Official Horseshoe Rules | Comprehensive 2022 Backyard Game Guide (2022)

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…

Table of Contents

What Do You Need To Play Horseshoe

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.

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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.

Official Horseshoe Rules | Comprehensive 2022 Backyard Game Guide (1)

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.


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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.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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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!

About the Author: Clint McCormick

Official Horseshoe Rules | Comprehensive 2022 Backyard Game Guide (2)

I’ve always had a passion for games and hobbies since I was a little kid growing up in the country. I’m old enough to remember a time before video games and when playing outside was encouraged. Through camping, spending time with family, and participating in lots of organized sports, I was able to pick up a lot of insight about a lot of toys and games. I took pride in knowing the rules and etiquette and I’ve even introduced my managers to some games they have never even heard of before. View my: Bio & LinkedIn.

(Video) Best Horseshoes Game Set

View all post by Clint McCormick | Website


How do you play backyard horseshoes? ›

Playing the Game:

Each game is divided up into innings. During each inning, each player gets to pitch two shoes. The goal is to "ring" the stake with the horseshoe. Ringing means that the horseshoe must be hooked on the stake and that both ends of the horseshoe must clear the stake.

What is the distance for horseshoe game? ›

Stakes are placed 40 feet apart. 2. Stakes should extend 14 to 15 inches above the pit surface.

What is regulation for a horseshoe pit? ›

In a “regulation” pit, horseshoe pit dimensions require stakes be exactly 40 feet apart. Those stakes should sit within a box that—while at least 31 by 43 inches—measures no larger than 36 by 72 inches. Common horseshoe pit dimensions for backyard play is 36 by 48 inches.

Can you play horseshoes on grass? ›

Horseshoes is most commonly played in the sand with 40 feet between the stakes. Sandpits are dug for standard horseshoes play. However, this game can be played on grass, dirt, gravel, or any other material where a stake could be set up even without the use of the usual pits.

Is a leaner 2 points in horseshoes? ›

A live shoe that is not a ringer, but comes to rest 6 inches (150 mm) or closer to the stake, has a value of one point (alternate scoring methods give two points if the horseshoe leans on the stake. Also known as a "leaner"). If both of one player's horseshoes are closer than the opponent's, two points are scored.

How deep should the sand be in a horseshoe pit? ›

Pour and Level the Sand

We'll use sand in this pit since it's easy to get and maintain. Pour five bags of play sand into the pit area and smooth it with a shovel or a board. This should make the sand about 2 inch deep all over the pit.

How tall should a horseshoe pit be? ›

According to the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA), a horseshoe pit should not be less than 31×43 inches, and not more than 36×72 inches.

What can I use for horseshoe stakes? ›

Drive your metal stakes into the ground. Use two 1" diameter metal stakes, 24" in length. Use a mallet or small sledgehammer to drive the stakes into the ground, leaving them 15" above ground, at a slight angle towards the opposite pit.

How do you build a regulation size horseshoe pit? ›

Simple DIY Outdoor Horseshoes Game Pit - YouTube

Can you play horseshoes without a pit? ›

Horseshoes can be played on lawn, gravel, decomposed granite or sand. The standard play consists of 2 stakes 40 feet apart, however you can play with just one stake and draw a line at whatever distance you wish to play. Just make sure that you allow ample throw room.

Who throws first in horseshoes? ›

A coin is tossed to decide who starts and thereafter the player to pitch first alternates with the end. Throws must be underarm. The first player throws both horseshoes at the opposite stake one after the other.

What is considered a ringer in horse shoes? ›

Rule 1: Ringers are awarded 3 points. To qualify as a ringer, a straight edge must be able to touch both points of the horseshoe. Rule 2: If nobody scores a ringer, the closest horseshoe to the stake scores one point. This includes “leaners,” or horseshoes touching the stake but not qualified as a ringer.

What are the three ways to score points in horseshoes? ›

How do you score points in horseshoes? If you get a horseshoe around a stake, you earn three points. If your horseshoe leans against the stake but doesn't encircle it, you earn one point. Any other horseshoe that lands within six inches of a stake also earns one point.

How many throws are in a horseshoe? ›

In the game of horseshoes, two players take turns throwing 2 horseshoes each, at stakes placed 40 feet apart. The goal is to get your horseshoe as close as possible, or even to wrap around the stake. Generally, only the closest horseshoe scores a point.

How many points is a horseshoe leaning against the post worth? ›

Any shoe must be within one horseshoe-width (measured across the outside of the open end of the shoe) of the stake to be considered for points. (Official rules call for 6 inches max). The closest shoe to the stake gets 1 point.

Can you play horseshoes without a pit? ›

Horseshoes can be played on lawn, gravel, decomposed granite or sand. The standard play consists of 2 stakes 40 feet apart, however you can play with just one stake and draw a line at whatever distance you wish to play. Just make sure that you allow ample throw room.

How do you play horseshoe teams? ›

The players or teams toss four horseshoes towards a stake in the ground to score points. The players alternate turns and attempts to either throw a “ringer” circling around the stake or get it as close as possible to score.

How do I keep my horseshoe stakes from moving? ›

How to build a horseshoe pit - securing your stakes - YouTube

How many players are on a horseshoe? ›

Four Horseshoes – two for each player.

The game is played primarily with metal horseshoes, which shouldn't weigh more than two pounds and ten ounces. The horseshoes shouldn't exceed 7.25 inches in width nor 7.6 inches in length.


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