The Stakes Are Raised
The game of horseshoes underwent several modifications in the early 1900s. Most notably, the stakes were raised and the shape of the horseshoe was modified. In 1911, the height of the stake increased from two to six inches. Stakes continued to inch up until 1950 when they reached the current regulation height of between 14 and 15 inches.
Early tournaments had no rule regarding the weight, size or even shape of the horseshoe. A competitor in a 1911 tournament used a shoe that was four inches longer on one side. When the Grand League of American Horseshoe Pitchers Association (now that’s a name) formed in 1919, it determined that a competition horseshoe should weigh between two pounds and two pounds, two ounces. Today’s competition shoes can weigh up to two pounds, 10 ounces.
In 1919, a second governing body for horseshoe pitching formed. The National League of Horseshoe and Quoit Pitchers (NLHPQ) merged with the GLAHPA in 1921. The new organization wisely shortened its acronym to the NHPA—the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association.
In the roaring twenties, horseshoe pitching was a popular spectator sport regularly covered on the sports pages. During this period, both winter and summer world championship tournaments were held every year. An Akron, Ohio, sportswriter named Doc Kerr dubbed the game “barnyard golf,” an apparent reference to the games popularity in rural areas. The moniker stuck and for more than a decade it was a common name for horseshoe pitching.
The Game for Town Bragging Rights
The longest game of horseshoes ever recorded lasted five months and four days. Okay, so it was actually a series of games between the postmaster and the train station agent in Hayward, Minnesota. On March 6, 1930, the two set out to determine who was the best horseshoe pitcher in Hayward. They originally agreed to play to 5,000 points.
The players pitched an average of five games each day. The games were each worth 50 points. When Postmaster R. E. Dewey reached 5,000 points, station agent J. C. Hanson was right behind with 4,972 points. The competition was so close they agreed to extend the game to 10,000 and then 25,000 points. In the end, Dewey won 25,000-24,949. Each player won 293 of the 586 rounds pitched.
Close Still Counts in Horseshoes
Over the years, the distance between the pegs and the scoring of horseshoes have changed slightly. The stakes in men’s competition are now 40 feet apart. Women’s courts have 30 feet between the stakes. In terms of scoring, ringers are now worth three points, a learner (a shoe touching the stake) or a shoe that comes to rest with any part six inches or closer to the stake counts one point. The last major rule change in horseshoes was instituted in 1982. It determined that games would be played to 40 points.
The NHPA estimates the more than 15 million people enjoy the game of horseshoes recreationally. The sport is most popular in Canada and the United States. The NHPA has 15,000 members. More than 6,000 participate in the organization’s league program.
Men’s world champion titles have been award since 1909. A women’s world championship tournament was started in 1920. Today, championships are also awarded in boy’s, girl’s and senior divisions.