My target is 27 feet away and I have 4 degrees to work with. How can I possibly hope to hit a 1 inch target that far away, consistently? I prepare properly! Watch a professional bowler set his feet on the approach, take his grip, align his body, start his swing and release the ball with their dialed up rotation and throw at their target. Absolutely nothing left to chance. However, he will need to deal with the oiling pattern applied on the lane and how it changes.
The horseshoe pitcher has an advantage at any given NHPA sanctioned site. They don’t have to worry about changes in lane conditions. The NHPA provides some latitude in the shape and material of the pit, as well as the approach width. However, 40 feet from stake to stake, and a 37 and 27 foot foul line is required and the pits are level. In general, most NHPA sanctioned horseshoe pits are clay, some with sand, 3 feet wide and 6 feet long, stake angled properly, 15″ high and approaches 18 inches wide. The backstop is usually 36 inches wide and 12 inches high at the back of the pit. So, where possible, we’ll use these constants to our advantage.
Here are the constants we’ll work with from the left approach.
1. Foul line on the approach you are standing on is 27 feet from the distant stake.
2. Somehow mark the location of where the 30 foot stake would be located relative to the left approach. Some NHPA sanctioned sites will have a locator placed on the approach to show the 30 foot stake location. In the photos below I’ve placed a stake at the 30 foot location for reference purposes. The right edge of the left approach I am standing on is 18″ to the left of the 30 foot stake.
3. The 30 foot stake adjacent to the left approach is 36″ behind the 27 foot foul line.
4. Looking at the distant stake. The left edge of the distant approach to the right of the stake, is 18″ to the right.
5. Looking at the distant stake. The right edge of the distant approach to the right of the stake, is 36″ to the right. This is important, as the far right edge of the distance approach has become my Visual Alignment Point, located 33 inches horizontally and at eye level vertically from the distant stake, when I swing the shoe up to eye level.
This location is not arbitrary. The Visual Alignment Point (VAP) is automatically determined for me when I swing the shoe up to eye level while the center of gravity of the shoe is vertically directly over the Line of Flight cord. It is where the left shank of the shoe points. I determine this location while a plumb is directly over the LOF cord. This location is determined after you take your stance on the approach. I only had to do this one time. After that, it is my VAP constant and I swing up to this point for every shoe thrown. Previous parts of this blog show how to personally determine your VAP.
6. The Line of Flight (LofF) cord stretches from the distant stake to a position 3-1/2″ to the right of the left approach adjacent to my right leg. So, when the left shank of the horseshoes is directly over the edge of the approach, the center of gravity of the horseshoe is directly over the Line of Flight cord.
7. Place a piece of PVC pipe or old stake directly behind the primary stake or whatever you can find to make sure your head does not move to the left or right. As you stride forward make sure the relationship between the primary and secondary stake does not change. In other words, make sure your head moves directly at the primary stake during your stride forward.
The photo below shows the location of the 30 foot stake relative to the right edge of the left approach 18″ to the right and 36″ from the foul line.
The photo below shows the location of the 30 foot stake from the 27 foot foul line.
The photo below shows my stance relative to the right edge of the approach. My right foot is rotated approximately 35 degrees rightward and my left foot is rotated about 10 degrees and pointing directly at the right corner of the approach. From this position, I have already taken my grip, verified that the left shank of the shoe is aligned with the edge of the approach and the center of the shoe is directly over the LofF cord. I have also placed my left hand on the front of my left thigh (see below). Using this setup establishes my repeatable pitching posture. From this position I am ready to begin my swing upward to my Visual Alignment Point (VAP).
Here is a tip I have found useful for aligning my body correctly. I pitch with a sports shirt that has a centered vertical line that I use to align my shoulders properly relative to my left foot and my VAP.
From the stationary stance position, I swing my arm up to my Visual Align Point (VAP). I have covered the VAP in many previous parts, but, in a nutshell, it is the location of the left shank of the horseshoe when horizontal to the ground while the center of gravity of the horseshoe is still directly over the LofF cord. My personal VAP is at the right corner of the distant approach 36″ to the right of the stake, one of the constants mentioned above. I make sure that my right arm is fully extended without any break at the elbow.
From the VAP, I smoothly swing back as close as possible past my right leg, trying to return the shoe to it’s original setup location and to my Backswing Stop Point (BSP). I’ve also covered the BSP in previous parts. In brief, it is the location of where your arm stops moving backwards naturally. It is imperative that you hit this spot every time on the backswing. For some reason, I feel that hitting this location on the backswing sometimes puts me back on the LofF if I’m slightly off. From the time you start your forward swing to your VAP all the way to the BSP you have only moved your arm and nothing more.
When you hit your BSP, you start the forward swing and stride forward simultaneously, keeping your left hand firmly planted on your left leg and your right toes firmly planted on the approach. Make sure your head and eyes move directly at the distant stake. I will explain all three below.
You must move your body in a straight line to the stake, your shoulders don’t rotate and your body remains balanced.
As you stride forward keep your head and eyes directly at the stake and don’t allow your head, which controls the rest of your body, to move to the left or right. The secondary stake is your monitor.
Keeping your left hand on your left thigh is an important aspect of this method. When we stride forward with the left foot our normal tendency as humans is to rotate the shoulders counter-clockwise. This is what we do as we normally walk, right arm and left foot and left arm and right foot. Keeping your left hand on your left leg restricts the normal tendency to rotate the right shoulder leftward, throwing the horseshoe offline to the left.
Keeping the right toes planted does a number of important things. It controls the length of your stride forward. It acts as a rudder to maintain your stride direction, and; it maintains your balance when releasing the shoe. Don’t try to keep your right foot flat on the approach, allow your heel to rise up. If you have done this correctly, I can simply return to my stance and my right foot does not need to be reset, ready to throw the second shoe.
In the photo below I have placed the shoe on the ground to define the relationship with the left shank and the center of gravity over the Line of Flight cord. Naturally, you would be holding the shoe in this position when taking your stance.
I don’t believe in the old adage “close only counts in horseshoes”. My goal is a ringer every time. However, if I miss, I want to try to salvage a point. I’ve covered that topic which describes “Drop Angle” in a previous part. If you want to add an additional pitching aid, simply find a 15″ used tire and place it over the stake while practicing.
Good Luck to anyone using these tips. Your goal is to “Pitch Like a Machine”. Eliminate the variables and concentrate on the constants. My belief is… “If I don’t move it, I don’t have to un-move it”