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Horseshoe History

Actual shoes for horses and other beasts of burden began in ancient times. Although horseshoes did not often appear in ancient art, there are enough instances to beg the probability. For example a mosaic portraying the Battle of Issus dug up in Pompeii in the 1830s clearly shows a horseshoe on a horse1. Also Catullus refers to a shoe of a mule in his poetry and he lived during the time of Augustus.

Photo of Old Horseshoes

Horseshoes were developed to harden and protect the hooves of horses for the rigorous jobs they had to perform. Interestingly enough, the first horseshoes were not nailed on, but held on in the same manner sandals were held onto the feet of humans. Even so, the Dark Ages saw much less use of horseshoes, and it does not appear that horses were generally shod until at least the 9th century. The practice did not become common in England until the invasion by the Normans in 1066. (Though horseshoes were certainly used there in Roman times.)

Horseshoes: A History of the Game!

The game of horseshoes is thought to have descended from the ancient Greek sport of the discus throw. The story is that Greeks developed a sport where the discus was thrown at a stake. But many of the poorer people could not afford the discus so they used cast off horseshoes instead. At the time, horseshoes were actually round, with a hole in the middle. This evolved into the game of quoits (which uses a 4 pound iron ring in a manner similar to horseshoes). Quoits then spawned the game of horseshoes.2

Horseshoes in the United States was probably brought over by the early English settlers. But modern horseshoes might well be called "muleshoes" because it was spread by Union soldiers during the American Civil War playing the game with the discarded shoes of mules.

The first world championship of horseshoe pitching took place in 1910 in Bronson, Kansas. At this event ringers counted five points, leaners three, and close shoes one. The first organization of Horseshoe pitchers was also in Kansas in 1914, making that state the home of American Horseshoe pitching. Standards were set regulating the size and weight of horseshoes (2 pounds to 2 pounds and 2 ounces). The stake was then ordered to stick 8 inches out of the ground.

But it was not until 1920 that many of the more familiar rules were adopted such as cancellation scoring. The stake was also raised to 10 inches (leaning slightly toward the opposite stake). It was also at this time that extra points awarded for leaners was abolished. It is interesting that even today (nearly 100 years later) there is controversy among new players regarding the value of a "leaner".

In the 1930s the stake was raised again to 15 inches. And the number of points for an official game went from 50 to 40 points. Today, the game is popular throughout the United States. It is estimated that more than 10 million people play horseshoes every year.

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  1. History of the Horse-Shoe
  2. Ref to: - National Horseshoe Pitching History