The Search for My Perfect Swing — Part 4


It is my belief that anyone using proper technique from 30 feet should be able to throw a ringer every time. The key, of course, is proper technique.  It has been my goal during the past year to try to determine exactly — “What is proper technique?”  I decided to see if my software development background could be used to review each aspect of the pitching of a horseshoe.  So, I began to break down each phase of the pitching of a horseshoe.  Any good programmer will try to convert every variable to a constant, where possible.  So, it is this guiding concept that dictates “Horseshoes My Way.” A constant is a position that can be taken accurately and reached repeatedly. Further, if you stray, you will be able to spot the error immediately.

Constant 1 — The Pendulum Swing.  I decided to base my swing on the pendulum.  It is a very simple concept, but, very accurate.  The simple definition of a Pendulum is “A rigid body free to swing on a horizontal axis under the influence of gravity.”  Unfortunately, gravity alone, in this case, will not launch a horseshoe far enough to get to the stake.  However, it was fairly easy to monitor the arm swing as if it were the “rigid body” and the shoulder as the hub.  Everything from this point on, is based on the shoulder as the hub, the arm as the shaft and the horseshoe as the weight. A pendulum has four constants; 1) an exact swing axis, 2) a constant swing speed, 3) a stop point on the forward swing, and 4) a stop point on the backswing. Visualize the pendulum in a grandfather clock as your goal. It is also possible to use a simple metronome to monitor the speed.

Constant 2Center of Gravity. Each horseshoe has only one “Center of Gravity.” Kenny Wolf has done an excellent job of describing how to determine the center of gravity.  See URL . It is the center of gravity that needs to be pitched at the stake. 

Constant 3Line of Flight. This is a line that is a continuation of the pendulum swing. To create this line of flight — tie a cord to the base of the stake and temporarily terminate the cord to the right and behind the approach.  Next, take your normal stance on the approach, take your normal grip on your horseshoe, extend the arm straight downward (no bend in the elbow) and drop the shoe.  Mark the location of where the center of gravity is, when the shoe hits the ground.  Pull the cord taut exactly over the spot.  Next mark the location of where the cord passes over the front of the pit. Place an eyelet, nail, etc. at that spot and move the cord from the stake to the nail.  Now, pull the cord taut behind the approach making sure the cord passes over the center of gravity spot.  Every horseshoe thrown should follow this “Line of Flight.”

Constant 4Continuation of the Line of Flight.  There are two points that insure the arm swing is following the line of flight.  A point at the end of the backswing and a point at the end of the forward swing. When you swing your arm back, there will be a point where it stops.  This is your backswing constant.  The endpoint of the forward swing is a little more difficult to find.  So, we’ll add a helping aid.  To create the forward swing endpoint.  Drop a plumb directly over the line of flight at a height of the top of your head or a few inches higher. Place the plumb so that some part of your hand in line with the center of gravity touches the plumb at the top of your forward swing.  To prove that this is a valid point — stand at the end of the approach and drop your arm straight down with the horseshoe directly over the line of flight cord. Simply swing your arm up and touch the plumb.  On the way up release the shoe.  The shoe should land directly over the line of flight cord downrange.  Try again and this time add additional effort, hit the plumb and make sure the shoe lands further down the line of flight cord.  Test this further by standing at the foul line, swing the shoe up and touch the plumb and hold it’s position.  Now, start your back swing to your backswing endpoint and swing forward, release the shoe and touch the plumb. Where did the shoe land?  If the shoe landed left of the line of flight, you swung your arm outside of the line of flight on the backswing.  If the shoe lands right, then you swung your arm too far inside.  If you have continual problems with the backswing, hang down something very light, such as a light washer, that will touch your arm/hand lightly to signal the correct backswing location and height.

Constant 5 — Addressing the Stake. This constant has to do with standardizing your shoe location at the start of your downswing. When you begin the swing, swing the shoe up, parallel to the ground (90 degrees). You will note that when your shoe is at eye level and directly below the plumb, visually the shoe is to the right of the stake.  Make note of where the shoe is pointing.   If you want your swing to swing along the line of flight (pendulum swing) the shoe must be pointing at this right location at the start of the swing. NOTE: You cannot, repeat, cannot swing along the line of flight if you bring the shoe in front of your face, sighting it to the stake.  The beginning of the backswing will be “OFF THE LINE OF FLIGHT.”  The only way to put it back on line is to make a simulated figure 8 movement.  To prove this point, take a stepladder and place it over the line of flight, bring the shoe up to the plumb and lay it down on one rung of the ladder.  Now step back and sight down the line of flight to verify that the center of gravity of the shoe is resting directly above the line of flight.  Now return to the approach and check where the shoe is visually pointing. To assist the starting of the backswing from the address position, you may find it helps if you simply allow the shoe to fall on it’s own, from there continue on to the backswing.

Constant 6The Stride.  None! If you are a 30 foot pitcher there should be no reason to stride. Striding adds an additional variable to factor in.  I place my right foot on the front edge and right corner of the foul line. I then position my left foot behind the right and raise my heel so that my body tilts slightly to the right. Change 3 It gives you more room to allow the shoe to pass the leg without interference and insures that your tricep is not bumping against the lat muscle. If you are trying to duplicate the pendulum swing, nothing moves except the arm.  Unfortunately, it is normal to try to add a little body to the pitch.  Keep in mind where the head goes, so goes the body. Try to keep the head perfectly still throughout the swing.  The late Carl F. Steinfeldt believed that 15% of misses were caused by approach problems. NOTE: I found it too difficult to maintain my balance when not striding. Therefore, I have chosen to add a single step forward along the target line. I cover this later on in this blog.

40 footers— it is unlikely that you will be able to throw a shoe 40 feet by standing at the foul line. So, take your normal starting position and when you stride forward make sure you step parallel to the line of flight.  Don’t make the mistake of striding at the stake.  You are trying to move your hub (shoulder) along the line of flight.  I created a board that forced me to stride properly.  At first I painted a stripe on the approach directly parallel to the line of flight, but, kept noticing that my left foot tended to move right.  So, I placed a board on the approach with a divider so my feet straddled the divider. The divider was parallel to the line of flight which meant that I was stepping to the left of the stake, but, my hub was in line with the stake. I stepped forward with my left foot during the backswing and followed my left foot with my right ending up with both feet side by side at the foul line.

Constant 7Arm Rotation. None!. Many lifetime horseshoe pitchers believe that the proper handling of the horseshoe during the backswing is to turn the shoe so that it is perpendicular to the ground when it passes the leg. You then begin to rotate the arm after the shoe passes the leg on the forward swing. Well, we don’t have a lifetime to develop this move.  So, when you address the stake over the line of flight, keep the shoe in exactly the same position until it is released. Let your grip on the shoe dictate the flight characteristics of the shoe.  You can flip a shoe without trying to rotate the arm.

Constant 8Release Point. As you practice you will discover that once in a while the shoe flies perfectly, right rotation, right release, right distance.  How can we determine that release point and mimic it each time? First thing is to find out where that point is.  To discover my correct release point I developed a glove that turns OFF a bright red LED when the shoe is released. It’s a fairly simple circuit and contains a 9V battery, 12V bright red LED and two bare wires mounted on the finger and thumb. When you grip the shoe with the finger and thumb the light goes ON and when released the light goes OFF.  Create a poster board with height and distance markings.  Video the release until you find the one that gives you a perfect ringer.  Note the height and distance from the foul line.  This will be your preferred release point.  We’ll use this information for plotting the shoe flight.

Constant 9High Point of Flight. When you are testing for your proper release point you should also be checking the highpoint of your perfect ringer.  This is easily monitored.  Purchase two 1″ x 10ft. PVC pipes or equivalent.  Put one PVC pipe close to the foul line and the other about 1/2 way downrange.  Stretch string from pole to pole about 6″ apart. As you video your release, be far enough back to get your release and highpoint.  The experts claim that your highpoint should be about 2 feet over your height.  I don’t necessarily agree with that generalization. Your optimum highpoint might be lower. Some advise putting a string across the flight path and try to throw over the string. Unfortunately, visually you cannot determine if the horseshoe was going up or coming down when going over the string. With the correct highpoint found you can then calculate the shoe flight which includes the time of flight, initial launch angle and initial launch speed.

Continue to Part 5
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    • Hi Monty,
      It depends on what your overall goal is. If you point your foot at the stake and you stride with that foot at the stake your shoulder will end up 10-11 inches to the right of the stake, unless you rotate your shoulders inward toward the center of your body to close the angle as you swing forward. This also places you into an unbalanced finish. Your goal should be to stride forward in a stable and balanced position. The quickest way to concentrate on that as a finish, is to stride forward and lift your trailing foot off the platform so that you are perfectly balanced over your striding foot. When you can release your horseshoe and stand on one foot at the foul line without losing your balance. No matter what setup and stride you use, you must end up balanced at release. If you release the shoe and lose your balance, you were losing your balance way before you released the horseshoe. There is no way of telling where the horseshoe will end up. Watch a few videos of our best horseshoe pitchers and notice how many end up with their trailing foot off the platform. Also notice that they don’t always stride at the stake. Hope that helps.

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