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Horseshoe Game: Rules, Scoring, & 5 Best Sets

My grandson asked me if he could get the used horseshoes from our barn so he could play horseshoes at his house. I told him it would be near impossible to play with used shoes because of their different sizes and shapes. After some thought, I decided to shop around and buy him a horseshoe game set and teach him about scoring and strategy.

Horseshoe throwing, also known as horseshoe pitching or simply horseshoes, is a game in which players throw horseshoes or metal rings over a stake driven in the ground.  The best horseshoe set for the money is the Triumph Forged Steel Set.

I love playing horseshoes: it’s simple, straightforward, and refreshingly basic. One can play it alone or with other people. You can play it anywhere – indoors or outdoors. It is portable, inexpensive, and – when you pitch well, you can keep things challenging and satisfying enough to keep players interested. It is also surprisingly good exercise.

Picture of family playing horseshoe game.

In this guide on horseshoes, I will cover:

  • Horseshoe game rules: Horseshoe distances and scoring
  • Best horseshoe game sets.
  • The history of Horseshoes

Horseshoe Game Rules

The rules for pitching horseshoe game are simple:

  • Two players/teams should have two horseshoes each and a pair of sticks called stob or stakes. You drive the stakes into the ground with a distance of 25 feet or 40 feet between them.
  • Each player gets a turn to toss his/her horseshoe one at a time at the stake opposite them. A coin toss can decide which player goes first. Both players pitch from the same end.
  • The opponent also tosses their horseshoe.
  • When both players have had a chance at tossing their horseshoe, they pick up their horseshoes and pitch them towards the other stake. It’s very similar to the ring toss game, another outdoor game we like.

·       If the shoe lands one shoe length from the stake, the player earns one point. If the shoe leans against the stake, the player gets two points. If the shoe circles the stake, the player gets three points.

  • Players can decide beforehand what the winning score is. It can be 21, 50, or anything else the players agree on.
  • In singles, players pitch from one end of the court, walk down to the other end for scoring, and then pitch back.
  • In doubles, the partners are separated and they stand at each end of the court.
  • There is a time limit of 30 seconds between pitches.
  • Foul shoe – if a player takes more than 30 seconds to pitch, it results in a foul shoe. A foul shoe also occurs if the player over-steps the foul line that marks the front of the pitching platform.

Horseshoe Game Distances

Earlier, the game was played on dirt courts with the stakes/stobs 38 ½ feet apart. The stakes had to be 2 inches above the ground. Today, there are several modifications in real tournaments.

For example, modern horseshoe game tournament courts measure 46 feet x 6 feet (L x W). They also keep a buffer or safety zone of 2 feet around the court making it 50 x 10 feet. There is a backboard or backstop at least 3 feet high at the end of each court.

The pitcher’s box contains a pit 3 x 4 feet (W x L) filled with clay or dirt. In the center of this is the stake 14-15 inches high tilted forward at an angle of 12 degrees.

In real tournaments for men aged 18 years and above, the full pitching distance is about 37 feet from the foul line to the stake. This distance is much smaller for other competitions.

Women, kids, the elderly, and physically challenged people’s competitions use a pitching distance of 27 feet. Juniors under the age of 12 observe the 20-foot foul line.

Horseshoe Game Scoring

Basic scoring

  • If the shoe encircles the stake, it is called a ringer. This is worth 3 points.
  • If the shoe comes to rest within 6 inches of the stake, it is worth 1 point. A leaner is when the shoe leans against the stake. This is also worth 1 point.

In tournaments, there are two ways of scoring – cancellation scoring and count-all scoring.

Cancellation scoring

In cancellation scoring, only one contestant can score in an inning.

Here, the ringers of each player cancel each other out. However, another shoe can still be scored. The following examples will explain this more clearly:

  • If Player A has 2 ringers, and Player B has 1 ringer, then Player B’s second ringer counts.
  • If Player A has a ringer and their second shoe lands within 3 inches of the stake and Player B also has a ringer but his/her second shoe lands within 5 inches of the stake, then the ringers will cancel each other out but player A still gets 1 point.

Count-all scoring

In count-all scoring, all shoes are counted. Thus, in the above example

  • Player A would get 4 points.
  • Player B would get 3 points.


The winner is determined by mutual agreement at the beginning either by the number of points or a certain number of innings.

For family play, you get ready-to-use horseshoe game sets. These are easy to set up and you can play them indoors or outdoors.

Here are 5 of the best horseshoe game sets with honest reviews.

Best Horseshoe Game Sets

1.      Winner: Franklin Sports Horseshoes Set

Franklin Sports Horseshoes Set is a professional-grade horseshoe set made of high-quality construction forged steel. This set is easy to set up -all you do is push the stakes into the ground and start pitching. Franklin Sports also offers other high-quality horseshoe sets even a children’s set.


  • Size: 20-inch stakes (2), 2.1 lb. horseshoes (4)
  • Made from forged steel
  • Comes with a carrying case


  • Sturdy and durable
  • Easy to setup
  • Great for gifting
  • Value for money


  • The stakes are 5/8th inch in diameter – which is not the professional size (1-inch) of actual tournament stakes.

How it compares

Most users had a satisfactory experience with the Franklin Sports horseshoe set. However, a few found the stakes too short – after putting in 9-10 inches into the ground, only 10-inches are left above the ground whereas the official height is 15-inches.

Having said that, it is a great set for beginners and kids. The price is attractive and that makes it great for gifting too.

2.      Best Overall: Champion Sports Horseshoe Set

A picture of five horseshoes and pole

Champion Sports makes horseshoe sets of four different kinds: deluxe, tournament, classic, and elite. This one is the Deluxe set which conforms to professional standards and features regulation weighted horseshoes. This isn’t a cheap plastic set, rather it is designed to last a lifetime!


  • Contains standard weighted horseshoes (made of pot metal) and 2 solid stakes
  • Comes with a handy carrying case made of sturdy nylon.


  • Easy to setup
  • High-quality craftsmanship
  • Portable
  • Great for gifting


  • Stakes could be a little longer – this would help anchor them to the ground.

How it compares

Note that the Champion Sports horseshoe set is made in China – it even has the word ‘China’ stamped all over it. Some users found the set pieces flimsy – the stakes and shoes broke after a few uses.

However, thousands of users have given this a 5-star rating which makes it a great horseshoe set under $50 in our books. I suggest you click on the link to learn why close to 2,000 customers like this horseshoe set.

3.      Best for Kids: WIN Sports Horseshoe Set for Indoor-Outdoor Use

Win Sports Indoor-Outdoor horseshoe set can be easily adapted to suit multiple age groups. It is sure to enhance the excitement at your kids’ birthday parties, summer BBQs, camping trips, beach trips, etc. The plastic, non-toxic, portable game set is perfect for younger kids and a surefire summer-time boredom buster!


  • Set of four horseshoes – 2 red and 2 blue
  • Includes a rubber mat and mesh bag
  • Plastic pegs and stakes
  • Has a lightweight, durable, and portable design.


  • Easy to setup
  • Great for all ages
  • You can use it indoors and outdoors
  • Eco-friendly and odorless-safe and non-toxic for kids
  • Durable


  • Stakes do not go in easily into the hard ground.

How it compares

For under $20, this is a great horseshoe game set. Although it says it is for all ages, most users felt it is better for kids due to its plastic parts. The plastic stakes do not go in the hard ground, so it may be better for indoor play.

4.      Most Durable: TRIUMPH Forged Steel Horseshoe Set

With TRIUMPH’s horseshoe set, you won’t have to worry about the elements. This tough forged steel set can withstand rain and shine. Its ultra, double-powder-coated finish won’t fade and is sure to look good year after year.


  • 4 horseshoes – 2 in silver hammarite and 2 in gold hammarite finish
  • Stakes are 16 mm in diameter and 20-inches in length.
  • Each shoe is 2.5 lb. in weight.


  • Value for money
  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Great for gifting.
  • Ideal for outdoor use


  • Does not have a carrying case to keep the set together.
  • Stakes are similar in color which makes them hard to see.

How it compares

For under $50, the TRIUMPH horseshoe set offers value for money. On the downside, a small percentage of users found the stakes too small. However, thousands of users love this forged steel horseshoe set thanks to its durability

5.      Best Budget: GoSports Horseshoes Regulation Game Set

Want a regulation horseshoe set without spending too much? GoSports horseshoe set is affordable and well-made and sure to bring back your school-time memories!


  • Sturdy steel construction
  • Shoes have A and B molded on them
  • Steel stakes securely let you stake it on land/grass
  • Carry-case included


  • Excellent for gifting
  • Easy to setup – excellent length of stakes
  • Value for money
  • Durable
  • Affordable


  • Paint on the shoes comes off.

How it compares

With the GoSports horseshoe set, you get a great price and guaranteed good times! This is an excellent set for those on a budget. It is sure to enhance your family fun on camping trips or adult game nights.

You will love the fact that the stakes easily enter the hard ground without too much effort. On the downside, the paint comes off after playing a few times. Also, the carrying case does not have compartments so the shoes and stakes clang inside it. However, that isn’t an issue for most users.

Picture of people playing horseshoes,

History of Horseshoes

“Horseshoes is a very good thing to do when you have no need or desire to pretend to be heroic”

– Sports Illustrated.

The use of horseshoes can be traced back to 200 BC and there are records of Greek coins showing them. Greeks and Romans both shod their horses using iron plates and rings. Later, some wise guys got the idea of pitching the heavy discarded iron shoes and the horseshoe game was born.

This pastime of pitching metal or stone objects came to be known as quoits. It was only a matter of time before quoits branched into discus throw and horseshoes.

During the 16th and 17th Centuries, the game of horseshoes moved from Europe to England and became the nation’s favorite pastime. However, British aristocrats looked down upon it as the ‘poor man’s vulgar version of quoits’.

Later, the British brought the game to America and soon the Civil War soldiers were passing time by pitching mule shoes. After the Civil War, communities started making up their own horseshoe rules, so much so, that there were courts created to establish and decide the winners.

By the early 20th Century, the American Mid-West became the epi-center of the horseshoe game.  In 1909, the First Horseshoe Pitching Tournament was held in Kansas. The winner of this tournament was a gentleman named Frank Johnson. Johnson successfully continued to defend his title as world champion for several years after.

After the Second World War, the game became extremely popular in Texas schools. In ranching communities, people started playing it during the noon hours and recess times. Naturally, there were several variants of the game, and each community used different rules and equipment for playing it.

Today, North Americans continue to dominate the horseshoe game. The National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of North America organizes tournaments, promotes the sport, and ensures that rules and equipment for the game are standardized.

Final Recommendation

The horseshoe game has been around for centuries – it has evolved over the years but still retains its classic charm and stirs up excitement in all age groups.

My family loves the game and I am sure yours will too. Since we play so often we dedicate an area to play and dumped sand around the stakes. I highly recommend you do the same, if not the horseshoes will tear up the grass and you’ll end up with a muddy mess.

These days, you get ready-made and portable horseshoe game sets to carry on your camping trips or play on the lawn or at the beach. A good set should contain sturdy stakes and horseshoes.

The stakes should be easy to put into the ground and also be durable and long-lasting. Based on these requirements, we recommend the Triumph Forged Steel Set which is super easy to set up and extremely well-made. Don’t forget to check out my other fun outdoor pitching games, cornhole, and ring toss.