NHPA OFFICIAL RULES OF HORSESHOE PITCHING
The sport may be played by one individual for practice or by two
or more for sport. Horseshoe courts basically require a level area
with 2 stakes located 30 to 40 ft. apart, with recommended
improvements as found desirable by the participants. NHPA sanctioned
play must be on sanctioned courts meeting specifications stated in
NHPA BYLAWS ART.XII concerns ALL NHPA(sanctioned)TOURNAMENTS and
should be included when reviewing NHPA OFFICIAL RULES OF HORSESHOE
PITCHING. The rules are also mentioned in BYLAWS ART.XI and STANDING
RULES 12 & 14.
OFFICIAL RULES OF HORSESHOE PITCHING
Published By The National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of
(Jan 1, 2000)
- RULE 1 - COURT LAYOUT
- See diagram on back of rules pamphlet.((similar sketches are
shown following this document))
- Section A. PERMANENT GROUND LEVEL COURTS
- 1. Dimensions - A horseshoe court shall be a level
rectangular area 6 ft wide and a minimum of 46 ft long. A
north-south setting is recommended for outdoor courts to minimize
the effects of the sun.
- 2. Pitcher's Box - The pitcher's box is the square 6 ft by 6
ft area at each end of the court. It is composed of 2 parts - 1)
the pit, and 2) the pitching platforms.
- a. PIT - The pit is a rectangular area filled with the
substance onto which the shoes are pitched. Its maximum length (in
the direction in which the shoes are pitched) is 72 inches and its
minimum length is 43 inches. Its maximum width is 36 inches and
its minimum width is 31 inches. The pit must be centered in the
pitcher's box. If the pit is less than the maximum dimensions, the
extra space shall be filled with the same material of which the
platforms are made, or some other material different than the pit
substance, and shall be level with the pit and platforms.
- b. Pitching Platforms - The pitching platforms flank the pit
to its left and right sides and are parallel to each other. They
shall be level with each other and to the top of the pit. They
shall be 18 to 20-1/2 inches wide (depending upon the width of the
pit) and shall be a minimum of 6 ft. long.
- 3. Stakes - The stake is the target at which the shoe is
pitched. Each stake shall be centered between the platforms with a
minimum of 21 inches from the stake to the front and back of the
pit. On regulation courts the stakes are 40 ft. apart. This is
measured from the front of each stake level with the pitching
platform. Stakes shall be 1 inch in diameter and may be made of
cold-rolled steel, mild iron, soft metal or synthetic material.
Each stake shall be no shorter than 14 and no higher than 15
inches above pit level and they shall both have an approximate 3
inch lean toward each other.
- 4. Pit Substance - Clay, sand, dirt and synthetic
compositions are all legal substances to put in the pit. The
minimum depth of the substance shall be 4 inches. An 8 inch depth
- 5. Extended Platforms - The pitching platforms on either side
of the pit shall be extended forward (toward the opposite pit) an
additional 10 feet to accommodate pitching at shorter distances.
The front of the extended platforms shall be 27 feet from the
opposite stake. The extended platforms shall be level with and be
of the same width and material as the full-distance platforms. It
is recommended that the 14 feet between the front ends of the
platforms be filled in (using the same material as the platforms)
to provide a continuous level walking surface between the two
- 6. Multiple Courts
- a. Side-by-side - To eliminate distraction and safely
separate activity, stakes of courts adjacent to each other shall
be a minimum of 10 feet apart. A greater distance (at least 12
feet) is preferable.
- b. Back-to-back - A minimum of 16 feet and a protective
barrier must separate the stakes of back-to-back courts.
- 7. Backboards & Protective Barrier
- a. Backboards - Every pit should have a backboard. It should
be at least 4 feet behind the stake, be at least 1 foot high and
extend the width of the pit. For spectator visibility, a mesh
netting or chain link material is recommended. If of solid
material, it should be a color that will provide a contrasting
background so as to keep the stake visible for the contestants.
- b. Protective Barrier - All court complexes shall be
surrounded by a protective barrier. The barrier should be at least
8 feet behind the stake. A chain link type fence at least 4 feet
high is recommended.
- 8. Foul Lines - Foul lines shall be defined by lines
extending across the front of the full-distance and extended
platforms. This places them perpendicular to an imaginary line
between stakes at 37 and 27 ft. respectively from the front of the
opposite stakes. (Measured at the level of the pitching platform).
- 9. Imaginary Stakes - Imaginary stakes shall be marked midway
between the left and right extended platforms at a distance of 30
feet from the opposite stakes. They shall also be marked on the
full-distance platforms at a distance of 40 feet from the opposite
stakes if the stakes are not 40 feet apart.
- Section B. COVERED AND INDOOR COURTS
- The regulations for covered and indoor courts are exactly the
same as for permanent ground level courts with the additional
stipulation that they shall have a minimum 12 foot vertical
clearance to the lowest possible obstruction.
- Section C. TEMPORARY AND/OR RAISED COURTS
- The regulations for temporary and/or raised courts are the
same as for permanent ground level courts with the exception that
for any raised court, the top of the pit shall be no more than 7
inches above the level of the pitching platforms. In addition, the
4 inch pit substance requirement is recommended, but not
mandatory.The 40 ft. distance for elevated platforms shall be
measured from the front of the bottom of the stake, at floor level
before the substance is put into the pit.
- Note: The NHPA realizes that many sets of
courts now in existence do not meet all of the conditions listed
in Rule 1. All new courts shall be constructed using the
guidelines in Rule 1 and charters are encouraged to modify their
existing courts to meet these standards as soon as possible.
- RULE 2 - PLAYING EQUIPMENT - THE HORSESHOE
- Section A. Legal Shoes The sport of
horseshoes is played with specially manufactured equipment. Any
official (legal) horseshoe must be sanctioned and approved by the
NHPA and must pass the following maximum weight and measurement
standards. (there are no minimum standards): 1) It shall not weigh
more than 2 pounds, 10 ounces; 2) it shall not exceed 7-1/4 inches
in width, 7-5/8 inches in length and, on a parallel line 3/4 inch
from a straightedge touching the points of the shoe, the opening
of the shoe must not exceed 3-1/2 inches. (A 1/8 inch tolerance to
3-5/8 inches is allowed on used shoes.) No part of the original
manufactured shoe may exceed one inch in height. Shoes not meeting
these requirements shall not be used in NHPA sanctioned
competition and all games pitched with illegal shoes shall be
forfeited. All horseshoes used by a pitcher may be checked at any
time to verify they are legal shoes for weight, measurement and
altered shoes. This checking will be done by a judge or other
- Section B. ALTERED SHOES Any shoe
which has been changed from its original design (calk, notch,
etc.) shall be considered an "altered" shoe. An
"altered" shoe is illegal and cannot be used in
- Note: The NHPA Executive Council has the right to waive the
"altered" shoe provision for a physically impaired
- Section C. SHOES SANCTIONED BY OTHER COUNTRIES
Any shoes sanctioned by another country are permissible in NHPA
sanctioned play only for contestants from that country, and then
only if they meet NHPA specification. They are not allowable (for
U.S. citizens) in NHPA sanctioned events unless they are also
sanctioned by the NHPA.
- RULE 3 - PITCHING DISTANCES
- Section A. Males
- 1. Juniors - Junior contestants may pitch from any place on
either the full-distance or extended platforms. They must observe
the 27 foot foul lines.
- 2. Open Men and Seniors - All Open Men and Senior contestants
shall pitch from on or behind the full distance platforms adjacent
to the pits and observe the 37 foot foul lines. Physically
impaired males in these categories may be given permission by the
governing NHPA officials to move on to the extended platforms and
observe the 27 foot foul lines.
- 3. Elders - Elders are classified as short-distance pitchers,
shall pitch less than the full-distance, and observe the 27 foot
- Section B. Females - All female contestants
may pitch from any place on the full-distance or extended
platforms and observe the 27 foot foul lines, except that any
woman pitching in an Elders class must pitch less than 40 feet.
- RULE 4 - PIT PREPARATION AND MAINTENANCE
- Section A. Every effort shall be made
to keep the substance in the pit in soft putty-like condition so
the shoes will not bounce or move around after coming in contact
with the substance. The substance in the pit shall be watered (if
necessary) and leveled to the top of the surrounding platforms
(unless the pits are raised) before a game starts. Each contestant
is responsible for one pit, but a contestant may have someone else
do the preparation. During a game, a contestant shall not step on,
mash, or otherwise repair any of the substance in the scoring area
of the pit without the consent of the opponent or a tournament
official. Repair needed because of a measured shoe or a shoe which
was "buried" shall be handled using the same guidelines.
- NOTE: Pits composed of sand or dirt often
"hollow out" after a few innings. A blanket statement by
the tournament director (made before competition begins) shall
allow the leveling of these courts as needed without constant
consent between the contestants.
- Section B. With the permission of the
tournament committee, the stakes may be painted for visibility
purposes before a game starts. This procedure shall not be done
while a game is in progress, unless both contestants agree to do
- RULE 5 - GAME PREPARATION
- It is customary for contestants to find out their court
assignments and warm up on the court for their first game with the
proper opponent. The court should be prepared for play during this
time. When the tournament official announces the start of play,
the contestants shall flip a shoe or coin with the winner having
the choice of first or second pitch.
- After a game is completed, a contestant shall go to the next
assigned court and prepare one pit for play. When the other
contestant arrives, the same procedure shall be followed. When
both contestants have arrived and prepared the pits, they may
pitch four warm up shoes each and then must start their game,
using the method in the previous paragraph to decide first pitch.
It is legal for a contestant to practice alone if the second
contestant is late in arriving.
- RULE 6 - PLAY OF THE GAME AND VALUE OF THE SHOE
- Section A. Innings The game is broken
down into innings. Each inning consists of four pitched shoes, two
by each contestant.
- Section B. Value of the Shoe
- 1. Ringer - A ringer is a shoe which comes to rest encircling
the stake. A straightedge touching both points or any part of the
heel calks of the shoe must clear (not touch) the stake in order
for a shoe to be declared a ringer. A ringer has a value of three
- 2. Shoe in Count - A shoe which is not a ringer but comes to
rest with any portion of it within 6 inches of any part of the
stake is a shoe in count. A shoe in count has a value of one
point. A "leaner", or any other shoe which is touching
the stake (but not a ringer), is considered a shoe in count and
has a value of one point.
- 3. Shoe Out of Count - A shoe which comes to rest further
than 6 inches from the stake is a shoe out of count and has no
scoring value. A shoe which is declared to be a foul shoe (see
Section H) is considered to be a shoe out of count (no matter
where it comes to rest).
- Section C. Delivery of Shoes
- 1. The contestant pitching first shall deliver both shoes
(one at a time) and then the other contestant shall deliver both
shoes (one at a time). A contestant may deliver the shoes from
either the left or right platform but, in any one inning, both
shoes must be delivered from the same platform. A contestant shall
pitch the entire tournament with the same hand or arm, except in
the case of a medical emergency.
- 2. A contestant shall deliver both shoes within 30 seconds.
The time shall start when the contestant steps onto the platform
with the intention of pitching. (As opposed to retrieving shoes or
removing foreign material from the platform).
- NOTE: Extra time taken to repair a damaged
shoe by filing a burr, etc., or a delay resulting from a
distraction not caused by the contestants, shall not be penalized.
- Section D. Position of Contestants During Delivery
- 1. THE PITCHER. The pitcher must maintain
constant contact with the designated platform during the entire
address and release of the shoe.
- (a) A contestant observing the 37 ft foul line may start
directly behind the platform provided they step within it when
they release the shoe.
- (b) A physically challenged contestant must have at least
some contact with the platform and be completely behind the 27 ft.
line when the shoe is released.
- 2. THE OPPONENT. The opponent, while not
pitching, shall stand on (or behind) the other 40 ft. platform at
least 2 feet to the rear of the contestant who is pitching. The
opponent shall be quiet and stationary so as not to disturb the
contestant who is pitching or the contestants on adjacent courts.
After a short distance contestant pitches first they must return
to the 40 ft. platform if the opponent or any contestant on an
adjacent court is a full distance pitcher.
- 3. THE CONTESTANTS. If both contestants use
the same platform to deliver their shoes, the contestant pitching
first should cross over to the other platform in front of the pit
and then move to the proper position. (see #2) As the first
contestant is crossing in front the second contestant should be
crossing over in back and mounting the platform from the rear. If
both contestants use opposite platforms, the contestant who
pitches first should step directly back to the proper position
described in #2 of this section.
- 4. No contestant shall walk to the opposite stake (except to
remove a foul shoe) or be informed of the position of any pitched
shoes prior to completion of an inning.
- Section E. Flow of the Game
- 1. Once the four shoes in an inning have been pitched, the
contestants shall walk to the other end to determine the score for
the inning and retrieve their shoes. No shoe shall be moved before
its scoring value is determined. If the decision is in doubt, a
judge shall be called. The judge shall make the necessary
measurement(s) and determine the scoring for the shoes in
question. (Contestants are encouraged to carry measuring devices
and to make their own decisions whenever possible to help speed up
play.) Play shall continue in similar fashion in each inning until
the game limit is reached.
- 2. At any one time, a contestant shall carry and use only two
horseshoes during the course of a game. A spare shoe or shoes
should be kept available at court side in case of a broken shoe or
if the contestant desires to switch shoes. Shoes may be switched
between innings, but not during an inning unless a shoe breaks
(see Section F).
- 3. If it is discovered during an inning that a contestant has
pitched the shoe of an opponent, the shoes shall be picked up and
the entire inning shall be repitched using the correct shoes. If
the contestants fail to discover the error until after all four
shoes have been pitched, the inning shall be scored on the basis
of whatever shoes they pitched. If agreement cannot be reached, a
judge shall be called. Based upon the input from the contestants,
the judge shall either determine the scoring for the inning or
void it and order it to be repitched.
- 4. When a shoe is being measured by a contestant and it (or
the stake) is accidentally moved, the inning shall be scored only
if the contestants can come to an agreement. If no agreement can
be reached, a judge shall be called. As in (3) above, the judge
shall either determine the scoring or void the inning and order it
to be repitched.
- EXCEPTIONS: If one or more shoes (are
obvious ringers and have been agreed to by the contestants) are
moved to make a measurement they need not be repitched. Only the
shoe(s) in question when the shoe or stake was moved must be
scored or ordered repitched by the judge. If one or more shoes are
below the shoe(s) in question, they will be scored and remain in
place for the repitch. No scored shoes will have the scoring
changed due to a repitch.
- NOTE: If a judge moves a shoe (or the stake)
while making a measurement, the judge shall either determine the
scoring for the inning or void it and order it to be repitched.
- 5. It is legal for a contestant to carry and use a blunt
ended hook or shoe pick-up device not exceeding 36 inches in total
length. Any hook on the device cannot protrude more than 2 inches
from the main shaft. Care should be taken in using the hook so as
not to endanger the opponent. Also, contestants are encouraged to
carry a file and towel to keep their shoes smooth and shoes and
hands clean and dry.
- Section F. Broken and Cracked Shoes
- 1. Broken Shoes
- a. If a shoe breaks into two or more parts when it hits the
stake or lands in the pit, the parts shall be removed and another
shoe shall be allowed to be pitched in its stead. If the shoe
broke when striking the backboard or other "foul"
ground, it is foul and may not be repitched.
- b. If a shoe has landed in the pit and becomes broken by
having another shoe land on it, it shall be scored as it appears
to lay. If there is any disagreement, a judge shall be called. The
judge shall either determine the scoring for the inning or void it
and order it to be repitched.
- 2. Cracked Shoes - If a shoe is discovered to be cracked (but
not completely broken in two), it shall be scored as it lays. Once
the scoring is determined, it shall be replaced.
- Section G. Broken Stakes A broken
stake is defined as any stake not in the same position as when the
game started, and when both contestants agree that it is broken.
When the stake breaks during an inning, the game shall be
discontinued at the end of the previous inning and the stake
replaced. If a stake breaks as the result of being struck by the
fourth shoe of the inning, then it shall be counted. If they
cannot agree, then a judge shall be called. The judge shall either
determine the scoring for the inning or void it and order it to be
repitched. (Once the scoring is determined, the tournament
officials may decide to complete the game on another court or hold
the completion until a later time.) If not, once the stake is
replaced, the contestants may take four warm up shoes each (if
they so desire) and play shall resume.
- Section H. Foul Shoe A foul shoe is a
shoe which was delivered in non-compliance with one of the rules
of the game. It scores as a shoe out of count and is to be removed
from the pit (if it is in the scoring radius of the stake) before
any more shoes are pitched. Shoes already in the pit that have
been disturbed by a foul shoe are not to be removed, unless they
were knocked into foul territory and are returned to the scoring
- 1. The following are rule violations that must be spotted and
called by an assigned judge. The penalty is to declare the shoe a
- (a) Any shoe pitched when the contestant has made contact
with the foul line before the shoe is released.(Rule 1,#8)
- (b) Except as provided in rule 6, D, 1, any shoe pitched when
the contestant has started or stepped completely outside the
pitching platform before releasing the shoe.
- (c) Any shoe not delivered within the thirty second time
limit. (Rule 6, Section C, #2).
- (d) One shoe when a contestant has illegally stepped on the
scoring area of the playing surface. When this violation occurs,
the contestant shall pitch only one shoe in the next inning. The
second shoe shall be carried to the other end. (Rule 4, Section
- (e) The second shoe, if it is pitched from a different
platform than the first shoe. (Rule 6, Section C)
- 2. The following occurrences are also considered foul shoes
and the shoes must be removed from the pit (if they are in the
scoring radius of the stake) before any more shoes are delivered.
- a. Any shoe which contacted the background, court frame, or
any ground outside the pit before it came to rest.
- b. Any shoe which struck a previously defined object such as
a tree limb, wire, indoor court ceiling, etc.
- NOTE: A shoe which strikes a foreign moving object is not
foul and may be repitched.
- c. The second shoe if the contestant changes shoes after the
first shoe has been pitched. The only exception is if the first
shoe has broken in two and qualifies for a repitch.(Rule 6 Sec E,
- d. Any shoe that leaves a contestant's hand once the final
forward swing of the delivery process has started shall count as a
pitched shoe. If it touches any ground outside of the target pit,
it shall be counted as a foul shoe. A shoe that is accidentally
dropped by a contestant before the final forward swing has started
shall not be considered foul and may be picked up and pitched.
- 3. A contestant's shoes shall be called foul if the
contestant removes any shoe before the scoring of that shoe has
been agreed upon. A judge shall be called if a decision cannot be
reached. The judge shall determine the scoring for the inning.
- Section I. Protests If a contestant
desires to make a protest, the protest shall be made to the judge
or tournament official at the time the problem occurs. The
tournament committee shall make the final ruling on all protests.
- RULE 7 - LENGTH OF THE GAME
- The length of a game shall be determined before play begins.
There are two options:
- 1. Point Limit - The game shall be played to a predetermined
number of points. 40 points is the suggested amount. The first
contestant to reach (or exceed) that amount is the winner.
- 2. Shoe Limit - The game shall be played to a predetermined
amount of shoes. It shall be an even number. When that amount is
reached, the contestant with the highest score is the winner. If
the score is tied, there are two options:
- a. Each contestant shall receive 1/2 win and 1/2 loss. (This
option should be used if a handicap system is in effect.)
- b. A two inning tie-breaker shall be played, using the same
method of play that was used in the game. In the event of another
tie, the same process shall be repeated and this procedure shall
continue until the tie is broken.
- RULE 8 - SCORING THE GAME - SINGLES PLAY
- There are two methods of scoring in horseshoes - cancellation
- Section A. Cancellation Scoring
- 1. In cancellation scoring, only one contestant can score in
- a. Ringers - Ringers cancel each other. A ringer of one
contestant shall cancel a ringer of the other contestant those
shoes shall not score any points. Any uncancelled (live) ringer
scores three points.
- b. Shoes in Count - A shoe in count shall score one point
under the following conditions:
- 1. If there are cancelled ringers and no live ringer, the
closest shoe in count to the stake shall score one point.
- 2. If there are no ringers, the closest shoe in count shall
score one point. If the other shoe of that same contestant is the
second closest shoe in count, it shall also score one point.
- 3. If there is one uncancelled ringer and the other shoe of
the scoring contestant is the closest shoe in count to the stake,
it shall score one point (four points total).
- NOTE: Opposing contestant's shoes in count that are touching
the stake or are determined to be an equal distance from the stake
shall cancel each other and, like cancelled ringers, shall score
no points. In that situation, the next closest shoe in count, if
there is one, shall score one point.
- 2. Calling the Score
- a. Points shall be awarded in the following situations. The
contestant scoring the points shall call the score.
- 1. No ringer with the closest shoe in count - call "one
- 2. No ringer with the two closest shoes in count - call
- 3. One ringer with either no shoe in count or the other
contestant having the closes shoe in count - call "one
ringer, three points".
- 4. One ringer with the closest shoe in count - call "one
ringer, four points".
- 5. Two canceled ringers with the closest shoe in count - call
"one ringer each, one point".
- 6. Two cancelled ringers with one uncancelled ringer - call
"three ringers, three points".
- 7. Two uncancelled ringers - call "two ringers, six
- b. No points shall be awarded in the following situations.
The score shall be called by the contestant who pitched second.
- 1. All four shoes out of count - call "no score".
- 2. Two cancelled ringers with no shoes in count or with the
other two shoes an equal distance from the stake - call "one
ringer each, no score".
- 3. Four cancelled ringers - call "four dead".
- Section B. Count-all Scoring
- In count-all scoring, both contestants receive credit for the
number of points their own shoes are worth in each inning. Because
both contestants can score in the same inning (each contestant can
score either zero, one, two, three, four or six points in each
inning), care should be taken in reporting the scores to the
scorekeeper so that the proper score is recorded for each
- Section C. Recording the Score
- In tournament play, the score sheet (not the scoring device)
shall be the official record of the game. Contestants are
encouraged to pay close attention to the score at all times. If a
question or discrepancy occurs regarding the correct score, the
contestant(s) may approach the scorer between innings or during
their half inning to rectify the situation. If the discrepancy
cannot be corrected to the satisfaction of both contestants, a
tournament judge shall be called to make the final decision.