Horseshoes Rules

How to Play Horseshoes: Rules, Scoring, and Winning

Although during childhood most people played rousing games of horseshoes, rules tended to be thrown out the window. Most people, even as adults, still play with little or no actual knowledge of the rules. People simply tend to focus on getting ringers and attribute points that way. While this is fine for the occasional family picnic, people may be interested to know how the game is actually meant to be played and how proper scoring should be done. As an added bonus you will be able to stop any unfair scoring by people that have no working knowledge of the game.

Setting Up for a Game

One of the things that makes this game so much fun and easy to do is that all you essentially need is some stakes and horseshoes. Rules state that two stakes should be placed 40 feet apart from each other in their respective pits. The stakes should not be completely straight up and down, but rather titled forward at a slight angle.

A team may consist of one or two players with each team having two horseshoes. If you plan to play an informal game and do not want to set up two stakes, you may choose to only have two people play at a time to lessen confusion.

Basic Horseshoes Rules

The game of horseshoes is exceedingly simple to learn to play, making it ideal for adults and children of almost any age. Two opposing teams or players essentially take turns pitching horseshoes at stakes trying to get as close as possible to the stake in order to score. If you are utilizing one stake and only two players are playing, stand 40 feet from the stake and pitch a horseshoe. After one person’s pitch is complete, the opposing player will then pitch. After both players have gone twice and all four horseshoes are pitched, points should be tallied, since the inning is complete.

The game progresses like this until one player reaches the point mark. There is much debate over what the score to obtain should be. Some regulation rules say 40, but other factions say that 21 or even 50 points is the proper score. For informal family functions, quick games of 21 are ideal, since they give more people chances to play.


Scoring is a fairly simple concept to grasp, keeping in mind that the goal is to get as close to the stake as possible. If your horseshoe is the closest to the stake in an inning you will get one point. If both of your horseshoes are closer than the other player’s, you get two points. Ringers function on a different level completely. A ringer, where the stake is encircled completely by the shoe, is worth three points. Therefore if you get a ringer and your next toss is also the closest, you can get an additional point for that as well.

Some people choose to award extra points for “leaners.” A leaner happens when a horseshoe does not completely make it to ringer status, but leans up against the stake. Some people call horseshoes that are simply touching the stake a leaner as well. This should be decided upon prior to game play, since leaners qualify for an additional point and take precedence over normal tosses.



Cancellations are perhaps the most confusing part of scoring in horseshoes. If you get a ringer you may want to automatically give yourself 3 points. Unfortunately, if your opponent also gets a ringer, neither of you will receive credit for your ringers and points will then be awarded for your normal shoes. This also goes for shoes that land equal distances apart from the stake.

If, however, you manage to get two ringers in the same inning and your opponent only gets one, you get three points, since they were not able to cancel out your second ringer.

While some of the scoring concepts may seem a bit confusing, remember that this is a fun game and easily lends itself to being adapted to suit your needs. If there is a rule you don’t agree with, discuss it with the other players. Unless they’re sticklers, there should be no reason why the game can’t be changed to ensure that everyone has a good time.