Basic Instruction on How to Play Horseshoes

You don't need a lot of instruction on how to play horseshoes. At first blush, the game looks very simple, and it is. Four players on two teams take turns tossing horseshoes at a spike in the ground, trying to get them on or near the spike. That's the basic game of horseshoes, and it's been played the same way for generations.

If you're just learning how to play horseshoes, here's what you should know about forms of doubles and how to score a game.

Different Types of Doubles
Decide whether you are going to play doubles or walking doubles. In regular doubles, both team members use one pair of shoes. Pairs of players, one from each team, stay at opposite ends of the court for the whole game. One side pitches, and the partners at the opposite end call the score, retrieve the shoes and pitch them back.

In walking doubles, all of the contestants have their own set of shoes. The lower-rated contestants pitch their four shoes, then the higher-rated pitchers pitch their four shoes. The pitchers walk to the other end of the court, decide on the scoring, and pick up their shoes. The team with the highest score will pitch first for the rest of the game.

Calling the Score
When calling the score, ringers should be called first. A ringer is a horseshoe that completely encircles the stake. If there are no ringers, then the horseshoes that land closest to the stake may score points.

Points are scored in the following manner:

  • No ringers, closest shoe (must be within six inches of the stake): 1 point
  • No ringers, two closest shoes: 2 points
  • Ringer: 3 points
  • Leaner (a shoe that is propped up against the stake): 2 points (although this only scores as 1 point in professional matches)

The highest score for a single player in a single round is 12, or 4 ringers at 3 points each. Players can score in more than one way during a single round. For example, if a player has one ringer and two additional horseshoes that are closest to the stake, that player would get 5 points, 3 for the ringer and 2 for the two closest shoes (the ringer can't count as one of the closest shoes).

Games are typically played to 21 points, and your team must win by 2 points. Shoe limit can also be used. A pre-determined even number of shoes is called, such as 40 or 50 shoes. After all shoes have been thrown, the person with the highest score is the winner. A combination of both limits can be used, and when the shoe limit or points are reached, the game ends. If someone reaches 40 points before all of the shoes are thrown, that person wins. If the 40-point limit is not reached before all the shoes are thrown, the person with the highest score wins.

Cancellation Scoring
For a truly competitive game, you can use cancellation scoring. Under this rule, if you and your opponent both score a ringer during the same turn, the ringers cancel each other out. These are known as dead ringers. For two teams of skilled players, this rule can help prolong a game and keep it challenging.

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