A tournament-ready set with hefty shoes that stand out for their chrome and brass plating that resists fading. Shoes and stakes have solid steel workmanship. Components, including a rule book, come in a sturdy nylon case.
A bit on the higher end of the price scale. Rare reports of damage upon arrival.
Not only is this set about half the price of competition-grade options, it includes brightly-colored shoes made of durable, carbon steel with powder-coated finishes, sturdy stakes and a handy case. Weight and balance of the shoes is ideal for most lovers of the game.
May not be quite up to par for tournament players.
This competition-level set has shoes and stakes made of solid steel and suitable for recreation to tournament games. Owners brag about the weight an performance of the shoes. Set includes a wooden storage case and rule book.
Pricey. Though durable, it would be handy if the stakes were a bit longer. Finish on the shoes tends to fade over time, making them all appear to be the same color.
A top-seller by St. Pierre for all it has to offer for horseshoe pitching enthusiasts, including forged steel shoes with remarkable weight and balance. Colors are easy to distinguish between players and find on grass and other surfaces. Rule book and stakes included.
Stakes are durable but not long enough for some players' needs. Plastic storage case has the tendency to crack easily.
Affordable, entry-level set that's suitable for players who don't want to use heavy, metal horseshoes, as these are crafted with rubber. Easy to throw. Can be used indoors.
Not heavy enough for competitive players. The stakes are somewhat flimsy and don't hold up nearly as well as those made of metal.
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Think of traditional lawn games played whenever families and friends get together for picnics or cookouts, and horseshoes is possibly the most common – and perhaps the oldest. People in ancient Rome played a version of the game, as did Revolutionary War soldiers. Even today, the game of horseshoes holds its own as a pastime that people of all ages can enjoy.
The game of horseshoes itself may be simple, but buying a set can be more complex than you might expect. Do you want a recreational or competition set? Lightweight horseshoes for younger kids or standard weight? Materials and durability are factors as well. Horseshoes may be just a game, but to you, it’s important to purchase a set that performs as expected and that offers good value for your money.
At BestReviews, we are here to help you with your shopping decisions. So plant your stakes and get ready to pitch a ringer as we go through the ins and outs of horseshoes in the shopping guide below.
Recreational horseshoe sets typically come with four horseshoes and two stakes. The stakes in some of the lightweight sets are attached to flat rubber bases that can be used in places where driving a stake into the ground is impractical.
Recreational or sport horseshoes made for the game differ greatly from their forebears. Their size, weight, and materials are completely unsuitable for the bottom of a horse’s hoof but very good for a backyard game.
Recreational horseshoes are made of drop-forged steel or iron alloy (for competition), and cast steel, rubber, or plastic for home sets.
Sport horseshoes are about twice the size of traditional horseshoes, weighing between 2.1 and 3.5 pounds.
Recreational horseshoes are shaped differently from the oval of a shoe meant for a hoof.
Sport horseshoes have rounded edges to make holding and throwing more comfortable.
The open end of a recreational horseshoe is much wider than that of a traditional horseshoe.
Sport horseshoes have three main sections and three features that have evolved to meet the requirements of the game.
Base: The base is the U-shaped middle portion of the horseshoe.
Shanks: The shanks are the straight “legs” of the horseshoe that extend from the U-shaped base. These are much wider and flatter than on traditional horseshoes.
Heel Calks: The calk is the flattened projection on the end of each shank. These are larger and more exaggerated than those on traditional horseshoes.
Hooks: The inside edge of each heel calk hooks inward, sometimes steeply. These hooks help the horseshoe to stay encircled around the stake when you hit a ringer.
Thumb Cleat: This raised ridge on one or both sides of the base is helpful when gripping the shoe for a flip throw.
Edges: A sport horseshoe’s edges are rounded to make gripping and throwing more comfortable.
It’s all too common to see horseshoes scattered around the yard after a party or cookout. While most recreational sets are built to withstand the elements, some basic care will help your horseshoe set last longer.
Clean the horseshoes, if necessary, with water and dish soap.
Dry horseshoes thoroughly.
Store horseshoes in the set’s carrying or storage case.
Store horseshoes upright out of direct sunlight (if there is no storage case).
Plastic and rubber horseshoes stand up to the elements pretty well, but dogs love to chew on them, so make sure to pick up the horseshoes and store them well out of harm’s way.
When setting up a horseshoe pitch, select a level patch of ground with plenty of open space around it on all sides for stray throws.
Observe horseshoe pitching etiquette. Stand out of the way of a player who is throwing, and don’t walk to the other side of the pitch until both players or teams have finished throwing.
Pitch horseshoes effectively by using an underhand swing to arc the shoe about seven to ten feet above the ground and controlled enough to land flat, without bouncing or rolling out of bounds.
Backyard horseshoes sets
These range in price from about $22 to $60. The lower end of the range will buy you a light, portable plastic set. The more expensive sets are closer to competition quality.
Such sets are good for beginner to intermediate players who want to learn the basics but aren’t ready to commit to competition-quality horseshoes.
Specialty horseshoes and horseshoe sets
These range in price from $40 to $120 or more.
Pairs of horseshoes alone range in price from $40 to $100 and are available for competitive players who prefer a “flip” grip to a “turn” grip. Expect to pay $75 to $120 or more for a complete horseshoe set.
Q. How can I hold the horseshoe so that I hit the stake more often?
A. There is no single best way to hold a horseshoe, but enthusiasts can be pretty opinionated about which grip to use. While beginners often default to the “flip” grip (holding it by the U-shaped middle of the shoe and tossing it end over end), professionals recommend learning the “turn” grip (holding the shoe by one of the shanks and pitching so that it turns in a horizontal, flat circle). Your distance from the stake will influence your grip choice, too.
Q. I’m not strong enough to pitch a horseshoe 40 feet. Should I opt for a lighter set of shoes?
A. Starting out with a lightweight set is just fine. You can also modify the rules in backyard horseshoes and set the stakes closer to each other or, if they’re permanently embedded, stand closer to them.
Q. How do you pitch a horseshoe?
A. Players, whether backyard beginners or professionals, use two underhand throwing methods: the turn and the flip. Both pitching methods are effective. Experienced players find each type of throw to be useful in different situations.
Turn: The player grasps the horseshoe by one of the shanks and pitches it so that it turns one or two times in the air. Some experts say the turn method is more accurate.
Flip: The player grasps the horseshoe at the top, or U-shaped bend, and pitches it so that it flips just once, ideally, and doesn’t turn. Some experts say the flip method is best for scoring ringers.
Continue on to the next section, “How to Play Horseshoes,” to learn a bit more about the game.
The game of horseshoes is deceptively simple. On a piece of flat ground, two stakes stand 40 feet (12 meters) apart. Two opposing players (or two opposing teams of two people) take turns throwing two horseshoes apiece at the far stake. One player pitches both horseshoes first, followed by the other player. The object of the game is to throw, or pitch, each horseshoe so that it lands encircling the stake (a ringer). After all players have pitched their horseshoes, the inning is complete, and the players switch sides.
A game continues until one player earns at least 15 points by the end of an inning, or until a preset number of total points have been scored or total shoes thrown, depending on the rules being followed.
Scoring depends on where each horseshoe lands, either encircling the stake or within six inches of the stake. There are two scoring methods: Cancellation and Count-All.
Cancellation scoring is where a player can reduce the score of an opponent by landing closer to the stake or on top of a ringer.
Count-All scoring is where players score points based on where their throws land.
A ringer is an ideal throw in which the horseshoe lands encircling the opposite stake. It’s surprisingly difficult to get a ringer. It is the highest-scoring single throw, earning a player three points. A double ringer – one on top of the other – is worth six points.
Horseshoes that land within six inches of the stake are worth one point.
Official games, such as those played under National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA) rules, limit the number of points or number of pitches.
Cancellation games are played until 40 points have been scored or until a preset limit of 40 or 50 shoes have been thrown. Count-All games are played until a preset limit of 20, 40, or 50 shoes have been thrown. The players set the limit before the game begins.
Cancellation rules boost strategic choices and can make the game more interesting for experienced players. For example, if each player throws a ringer in the same inning, the ringers cancel each other out and neither player scores.
If one player throws two ringers in an inning, and the opposing player throws one ringer in the same inning, the first player’s six points are knocked down to three points.