There are few outdoor sports that I really enjoy. That’s probably because it’s too hard to shoot a basketball or swing a tennis racket with a beer in your hand. That’s why I love horseshoes! Nothing beats throwing around dangerously heavy pieces of steel at a small stick in the ground while you’re barbecuing some steaks and enjoying a cold beer or two. Build your own kick-butt horseshoe pit with the following how-to, get some steaks and beer and you might not ever be able to get your friends to ever go home!
The only thing that prevents me from becoming a professional horseshoe pitcher is the fact that you can’t throw a shoe while you’re holding a beer. Maybe that’s a good thing when there are dozens of people throwing shoes at a tournament — nothing stings more than a shot to the forehead with a heavy horseshoe.
Regardless of my beer consumption practices, I find that the NHPA or National Horseshoe Pitchers Association rules for the sport are spot on, and, so are their blueprints for a real horseshoe pit. If you’re looking to really create a professional pit, take a look at the NHPA website here. The site has everything you need to make a pro pitching pit, rules of the game and a bunch of other junk about the subject.
The Horseshoe Court & Materials
To put a horseshoe court in your yard you need two things; at least a 50’ long x 6’ wide area for playing and permission from your wife/girlfriend/mom. Nothing kills a friendly game of horseshoes like an angry woman.
You also need some wood. I was lucky enough to have some old crappy wood laying around that I was just going to burn in the fire anyways, so it worked out good for me. I used some old eight foot long 2×4’s and 2×6’s for the job.
Getting the Basic Layout
To begin the basic layout, it’s important to take a few measurements and mark them on the ground using a few old boards, stakes or string line. This can help you to ensure the court is square on all four sides and doesn’t end up as a parallelogram once it’s all said and done. Abstaining from beer during the planning and construction phase can help you avoid any embarrassing parallelograms.
I set up the first stake and pulled my measurements off of that. Once I had everything lined up right, I started to break ground.
The Horseshoe Pit
Since where I live has a bunch of root-filled sand, I thought it best to excavate a few inches of soil out of the hole and backfill it I with some good clean sand. According to the NHPA, they fill their pits in with clay. But I find that that makes it too easy to get ringers when the shoe hits the dirt – it just slides onto the stake. Not much of a challenge, so I like to use some really soft sand. This allows the shoe to stop dead in its tracks, so if you didn’t throw it right onto the stake then better luck next time.
I copied the NHPA’s measurements for a horseshoe court — but I made a few minor modifications to suit my needs. For instance, the NHPA’s courts pit box is recommended to be 48” x 36” but because I was using a 2×6 and 2×4 for my materials, I ended up with my dimensions slightly off because of the width of the boards. Unless you’re engaged in tournament play or you are a horseshoe purist, I think taking a few liberties with dimensions is perfectly acceptable.
Once I excavated the pit, I installed my boards around the pit so I had three 2×6’s on each side of the pit (the throwing platform) and two 2×4’s and a 2×6 for the foul line and backboard area. I toe nailed them together on each side and measured from inside corner to inside corner to ensure the pit was a true square.
The Horseshoe Pit Backstop
It really sucks going after a rogue shoe — especially one that’s lost in the bushes, so a backstop is a great way to prevent those troubles. I used three 2×6’s cut at 36” and toe nailed together. Two stakes in the back help to hold it in place. Be sure to center the backstop on the pit.
The stakes can be the toughest part of the installation. They need to be secured into the ground, but they also need a little play when a shoe hits it. The NHPA says to wrap the bottom of the stake with a garden hose and put it into a five gallon bucket of concrete if you don’t have a metal plate to attach the stake to the concrete base. I thought that was a little overkill but liked the idea of a rubber hose to help keep the stake flexible.
I simply dug a 16” hole with posthole diggers and created a sort of bell shape in the bottom of the hole. I backfilled it with concrete and wrapped the stake with some leftover floating floor padding. Once the concrete hardened, I backfilled the pit with some really good sand. I poured some water onto it a few times to help compact it.
Once the one side was done, it was only a matter of repeating the process over at the other end, inviting my friends over and firing up the grill. Happy horseshoes!