Mechanics of a Pitch

(the following is an excerpt from an article written by Kevin McLachlin)

The following are a few tips which you might find useful in your quest to improve your game. 

All grips are described as if the pitcher was right handed. (if left handed reverse)

One of the keys to pitching horseshoes is to have a good grip. Below are a few grips and locations. All these grips are what is referred to as finger tip grips. Which is the most common grip used.

This is the basic flip grip. Thumb flat on top with index finger right of the ringer breaker and middle and ring finger on the other side. Baby finger acts as support underneath to stabilize everything. One of the more popular variations is to put the ringer breaker between your middle and ring finger which allows your index finger to run along the underside of the blade of the horseshoe adding more support. The goal is to pitch the horseshoe so it flips once in the air then lands open at the stake. Always pitch your flip shoe with the lugs down.

This view is to show how the baby finger supports the horseshoe for almost all grips. On occasion to garner extra support some people use the ring finger along with the baby finger which leaves only two fingers wrapped around the horseshoe and two underneath. If you are just learning it will take you a little while for your baby finger to gain enough strength to support the horseshoe so be patient it will come.

This is the typical grip for a 3/4 & 1 3/4 turn. The rotation of the horseshoe is clockwise. When gripping here your horseshoe will have a slight wobble with a smooth flight. To get more wobble in the turn you would move towards the closed end of the horseshoe while moving towards the open end will give you a flatter rotation and quicker turning action. A wobble (fluttering) in the air is a good thing. Most all world class pitchers have a wobble in their 1 3/4 or 1 1/4 turns.

This is the 1 1/4 turn grip. The rotation of the horseshoe in flight will be a smooth flat rotating turn with a very slight wobble. To get more wobble and a slower turn move down to the open end of the horseshoe resting your baby finger against the lug while moving more to the closed end will cause your turn to be even flatter and quicker but the horseshoe will have a tendency to nose dive (stand up) because you will be gripping the horseshoe in an out of balance position. In the picture to the left the thumb is almost right on the center of balance of this horseshoe which is good starting point.

By changing your thumb position on the 3/4 and 1 3/4 side the rotation will be quicker. Try this if your turn is just a tad to slow. With this grip the horseshoe will wobble a lot more. Use the thumb position as a fine tuner. Every varying degree of movement from straight across from the index finger like the pictures above to this extreme move will have a slightly different reaction.

By changing your thumb position on the 1 1/4 side you can slow your turn down and give it a little wobble at the same time. Look for two things in a horseshoes reaction. First is how it rotates open to the stake and secondly how it hooks. If you pitch the horseshoe correctly almost every horseshoe that touches the stake will hook and become a ringer.

  1. Learning the turn shoe– When learning to pitch a turn try a number of different grips on either the 1 3/4 side or the 1 1/4 side. After some time you will be able to determine which is best suited for you. The     1 1/4 is an easier shoe to learn and will give the user quicker results. Once you determine your grip focus only on landing the horseshoe open in the pit for the first while. Don’t worry about ringers because without an open shoe hitting the peg is pointless. You should practice just trying to land the shoe open until you can do it 50% of the time. Then and only then are you ready to focus on hitting the peg and scoring ringers by the dozens. Even if you are not learning a turn but are gong to flip the horseshoe you need to first get the horseshoe to either flip once or twice in the air then land open at the stake so the same applies. Train your wrist to land that horseshoe open then worry about hitting the stake

2) The Swing– to achieve the best and quickest results you need a good smooth straight swing. When taking the horseshoe back into the back swing try to keep your shoulders square to your target and take the horseshoe straight back . Don’t get the horseshoe tied up behind your back or let it drift out away from you body at the top of the back swing either case will make it difficult to have a straight follow through to the stake.

3) weight does matter – Picking the right weight of horseshoe is very important. The weight of your horseshoe affects a number of factors. A lighter horseshoe will be easier to pitch for young people or those that fatigue quickly. A light horseshoe will also turn or flip more easily. The down side of a light horseshoe is it more easily blown off line in the wind, bounces off more easily and is less durable than the heavier versions of the same model. By contrast a heavy horseshoe tends to be slower in the turn but is also more stable which makes it more predicable. It is also less likely to bounce off and because to make a heavy version of a horseshoe it would be about 10-15% thicker it is stronger and more durable. A medium weight is recommended for anyone who does not know which weight they prefer. It is a good starting point but the advantages of a heavy horseshoe should not be ignored. The NHPA (National Horseshoe Pitchers Assoc.) has a weight limit on how heavy a horseshoe can be which is 2lb-10oz but there is no weight minimum. This should be an indicator that the heavier a horseshoe is the better the potential average. In the past a substantial amount of the best horseshoe pitchers in the World used heavy weight horseshoes. So did you find a horseshoe that feels really good but the turn or flip is not quite right. Try switching weights you will be surprised how the same horseshoe works so much differently in a heavier or lighter weight

5) practice with purpose – A practice session should be broke down into 3 or 4 sections. The warm-up period which is as stated is time to get loose, about 10 minutes. Then comes the tune in phase which is where you might try to adjust something like the turn or alignment etc. (but very important only work on one at a time). After experimenting pitch groups of 40 shoes. The goal is to push yourself to pitch games which are equal to or exceed your typical ringer % performance. In a normal practice session pitch 2 or 3 games in this manner then shut down. Another good way to practice is depending on your average, is to place one spare horseshoe around one stake and one spare horseshoes around the stake at the other. Now take your horseshoes and try to beat that imaginary person who always has one ringer on (50%). If you beat him you just pitched over 50% and if you don’t but the final score is 42-36 you know by quick calculation you are playing at about 45 to 48%. Since it is harder to keep ringers on top of other horseshoes you will also get some good feedback how your horseshoe is performing around the stake and whether bounce-offs are an issue.

6) Know your weakness– Everyone has one whether it be pitching short shoes, missing right, over-turning etc., your horseshoes are always telling you a story. If you don’t know your weakness go out and pitch 40 shoes and mark down where each miss is. Review the results. Chances are the one which shows up most on your sheet is also the one that plagues you during tournament play. The idea is to first identify it then work solely on eliminating that thing which is holding you back. It will take some patience possibly some adjustments but once you have fixed your weaknesses your percentage will go up leaps and bounds.

7) Expand the strike zone– just like in bowling where the goal is to find an angle into the pocket which gives you the biggest margin of area and still strike, horseshoes is the same. Every time you line up a horseshoe and pitch it you are generally aiming for the middle of the stake. But  the reality is sometimes the horseshoe drifts a little right but is still a ringer and sometimes it drifts a little left and is still a ringer. All is good, but most people have this habit of either getting a ringer or missing more on the right side of the stake. In essence you are only using half of your horseshoes potential. Which greatly reduces your chances for a ringer. The ultimate goal is to get your alignment down to a point where half of your misses are on the left side of the stake and half on the right. Which will in turn mean more around the stake. You can even switch sides which gives you a completely different look at the stake. Open up the strike zone. Use the whole horseshoe and get more ringers.

8) Consistency is the Key– Unlike most sports in which there is typically a defined right way and wrong way to achieve results. Horseshoes is a game where any number of different techniques such as swings, grips, heights, speeds can all still achieve the same ultimate response, the perfect ringer. It’s not that some styles are better than others or that some people should go back to the drawing board, but the main key to pitching ringers is to be able to repeat the same motion time after time. Accepted your style for what it is and work on perfecting that delivery time after time. By tinkering too much and trying to change things too many things, your consistency and average will suffer. Find a swing/style that works for you then just keep practicing it until it becomes as natural as walking.

9) Set-up As you practice you should come up with a routine. Once you develop this routine you should always follow the same routine be it in practice or in a tournament. This way it becomes natural and reliable. Under the pressure of a tournament sometimes it is difficult to think but you can still draw some level of confidence knowing that if you go through your normal routine, a ringer will be the result. When setting up a routine don’t make it so long it becomes annoying and cumbersome. Under practice conditions you are not likely to follow it if it is too long, so it won’t help you. Something simple but relevant is best.

10) Paint your Horseshoes A tip from Dean McLauglin, a Canadian Hall of Fame pitcher, is he would paint his horseshoes whenever things were not going well. It accomplished two things. When a horseshoe is panted it gives it a different feel which might help you get out of the slump, but more importantly it will allow you to follow your horseshoe in the air and possibly determine what is going wrong. Another benefit for painting your horseshoes is the paint acts like a shock adsorber when hitting the stake. You will have less bounce-offs and your horseshoes will most likely last longer if always kept with a nice layer of paint on them.

I11) Write it down After you just finished having a good practice session write down any tweeking you did to your style which proved beneficial. It may be something simple like if you hold the horseshoe a little flatter it turns better, anything you found that helped. You would be surprised how quick you forget. If it’s on paper you can always reference it.