake. The "dead-falling shoe," with all the
caulks landing simultaneously, is best. Horseshoes, like airplanes, must make a
good three-point landing. Otherwise, they bounce, skid and roll.
You have now gained considerable knowledge of the basic-fundamentals
required to pitch correctly. Many hours of patient practice are necessary to
master and co-ordinate these fundamentals. You must develop a rhythmic delivery.
Rhythm is the dominating fundamental in all sports.
According to the dictionary, co-ordination, precision, rhythm, and timing
all have about the same meaning. It is: "To arrange things in a proper and
relative order; to combine for a common action or purpose; to harmonize. In
short, the four terms mean the regulated movement of all the combined
fundamentals in a rhythmic order during the delivery.
A pendulum clock presents a perfect illustration of timing. When the clock
is running properly, all its combined parts work together in perfect unison. The
entire mechanism functions as one unit. Each spring, gear and balance-wheel does
its precise work. No unnecessary part is included that might cause lost-motion.
The pendulum swings to and fro with a steady unbroken rhythm. As long as each
part does its work and aids the other, co-ordination, and harmony prevails. The
clock keeps accurate time. But, if one unit ceases to function as it should, the
swing of the pendulum becomes irregular. The clock either stops entirely or
perfect timing ceases to exist.
That is precisely what happens to the delivery of a horseshoe pitcher who
"gets off his game." The "pendulum swing" becomes jerky, and inaccurate, because
he/she is unable to co-ordinate the fundamentals. Many players, as they grow
older, lose some of their coordination because they lose some of their ambition
to train and keep themselves in good condition. The champions spend more time
practicing than playing to sharpen and improve their timing. They know that if
they neglect their training, they will soon cease to be champions. No one ever
becomes so perfect that they can quit training. Timing is elusive and quickly
An experienced player seldom enters competition without first warming up to
assure good co-ordination of the muscles. All players experience some difficulty
starting to warm up because their muscles are not functioning properly. After
limbering up for a few minutes, they "get the feel of the shoe." Your warm-up
has much to do with determining how you will play; therefore, take plenty of
time to co-ordinate your muscles.
A great many people attempt to pitch horseshoes without realizing that it is
a game of great science. After practicing for a time, paying little or no
attention to the proper fundamentals, they fail to improve beyond a certain
stage. Becoming discouraged, they say, "It looks like I was not cut out to be a
good player." Some think that they are very lucky when they make a ringer or two
during a game. And, considering the way they try to deliver their shoes, they
are lucky. Although there is a certain amount of luck involved in all games,
other factors besides luck are required to pitch ringer after ringer on stakes
forty feet apart.
An expert pitcher has a pretty fair idea of what a horseshoe will do the
moment he releases it. Such skill is acquired only by long periods of correct
physical and mental training. Along with this, a player must possess a
considerable amount of natural talent, good eyesight, nerve control, patience,
and a deep love of the game. To master the science of pitching, one must also
learn to master his emotions. Bad temperament or lack of self-discipline ruins
many otherwise promising players.
Don't try to master all the fundamentals at once because this is impossible.
It is a mistake, at first, to center all your attention on trying to make
ringers. Of course, that is the object of pitching, but you must approach this
objective slowly and correctly. The fundamentals must be worked out one at a
time. "Haste make waste." A player must learn to "pitch with the head" as well
as the arm.
How to Practice
In the beginning, the shoe will feel heavy and cumbersome, but this will
soon pass with practice. It takes time to "get the feel of the shoe." Practice
on a well-built court. Use good equipment. Always try to do your best. Pitch the
full distance of 40 feet. For women, (and males under age 18 years old), the
distance is 30 feet. Don't overdo, especially at first. You need to become
accustomed to this form of exercise. Too much practice can cause staleness, a
strained arm and loss of control. An hour a day is usually sufficient to put one
in good form. When practicing alone, pitch your shoes in groups of 50 and count
all points. Merely tossing the shoes back and forth, without a definite
objective in mind, does not bring about much self-improvement.
Expert pitchers train hard and intelligently to condition themselves for a
major tournament. There is a lot of walking to do in a meet. The muscles of the
legs and feet must be in good condition. Partnership (four-handed) games, which
are favored by older players who dislike so much walking to and fro, are poor
practice for tough tournament competition. It is not so much the amount but how
one trains that is important. When you become tired, quit practicing and rest.
Fatigue brings on tension and tension prevents you from concentrating on your
After gaining fair control of your shoes, seek good competition with more
experienced players. Pitching under pressure develops self-confidence. Be a
close observer and a good listener. You will learn much to your advantage from
the experts. However, don't try to change your style by copying that of every
good pitcher you meet. Most of the champions have little personal quirks in
their deliveries that may not work with your style. The old saying that, "one
man's meat can be another's poison," is applicable here. The purposeful
development of your natural style is the best course to follow, providing you
observe the fundamentals that are fundamentals.
Nearly all beginners experience difficulty in elevating their shoes high
enough. Ted Allen, one of the game's all time greatest, perfected his trajectory
by erecting two poles out in the center of his court - one pole on each side of
the pitching lane. With a wire stretched from pole to pole, about 8 feet above
the ground, he practiced pitching over the wire. Thus, he trained himself to
pitch the proper height - for his style of pitching.
When an opponent is unavailable, two or more pairs of horseshoes can be used
to good advantage. Place a shoe around each stake. Leave it there. Then regard
those ringers as a dummy opponent. Endeavor to beat him. Score three points each
inning for your imaginary opponent. To defeat him, you have to pitch over 50%
ringers. Pitching against the iron of the opposing shoes is excellent practice
in topping ringers.
Learn to concentrate on your game. Mental concentration is about 75% of the
battle among experts. Many of them appear to be self-hypnotized when engaged in
strong competition. They grit their teeth with each pitch and refuse to talk to
anyone until the game is over. It isn't that they want to be rude and
unsociable, but they realize that they cannot carry on a conversation and
concentrate on their playing at the same time.
Nervous Tension (Pressure)
Public enemy Number One for all tournament pitchers is that old mental
devil, "tension" - more commonly called "pressure." When two champions meet in a
title match, the air becomes charged with tension that grips the players and
spectators alike. Endurance, nerve control and the "breaks of the game" are the
factors that decide the winner. Under such circumstances, it is common to see
some players become the victims of "pressure." When that occurs, they become
easy marks for their opponents. Pressure plagues all players at times. Those who
deny it are dishonest with themselves. It is no disgrace to be afflicted by
pressure. It is natural. Boxers, football players, opera singers, public
speakers - even race horses - can be seen to tremble, breathe rapidly, perspire
and become rigid with suspense before going in to action. However, insofar as a
successful public performance is concerned, tension is fatal, unless ways and
means are devised to conquer it.
A tournament pitcher must mentally condition himself to overcome pressure.
He/she may be in the best of condition and capable of playing well under
ordinary circumstances. But, if he/she has neglected the mental training, this
omission instantly becomes apparent when engaging strong competition. A good
player does not become tense because of being afraid. He/she is afraid because
he/she becomes tense.
The first step toward conquering pressure is to recognize it for what it is.
Pressure is a self-created enemy that destroys co-ordination and deprives one of
physical and mental endurance. All successful public performers (I mean
horseshoe pitchers here) have devised methods of combating pressure. Because it
affects each individual in a somewhat different manner - but always adversely -
they may solve their problem in their own way. It is not easy, however, it can
be done by: (1) Preparation or training; (2) Physical Control; (3) Proper Mental
When you find yourself growing tense during a game, slow down and take
plenty of time delivering. Walk from stake to stake with slow, measured strides.
Let your arms hang loosely at your sides. Shake your fingers and wrist
occasionally to relax the muscles of your delivery arm. Raise your arms above
your head and breathe deeply and evenly from your diaphragm. This will relax
your muscles and help restore your mental composure. Tension causes fatigue, in
turn, causes tension. Don't let a few bad breaks rattle you. Once you acquire
the power of "mind over muscle," you will become a better player.
Relaxation is the secret of success in all sports
Although horseshoe pitching is one of the most healthful of all sports,
tournament pitching builds up more pressure than most other sports. A golfer has
plenty of time to relax between strokes. A baseball pitcher can miss the plate
any number of times and still pitch a fine game. But to get anywhere in a big
horseshoe tournament a player must throw an average of 70 to 80% ringers. Over
75% of these ringers will be canceled by the opponents. After two players pitch
their shoes they walk 40 feet to the other end and pitch the shoes back to the
other stake. This is continuous action over a long period of time. Players pitch
as many as 3,000 shoes during the course of a National Tournament. The pressure
and competitive tension is on every pitch.
Tips and Comments by Top Players
Alan Francis of Ohio, eight-time World Champion: "1. You must
practice; 2. You must have determination; 3. You must be patient because you
aren't always going to go into a game for the first time and pick it up right
away; 4. You must be persistent. It is important because it takes several years
to find a style of pitching that fits you best; 5. You must be confident in your
ability. This comes when you do well and see progress in your game."
Sylvianne Moisan, of Quebec, 2001-02 Womens World Champion: "I could
say I developed my style through a combination of observation, self-coaching and
natural ability. I take an average of 8 seconds to throw my two shoes. I aim at
the top of the stake. My speed is always the same. I watch the shoe in the air.
I need to see my shoe to correct mistakes, shoe overturning, etc. My backswing
seems to go far behind my back and stays the same. My left foot on the release
is about 6 inches short of the foul line. This gives me space if I have to move
closer because I'm throwing at raised courts. Concentration, patience,
self-control and motivation are key words. To have fun and to be a good sport
will not only make you and your entourage happy, but will also help you maintain
better concentration. Play for yourself. Set goals, but avoid putting
unnecessary pressure on yourself."
Brian Simmons, of Connecticut, 2000 and '02 World Champion: "I line
my body up in the middle of the platform as it gives me room to move either
right or left when missing the stake to the right or left. PRACTICE. I practice
3-4 times per week, 1-3 hours a day or 200-300 shoes. I concentrate on my
release point. I find if you can release your shoe chest high, and in the middle
of your chest, you'll have perfect height for the shoe and alignment for the
stake. Thinking of your chest helps your release point as well as
follow-through. A correct follow-through will help improve your game. Strong
concentration is important. Don't be afraid to try
something different or experiment on different things."
Note: This material taken from "The Horseshoe Pitcher's Manual
on how-to-do-it," compiled by the NHPA, F. Ellis Cobb, Editor, rev. 1978