The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 31

My 30 Foot Method

I’ve spent the past 4 years trying to perfect my approach to flipping a horseshoe. Starting with this Part, I will be discussing and describing my current method. Along the way I have adopted and rejected various swing thoughts, stances, flights, etc. I would like to start with a series of observations and facts based on my own experience and watching others of various skill levels.

Observations and Facts

Fact — Newton said (I paraphrase), “A horseshoe in motion tends to stay in motion”, and, “a horseshoe at rest tends to stay at rest”. A horseshoe will neither turn or flip without the action applied by the pitcher.

Observation — A shoe that arrives at the stake un-square reduces the potential for bounceback rejection. Moving the thumb left or right of center encourages an un-square arrival.

Observation — The pendulum swing is the most reliable. A break at the elbow violates the rules of a pendulum. Further, when it straightens the shoe will go to the right. To test this, hold a shoe at your side with a slight bend at the elbow and watch the effect of straightening the arm. The shoe will be pushed out to the right. Centrifugal force will tend to do the straightening. A pendulum follows the same swing path from the backswing through the forward swing. Typically, the arm swings vertically and perpendicular to the ground. This does not mean that you need to swing your arm like a Christmas toy soldier. You can also swing in front of your body as long as it follows the rules of the pendulum.

Fact — The head is the heaviest part of the body. Where the head goes, so goes the shoe. Where the head goes, so goes the shoulder. Where the shoulder goes, so goes the shoe. The pitching method that I will describe controls the movement of the head and shoulders.

Fact — You cannot bring the shoe up in front of your eyes and sight to the stake and perform a pendulum swing. The only way to throw down the target line is to loop the swing during the backswing.

Observation — The backswing must be slow enough to give enough time to plant the striding foot before releasing the shoe. Not setting the body in a balanced and established position will result in uncontrolled flight effecting flip or rotation, height and distance.

Observation — You must start the downswing by bending at the waist with your head starting downward and without moving left or right.

Observation — You must keep your pitching arm fully extended throughout the swing.

Observation — Your drop angle must be sufficient enough to secure the all important points if a ringer is not made.

Observation — A flipper will never beat a turner if you don’t drop the shoe in as softly as possible and concentrate on distance control.

Fact — You cannot look down the target line if you take a square stance. To look down the target line you would have to bend to the right so far, you would lose you balance.

The Complexities of Horseshoe Pitching

To the casual observer horseshoe pitching seems a simple, uncomplicated game. Trying it for the first time will quickly reveal how difficult it really is. There are a large number of variables that determine the ultimate result. Most of our champion horseshoe pitchers started when they were very young and grooved their method over many years of practice and competition. The horseshoe pitcher must learn to control the many variables that means success or failure.

Let’s look at a few of the important ones, any fault among them will cause a miss.
1. The arm swings off the Line of Flight.
2. The stride forward goes left or right.
3. The pitching shoulder rotates incorrectly.
4. The head shifts left or right thus pulling the shoulder along.
5. The shoe is thrown when the body is unbalanced.
6. The shoe is thrown with the wrong velocity.
7. The shoe is thrown to the wrong height.
8. The shoe is flipped or turned incorrectly.

Except for Item 8, the method I describe below should control all of Items 1 to 7. Turning or Flipping is an individual choice. Naturally, the method is my own and may not work for everyone. Give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised about how the control of the head movement and shoulder rotation will correct direction problems. The use of the Visual Alignment Point and starting with the shoe against the leg should eliminate a shoe going to the right. Good Luck

Setting Up Your Practice Area

The Stance — The proper stance is the key to success with this method. This technique allows you to look down the Line of Flight during the forward swing. There are two directional killers while pitching horseshoes, the head and the shoulders. If you move your head left or right, your shoulders will follow with unpredictable results. If you allow your shoulders to rotate, you will typically miss left. The photo below shows my stance. The distance from the foul line is an individual thing. Some folks stride shorter or longer than others. However, this is the stance. On the right approach (I’ll cover the reason later), your left heel is at the left edge with your shoe pointing directly at the right corner. Your right shoe is slightly away from the left edge and slightly forward of the left shoe. Your right foot should be rotated around slightly. Your upper body should be rotated around to the right so that the left shoulder is within your peripheral vision. Your left hand should rest on the left thigh. I had to switch from a long shoe retriever to a shorter one to avoid hitting the retriever during the forward swing. When you step forward with the left foot, your left heel should end up on the left edge of the approach and just short of the foul line.

The Right Hand Approach Stance

The aluminum rod is for demonstration purposes only. It indicates that the left foot points directly at the right corner.

Defining the Line of Flight — The Line of Flight is a straight line from the stake to the Center of Gravity (CofG) of the pitched shoe. To locate the CofG at the approach perform the following steps. If possible, purchase about 40 feet of stretchable cord. I found mine at a boat supply store. Use cord or string as an alternative. 1. Tie a weighted string to the back of the center of the thumb calk. 2. Rest the horseshoe against the right leg and mark the spot directly below the weighted string. The photo below shows a stretchable cord below the CofG of the horseshoe gripped and against the leg.

Center of Gravity with shoe against the right leg

To find the “Line of Flight”, loop a string, cord, etc., around the stake and draw it from the stake to the approach and over the CofG mark on the approach and anchor it a foot or so behind the approach. Mark the location on the front of the pit and drive a nail or hook and move the cord from the stake to the hook or nail. Pull the cord or string taut at the anchor behind the approach. You have now created a line from your CofG of the horseshoe directly to the stake. This “Line of Flight” defines the flight of the horseshoe from approach to stake.

To find the “Visual Alignment Point”, return to the approach, take your stance with shoe against your leg and the shoes CofG directly over the newly defined “Line of Flight” string. With the same weighted string attached to the horseshoe, raise the horseshoe from your leg with your arm fully extended and eye high. When the weighted string is directly over the cord/string on the approach make note of where the left shank is, relative to the stake. This will be your “Visual Alignment Point”. The photo below shows the shoe directly above the cord when at eye height.

Horseshoe extended directly over the "Line of Flight"

Shoulder Alignment — As humans, we all walk about the same. As we step with the left foot our shoulders rotate around to the left. We need to overcome this tendency. I have found that when the stance described is taken, the left shoulder becomes visible in our peripheral vision. To stop the shoulder from rotating I rest my left hand on my upper thigh above the knee, with or without shoe and retriever. A little pressure with my left hand retards the normal rotation of the left shoulder, keeping the right shoulder and arm on the LofF.

Controlling the Head — The last thing I need to do is control the head movement. I introduce the “tamper”. The tamper performs double duty. It not only controls my head movement, but, the “Drop Angle” as well. It’s an excellent choice, as if I hit it, it just flops over and just needs to be reset.

I always felt it was awkward to try to hit a target that I could throw up to, to try to control my launch angle and resulting drop angle. I use a tamper for my clay and one day I put it over the LofF cord about 8 feet from the stake and used it for an aim point and height controller. Recently, while studying the “Drop Angle”, I calculated that at least 30 degrees was required to keep the shoe in point range. My tamper was the perfect solution. I calculated that at 43″ high I could put the tamper at 6 feet 9 inches from the stake and if the shoe went over the tamper I was at least at a 30 degree drop angle. An added bonus was to discover if I put the tamper 2″ to the right of the LofF cord, I could monitor my head movement going left or right. It turned out to be an incredible practice tool. The photo below shows the view of the tamper slightly right and what I see from the approach.

The Tamper to the right of the stake

The photo below is the location of the tamper which is 81″ from the stake and 2″ to the right of the Line of Flight cord. The gap between the stake and the tamper is what I use to make sure that my head does not move to the left or right.

Temper 81" from stake and 2" to the right of the LofF cord

The image below is a representation of where to position the tamper for a drop angle of 30 degrees and 45 degrees. I consider 30 degrees to be the minimum drop angle for salvaging points. I also consider 45 to be the maximum as anything over 45 degrees requires an increasing amount of effort. So, the drop angle range should be between 30 and 45 degrees.

Tamper location for 30 and 45 degree Drop Angles

One More Thing — I sometimes put a 15″ tire over the stake to insure that I am within point range while I am practicing.

Let’s Practice — Here are the steps by the numbers.

1. Take your stance.
2. Take your grip. Consider moving the thumb left or right.
3. Place your hand, shoes, retriever on left thigh.
4. Rest the shoe on your right leg. I tap the shoe as a locator.
5. Extend your arm and swing up to the Visual Alignment Point.
6. Start the downswing by bending at the waist slightly, with your eyes on the gap between the stake and tamper…swing or drop your arm down sloooowly.
7. Pass the shoe as close as possible to the leg. Ticking my pant leg slightly without upsetting the backswing, is a bonus.
8. Start stride forward when the shoe passes the leg and plant the left foot close to the left edge of the approach.
9. Your arm swing back and through, along the LofF, should take the shoe directly to the stake and under your eyes. Release the shoe with enough height to pass just over the top of the tamper.

Why the Right Approach? — I feel that throwing from the left approach causes the shoe to arrive too squarely, thus, more bouncebacks. Moving to the right side reduced the bouncebacks as the shoe hits the stake more of a glancing blow.

The image below is a layout of the practice pit that I have described above. Note that I have a second stretchable cord from the one stake to the other. I like to get the feel of throwing straight down the target line which will surface any tendencies that I might have for that day.

Pit Layout -- Left foot movement shown

Continue to Part 32 for a description of 7 new shoes.

E-mail me if you have questions.

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7 Comments

  1. What did you use to cut the under side of the Tire off with?
    Can you give me anymore tips on keeping my head straight, along

    with my Shoulders?

    What is your count? is it 1-2-3? r 1-2-3-4?
    Thanks Kenny

    • HI Kenny,
      Thanks for the questions. I’ll give the short answers here, but, followup with more information to your email address.
      For the tire — I used my single speed Jig saw with metal cutting bit. I followed one of the grooves all the way around the tire. If I were to do it again, I would leave 2 to 4 tabs with hole hole in each for a galvanized nail to anchor it in my pit. Keeping your head straight relies on a combination of two points. One point is the stake and the other can be a tamper in the front or a mark on the back of the backboard. Your goal is to keep the visual gap the same as you stride toward the distant stake. Make sure you can see both objects and maintain their gap spacing throughout the swing. To lock my shoulder for practicing purposes, I take my left index finger and hook it into the top of my right hand pocket or belt loop. It’ll feel funny at first, but, you’ll quickly get the feel of not rotating your left shoulder during the forward swing. After you get the feel, you can simply rest your left hand on your upper thigh. As for the swing cadence count — I think of a slow waltz cadence and count….1 and 2 and 3 and. 1 and…on the upswing to the visual alignment point, 2 and…on the downswing and, 3 and…on the upswing and release. Hope that helps. I’ll send you an email so you can direct any questions to my email address. Regards

      • Thanks for answering my questions, I tried them and have seen improvement., Practice makes Perfect! So I’m practicing long every other day, Thanks for your help, looking forward to information to help others,. Thanks again., Kenny., You Rock!

      • Hi Again, Just thinking, are there any type of (Targets) or Tools that can be used to help a beginner with there aim while Practicing?

  2. Hi Kenny. Yes, I use several depending on what I’m working on. First, my target line from my horseshoe to the stake is permanent, unless I work on a stance change. I also start each practice with my tire over the stake and the tamper centered on the target line about 5 feet from the front of the pit. My first target is my Visual Alignment Point when I raise the shoe up to eye level. When I start down, I change my focus to the top of the tamper (second target) and try
    to throw the shoe just over the top center of the tamper. You can
    adjust the location of the tamper closer or farther away from the pit and left to right to adjust for your release point. I am concentrating on Alignment and Drop Angle with this approach. After 30 minutes or so, I remove the tamper and tire and place a mark 3″ from the
    bottom of the stake and focus from beginning to end on the 3″ mark on the stake. I just have a little sleeve that fits over the stake and allows me to spray a shot of paint on the stake at the 3″ mark. I also have a sleeve 1″ ID made from well pipe and cut a hole 3″ from the bottom of the sand/clay. When you hit the opening, you’ll get immediate feedback when hitting metal

    At this point, you should have the feel for direction and height. Try to carry that over to the following.

    A target 3″ up the stake allows me to blot out all activity behind the pit. You will find that when pitching in matches there will be a lot of distractions behind the pit. It is important that you concentrate on that one spot and avoid looking above the backboard. Why 3″? Three inches gives you a fudge factor for shoes hitting a bit higher and landing short of the stake. If you concentrate on the bottom of the stake you will tend to land short more frequently. Hope there’s something here to help you. Regards

  3. If you are right handed, don’t you pitch from the left side of the pit?

    • Hi Phil,
      No, not necessarily. Most pitchers stride with their left foot if a right handed pitcher. As humans, it is natural to rotate the upper body and swing our arms inward when we walk. This means that your right shoulder rotates counter-clockwise when striding with the left foot. This generally causes a miss to the left and from the left side you need to swing your arms away from your body out to the right. For some, myself included, I find it more natural to use the right approach and swing my arms inward toward the center of my body. As a 30 foot pitcher, you may find yourself unable to always pitch from the left side, particularly if there are no approaches extending to the 27 foot foul line. Being able to switch from side to side is a bonus in those circumstances. I’ve on some occasions pitched from the left side in one direction and the right side in the other. It is important to learn to control the natural tendency to miss left when striding with the left foot. If this is a problem which surfaces when you least expect it, try striding with the right foot from the left approach. It takes a few days to get the feel for it, but, you may find this will automatically eliminate the leftward misses. Feel free to contact me personally via email. My email address is always at the end of each part. Good Luck


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