First, decide on the location and pit material. The pit location was easily determined, in the shade. Secondly, did I need to put in two pits? The location of my underground cabling, location of my park style bench and direction of the sun, simplified the choice. WARNING! If you have decided to put in a pit, contact your local “Miss Utility,” to locate your underground wiring. I decided that one pit would do.
The chosen pit location was slightly downhill, which was good. The pit would be mostly above ground and didn’t require a lot of digging. My main power cable ran fairly close to the front of the pit. The standard pit is 3 feet wide and 6 feet long with the stake smack in the middle. I decided I didn’t need a pit that large. I had a number of treated logs from a previous garden that would work fine. They were 48″, so, length became 48″, width almost 24″. I used a 7/8″ stake mounted in a piece of wood at a 12 degree angle and 15″ above the ground. I later changed this stake to 1″ because it started bending backwards from the constant hitting. More on that later.
The fact of the matter, you could simply drive a stake in the ground, measure off 40 feet and mark a foul line at 37 feet, and you’re in business. For Elders, Women or Juniors measure off 30 feet and put a foul line mark at 27 feet. If I was serious about this, I wanted the pit and approach to simulate tournament conditions. Therefore, I put in the pit.
I also included a backboard about 12″ above the pit and covered it with a thick rubber mat to muffle the sound and protect the wood from shoes going long. For a while, I covered the stake with heavy 1″ rubber tubing to muffle the sound of the shoe hitting the stake for the sake of the neighbors. It wasn’t too long before the rubber was badly gouged and subsequently discarded.
Next, was the 40 foot approach(s). I put in both left and right side approaches, exactly 36″ apart, just as they would be on a regulation pit. I put in a marker for where the stake would be located, if a pit were there. I use this marker for foot positioning. Six 16×16″ concrete slabs from Lowes at $3.00 each took care of both approaches, 3 for each approach. Both approaches are perfectly level and properly lined up with the far pit. Two weeks ago, when I requalified as an Elder, I added a second approach at 30 feet.
This became a fairly easy choice. I’ve never attended a sanctioned tournament that used sand. So, clay would be the choice. Finding suitable clay was almost impossible to find and too expensive. Artificial clay was also excluded. I chose “Kitty Litter.” Two 50 pound bags of Kitty Litter from my local BJ’s and one 40 pound bag of children’s play sand, took care of the pit material. Kitty Litter is white clay. Don’t use regular sand from your local building supply store. It is too grainy for the mix. WARNING! There has been some information about the silica in Kitty Litter in the dry state. So don’t breath in the dust as a precaution, when pouring.
To fill the pit, add a little Kitty Litter and a light topping of sand. Lightly water the mix until both sand and clay are wet and continue this formula until the pit is filled. Let it set until the next day giving the clay time to absorb the water. The next day, turn over the mixture and top off with a layer of sand. I use a 8″x8″ tamper, purchased from Lowe’s to tamp down the pit. You’ll know the pit is ready when the pit material does not stick to the tamper. Eventually, you will get the clay to a consistency that comes close to the clay in tournament pits. About every other night I slightly water down the pit, and cover it with a tarp. I also use a piece of PVC pipe with a cap to cover the stake for safety reasons.
The image above is my finished pit. Note: the ringers were not staged, but, I did wait until I made them to take the picture. After the photo was taken I replaced the stake with a 1″ diameter stake to conform to most tournament stakes. I placed a number of calls to various welders in the area and located an old horseshoe pitcher who agreed to weld a 22″ stake to two 16″x16″ steel plates with a 3″ lean (12 degrees) at 15″ above ground. Cost — $50. It is rock solid. The plates are buried 7″ below the level of the pit. The welder even painted all of the steel with rust inhibitor.
NOTE: In 2008 I switched from kitty litter to blue clay. See Part 16 for a description of the purchase and installation of blue clay which I have continued to use since.
Part 3 will discuss my variety of horseshoes, the importance of knowing the center of gravity, and links to the various sellers and manufacturers of the various horseshoes.
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