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Horseshoe Pitching; a History Thereof
The Life of a Horse's Foot
As history has shown horses can be a handful;specifically their feet. Why? Well horses were meant for drier and more hospitable environments then what we humans expose them to. Also (opposed to a wild animal's relatively unencumbered life) people, cargo, armor and pretty much anything else you can think of has been repetitively shoved on and off the back of domesticated horses for as long as they've been domesticated. Captivity, at the same time, robs a horse of a wide variety of rough terrain that would otherwise act to harden and condition a horse's hoof. The result of these factors: long and fragile hooves prone to cracking and thus feet prone to injury.
Protecting the Feet of Our Equine Friends
Throughout its history, this problem has had various solutions. One answer was horse boots of one kind or another (either made of cloth or animal hide) but this remedy proved at best a half measure. Another solution arose in the form of metal shoes. Originally these were large flat plates that were strapped onto the horse's hoof rather then nailed. After centuries of refinement the familiar U-shaped horse shoe emerged and has now been the convention for hundreds of years.
The Era of Shoe Pitchin'
So why throw them at a stick? The history of horseshoe pitching is wrought with myths and inconsistency. One widely accepted falsehood is that poor Roman foot soldiers gathered the discarded horseshoes of their superiors and used them to mimic the Olympic discus throwers they idolized. The problem with this story is that Roman horses were equipped with the horse boots or flat strapped-on plates described above; the aerodynamic U-shape wasn't developed until centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire. The real root of horseshoe pitching is the game quoits, which actually does have Roman origins. Quoits is historically a very prevalent game in England and eventually evolved to use horseshoes in place of quoits rings. Over time the rules of the game and the shape and characteristics of the actual shoe have gone through steady evolution.
Rules of the Game
While representing a potential sea of terminology and technical details, the modern rules of horseshoes are in essence simple enough. Two teams stand at opposite ends of a 46 foot long court, and pitch horseshoes at metal stakes 37 feet away. The objective is a ringer, which occurs when the horseshoe encompasses the stake; named so because of the ringing noise the shoe makes when clanging against the stake.
Scoring a game of horseshoes is sufficiently straightforward. A ringer, as described above, warrants 3 points. If the shoe lands anywhere else within 6 inches of the stake, 1 point is gained, although popular variations dictate 2 points for leaners (when the shoe is touching the stake but not encompassing it). Hence the expression: close only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades; as an unsuccessful but close pitch will still earn points.
And that essentially is it. Horseshoes is a fun, exciting, ever-growing sport. People love it for it for many reasons. It offers ample but not too exhausting exercise (much like golf) and provides a great medium for relaxing outdoor family fun. Some people yet enjoy it for the unique physical (and often mental) challenge this interesting sport offers. Whatever the reason, literally tens of millions of people cherish playing this exceptional game every year.
About the Author: Andy Morrison is a writer, webmaster, and chief administrator for TheShoePit.com—an online distributor of horseshoe pitching equipment.