The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 52

Synchronized Horseshoe Pitching

As of March 27th. Now that I’ve introduced you to the tamper as Tool #1, how do you use it? I recommend the tamper as it has a flat bottom, and wooden handle. It will stand vertically on it’s own and if hit and knocked over, easily replaced.

Before leaving the use of Tool #1 (Tamper) I’ll cover one additional use to provide feedback during practice. It is difficult to monitor your backswing relative to height and direction. If you’re using the pendulum swing and following the Line of Flight, you can place the tamper behind you and centered on the Line of Flight cord. Whether your horseshoe straddles, touches or misses it, you will receive immediate feedback. It’s a great way to work on your ability to stay on line throughout your swing. The image below is a photo of the use of my tamper to monitor my backswing. In this case, I was using the single flip.

Backswing Feedback

Backswing Feedback

One of the most important aspects of horseshoe pitching is the drop angle. It is gravity that pulls the horseshoe down. The angle and speed of arrival is important as to whether the horseshoe is rejected by impact and whether it remains within the 6″ range of a single point. Do not underestimate the importance of single points in competition. Below is an image of the recommended location for the tamper to be placed relative to the stake. A 30 degree drop angle is the minimum and a 45 degree drop angle is the maximum.

Tamper Positioning for 30 and 45 Degree Drop Angle

Tamper Positioning for 30 and 45 Degree Drop Angle

If you are using a Line of Flight (LOF) cord positioned from the approach to the stake, then place the tamper centered over the LOF cord at the distance indicated by the image above and you will have very useful target to throw over for not only drop angle but the proper direction of the horseshoe. The relationship between the tamper and stake will give you instant feedback and to any problem with your stride or head movement.

If you are working on the square to square pitching technique, then use a secondary stake placed at the back of the pit about 9″-10″ (the distance from your nose to your shoulder) to the left of the stake and draw an additional cord from your approach toward your secondary stake. Move the tamper to be centered over the secondary cord to monitor your stride direction and head movement, as well as drop angle control. Your secondary stake can be a shortened broom handle, metal rod, etc. I paint mine a bright OSHA yellow.

Prepared on March 23rd. I’ve decided to direct this intro to the new and not new pitchers who are dedicated to learning and improving this coming season. If you enjoy horseshoe pitching for the socializing and don’t really practice to improve, this intro is not for you. If your ringer average is 50% or less, you’re missing 50% or more of your ringers. Obviously, you have room to improve. The question is…how? Below I am introducing Tool #1. Consider it the most important tool in your arsenal, which I consider the best improvement aid. I will introduce others later like a secondary stake, or 15″ tire or over and under cords, etc. Each gives you feedback to aid in your technique improvement.

Tool #1 -- The Tamper

Tool #1 — The Tamper

Learning to use this tool properly will help with your stride, head movement, drop angle, setup, balance and swing. Placement of the tamper will depend on whether you are a square to square (see below) or angle pitcher, or somewhere in between. To determine which, pull a cord (Line of Flight) from the distant stake to a location directly under the center of the horseshoe when setup on the approach. If you are a square to square pitcher your shoulders remain perpendicular, and equidistant to the Line of Flight (LOF) cord during the stride, while the angle pitcher has to rotate the shoulders to keep the right shoulder over the LOF cord during the stride.

Here I will paraphrase a couple of questions I hear countless times — “Why short?” and, “What Am I Doing Wrong?” Making use of a simple device like a tamper, will help you answer those questions. Let’s consider the question relative to a horseshoe that arrives on line, but, short of the stake. There are two primary variables that determine the answer. The location of the release point, and the speed of the arm swing. Excluding the arm swing/timing for now, the release point is a function of, distance and height. Distance is how far from the stake and height is relative to distance from horizontal (typically the ground). Keep in mind that the arm swings in an arc. During the swing, if you alter the distance from the stake, you also alter the height. They are mutually inclusive. You can’t have one without the other.

Considering the swing arc as the hub of a wagon wheel, you can see that an early release is closer to the ground and farther from the target (stake) and results in a shorter distance covered. A release a little later in the rotation causes the distance to the stake to be shorter (closer) and higher from the ground and continues until the launch angle reaches 45 degrees after which, the distance covered begins to drop. See below.

RailroadWheel3Rocks_6_25Wide

The immediate assumption causing short arrival is, “I released the horseshoe too early during the upswing”…not necessarily. Each of the instances below will increase the distance to the stake, thus, result in short arrival. Consider the spokes as your arm and the hub as your shoulder.
1. Your shorter stride didn’t get you to the same location forward.
2. Your posture caused your shoulder to lengthen the distance to the stake.
3. Your shoulder arrived at the release point a little lower measured from the ground.
4. A slight bend in the arm during the forward swing increased the distance.
5. You changed the lift of your striding foot.

You can use the tamper to determine whether your head is moving up and down using the top of the tamper and whether you are moving left or right as you stride forward. If you are only looking at the stake, you are not getting the feedback that can be supplied by using the tamper or equivalent.

Before I go any further I need to clear up the concept of square to square and practicing from the center of the court. I previously left you with the image of everything moved next to the 30 or 40 foot stake in the middle of the court. See below.

Square To Square

Square To Square

Now I rotate the entire geometry from the center of the court to the left approach. You will notice that there is a slight angle change, but, the setup is still square to square relative to the stake. Your pitching shoulder still follows the Line of Flight (LOF) and your eyes still sight to a position to the left of the stake. Notice that your Visual Alignment Point rotates a little further to the right. See below.

Square to Square Left Approach

Square to Square Left Approach

There is absolutely no reason that you cannot stride with the left foot/leg. However, be aware that your tendency will be to rotate your shoulders counter-clockwise as you step forward. You will need to control this rotational tendency.

I will continue the Square to Square method of pitching in Part 52, which I hope to have completed shortly.

Synchronized horseshoe pitching involves a series of precise movements that will trigger an automatic response to a previous movement performed. For instance, if you stand up straight and begin to tilt your body forward, eventually there will be an automatic response that causes you to step forward to catch your balance.

If you are a pitcher that brings the horseshoe up in front of your eyes, or aligns the horseshoe with the stake at address, you are swinging on 3 separate swing planes. Plane 1 is your swing up to address, Plane 2 is your backswing, and Plane 3 is your forward swing. This introduces 3 separate possibilities to swing off line. Further, if your direction is off, it is difficult to determine which Plane error(s) caused the miss. I’m sure you’ve seen lots of pitchers using this horseshoe in front of the face technique, some very good pitchers. However, they have been doing it this way for a very long time. Why incorporate multiple planes when a single plane can be more precise?

I will describe two distinct methods, both of which are synchronized and similar in concept, but, slightly different in execution. Both methods will use the automatic nature of responses as the key to the synchronization. Neither method is effected by the style of release, whether flip or turn. These techniques are provided to produce a SINGLE swing plane which I refer to as the Line of Flight (LOF).

The two methods described will show how a 3 Plane swing can become a 1 Plane swing by making a change in your setup and delivery.

To practice one or other of the Methods to be described, you will need to setup your practice pit. This will require several props. At a minimum you will need 2 lengths of cords, one that permits a cord from the distant stake to behind the approach, one that is from the distant stake to a point in front of the approach, 3 large nails, something to support the over and under alignment of the two cords, a secondary stake and a 3-6 foot length of a 2×4 (see below).

First, I need to deal with the two angles that cause confusion when pitching horseshoes. One is the angle between pitching shoulder and dominant eye. The other is the angle between the approach and stake. So, I set up my court to reduce the first and eliminate the second. To start, I ordered a special stretchable cord (image below) for this first step.

BungeeShockCord

BungeeShockCord

The steps below will result in a setup that looks like this as a side view…

Over and Under Cords With Tamper

Over and Under Cords With Tamper

Both cords attached to the front of the pit…

Cords anchored at pit

Cords anchored at pit

Step 1 is to attach a cord from one stake to the other. This will split the court straight down the middle with the cord 18 inches from the left and right approaches. As a visual reference for the 30 foot pitcher, I’ve placed a temporary stake 30 feet from the pit stake. This cord will be used as the Line of Flight (LOF) or Single Plane. Think of this LOF as the single rail of a railroad track that stretches from the approach to the stake.

Line of Flight Cord

Line of Flight Cord

Step 2 is to attach a second and shorter cord on top of the first cord. Connect one end at the same location as the first cord at the front of the pit. Connect the other end 10 feet in front of the approach and along the LOF. Using a tamper, short pitchfork, sledge hammer, directly over the first cord at a locate about 6 feet in front of the pit. Take the short cord and put it on top of the tamper, etc. so that the top cord is directly over the first cord. See images.

LOF Cord Anchor

LOF Cord Anchor


Over Cord Anchor

Over Cord Anchor

If you only have one pit with either 30 or 40 foot approaches, all the better. For visual reference I have placed a stake 30 feet from the pit stake and directly adjacent to the cord (see image below). You will be practicing adjacent to this cord. If you are a 40 foot pitcher, you will be working from the 40 foot stake location. If you’re working with a 40 foot court, you’ll have to move in front of the pit. Don’t despair, the purpose of these two methods is to allow you to pitch straight down the LOF. So, these methods are designed to keep the horseshoe on a single LOF and swing plane, directly at the stake.

I had previously built a portable approach to be used for regional Show and Tells in case the courts did not have built-in approaches for 30 foot pitchers. I have positioned the portable approach to be parallel to the LOF and 3-1/2 inches to it’s left. The red line on the approach is to identify the 30 foot stake location, typical of many NHPA approaches. The temporary stake shown is for clarity and will be returned to the back of the pit for monitoring my head movement, see photo below.

Line of Flight Cord

Line of Flight Cord

Why 3-1/2 inches from LOF to the approach edge? The NHPA sets the maximum width of a horseshoe for sanctioning purposes to be 7-1/4″ wide. Generally speaking, this puts the Center of Gravity of most horseshoes at approximately 3-1/2 inches from shank to shank. It is the Center of Gravity that should be pitched at the stake. All Hilfling horseshoes are designed to place the Center of Gravity precisely centered between top and bottom and side to side, with a dimple on each shank to show the location for turn pitchers.

It’s not likely you, the reader, will have a portable approach, so, I’ll show the same footwork by using a 2×4 that is resting against the LOF cord and anchored with a couple of gutter nails.

2x4 Alignment

2×4 Alignment

METHOD 1 — starts with a new way to take your stance. These locations may change for you personally, but, for now start as indicated. My right foot is at the edge and corner of the stake line at a 45 degree angle. This places your right foot 36 inches behind the foul line. Your left foot will also be along the right edge of the temporary approach and approximately 12-14 inches in front of the stake line. See photo below.

Method 1 Stance

Method 1 Stance

Why position my feet at the right edge of the approach? Answer: By practicing from the center of the court I am eliminating the angle which normally exists when working from the left or right approach. This setup gives me the best chance of determining the reasons for misses left and right. Further, it places the horseshoe at setup, precisely centered over the LOF cord.

From this stance position I will rotate my upper body counter-clockwise so my shoulders are squarely facing the distant stake. My right arm will be extended down my right side with my flip grip and my right shoulder and arm vertically over the LOF. Note that there is the slightest of angles between the approach, LOF and stake. When my arm is extended vertically downward, the left edge of the horseshoe is aligned with the edge of the approach and the Center of Gravity of the horseshoe is directly above the LOF.

Everything after the completion of the arm swing should trigger the automatic response and there will be no pause between any action.

The automatic responses, as part of this method, are triggered by step 2. However, it is my responsibility to provide the timing of the swing up to address to dictate the speed of the Bow To The Stake in Item 2 below. If you’re considering trying this method, you will first have to determine how much effort it takes you personally, to deliver the horseshoe to the stake properly. It is the speed of “that” arm swing forward that should be part of your arm swing speed when addressing the stake. I am trying to synchronize all 3 phases of the address, backswing and delivery to be a smooth and unencumbered motion.

Step 1. Without moving anything but my arm, I smoothly swing up to align the left edge of the horseshoe to the right top edge of the stake. The speed which is used during the arm swing up to the alignment point dictates all further responses in the method. Why not align the center of the horseshoe to the stake? Answer: because there is still a slight angle between the eyes and LOF. Aligning to the right edge of the stake accommodates this final bit of angle. I will address this issue further when I describe the use of over and under LOF cords a little later.

2. Without pausing, “Bow To The Stake”, which starts the backswing automatically and begins to trigger the automatic stride response. When bowing to the stake, I need to make sure that the gap between the primary and secondary stakes, does not change. This insures that my head, eyes, nose and shoulder maintain their relationship to the LOF.

3. The “Bow To The Stake” does several things. First, it controls the rhythm of the backswing, forward swing and release. Second, it uses the larger muscles of the body to control the downswing over the smaller muscles of the arm. Third, it triggers the automatic response to stride forward by shifting the weight forward of the centered body. Finally, it helps to retard the upper body from rotating toward the striding foot.

4. During the swing back to the end of the backswing, there is an automatic response to step forward. I have to make sure that my stride forward continues along the edge of the approach. During this stride forward I will feel my right leg swing away from the edge of the approach to aid in balancing my body as I deliver the horseshoe to release. I let this happen as a response to the synchronized stride forward. The horseshoes should follow a straight line down the LOF and directly at the stake. The stride is shown below.

Left Foot Stride

Left Foot Stride

NOTE: It is possible to alter the address position anywhere along the LOF cord to the stake. I encourage anyone trying this method find the address position that keeps all three movements in sync.

After working with this LOF cord alignment between walkways, I can rotate the cord to any approach left or right as long as the relationship between the cord, stake and footwork is maintained. Since I want my personal stride preference to end up at the right corner of the left approach, I will pull the cord 3-1/2″ inches to the right of the right corner of the approach. See the photo below for clarification.

Today is February 20th. It’s a beautiful day here in Maryland today. A dry and warm breeze from the west and the temperature hovering around the 65 degree mark. I was able to uncover the pit and pitch for about an hour. If you’ve followed the blog recently, you’ll know that I ended last season experimenting with a right foot stride. I always practice with a single horseshoe for several reasons. First, it gets my legs in shape twice as fast; secondly, it forces me to go through my setup routine from scratch on every horseshoe; finally, it reduces the noise when one horseshoe hits the other. I always keep my stake covered with a very tough plastic tubing. I’m going into the 3rd year of practice and barely notice any damage to the tubing.

The images below describe my stance while practicing. For the sake of getting comfortable with this method I have moved my approach to within 3-1/2″ of the perceived 30 foot stake and straight down the center of the court. This is to eliminate the angles that cause confusion standing on the usual approach. When you’re comfortable with this method, you simply use the distant stake as the center of rotation and move the lines to the usual left approach. If you’re left handed, move your right hand approach inward to the left. Since you will not have a portable approach as I do, use a 2×4 to align your feet. When I take additional photos, this concept will become much clearer, if confused. Welcome back everyone.

SquareToSquareTop

Square To Square

Square To Square

This will be called the Square to Square Method. The first thing I need to do is eliminate all angles. The red color represents the setup/stance, address and backswing. The green color represents the stride forward and release. The first thing to notice is…I will be working from the center of the court. First, I pulled a stretchable cord from stake to stake for either 30 or 40 foot courts. I have temporarily moved the left approach toward the cord and within 3-1/2″ from the 30 or 40 foot stake location. Since you won’t have a portable approach, substitute a 2×4 along the edge of the cord. The large circles on the approach represent the head and the smaller circles represent the shoulders. The tiny circles on the front of the large circles represent the eyes with the right eye exactly 9″ from the cord.

The images above are to scale, the grid represents 3″ squares. Here is some explanatory info. I have a portable approach which I use for Show and Tells in the Maryland area. You would substitute a 2×4 against the cord which puts your right foot 3-1/2″ from the cord. The Center of Gravity of your horseshoe is also 3-1/2″ centered between shanks. The distance from my dominant right eye and shoulder/arm is 9″. Note that there is a line from the small circle representing my right eye to a point at the opposite pit which is 9″ to the left of the stake. In the image I am representing the straight Line Of Flight (LOF) from the horseshoe to the stake as a railroad track. In this method everything moves straight forward. The only way this is possible is to stride with your right foot and not your left.

I want to cover the right foot stride for a moment and why this is a necessary part of this method. If you are a left foot strider, your shoulders naturally rotate towards the left foot. This causes the horseshoe to follow the shoulder rotation and cause the horseshoe to go left. In order to cause the horseshoe to go at the stake you need to overcome this tendency in some way. If you’ve been active in throwing sports, i.e., baseball, football, bowling, bocce, etc., this rotation adds additional distance and/or speed. It becomes very difficult to overcome this natural tendency. A stride with the opposite leg cancels out this tendency. What is also unique about this method is the requirement to keep your head moving in a straight line 9″ to the left of the stake. In Part 52, I will show how to practice this head movement. The key to the success of this method is to keep the shoulder, arm and hand moving in a straight line directly at the stake.

Another aspect of this method the reduction of total movement. Your address position will be lower, your backswing shorter, your stride shorter. Thus, you will setup closer to the foul line, thereby reducing the distance to the stake. There will be no tilt of your body and your shoulders will remain level throughout the setup to release. It will take a few days to feel comfortable with the right foot stride. It will surprise you as to how quickly this will become a natural part of your technique. There will be a couple of additional tips to keep the shoulders level, to add some additional impetus to the swing. Watch for the completion of Part 52.

Early in November I emailed the NHPA Secretary to get a preliminary review of the Avenger as a sanctioned horseshoe. Based upon the image provided (image below), the NHPA could see no reason not to approve the Avenger. So, what I wanted to make available for learning the various flips and turns, could become another sanctioned model. The notches shown on the Avenger below are spaced similar to a pistol grip at 1/2 inch increments. It is very easy to grip this shoe precisely each time. The horseshoe will be in the 2 pounds 8 ounce medium category and will be perfectly balanced as with all of the Hilfling horseshoes. It also incorporates symmetrical hooks for flip or turn from either side. So, for those pitchers interested in trying the turn or improving their turn, it provides lots of options.

For Your Information: The demand for the Warrior has been so great, that I have decided to make two Warrior patterns available for the foundry to keep up with the demand. I have ordered two copies of 3D prints from Shapeways so the foundry can mount 2-UP for pair casting, instead of singles. This will permit easier weight matching following casting. The results should be available within a couple of weeks. Therefore, the foundry will not be casting Warriors while awaiting the arrival of the new prints.

As of October 25th. I have added two additional tips for Part 51. One deals with an easy way to monitor body alignment on the approach and the other suggests you consider reducing your backswing based on picking a shorter address alignment position based on my belief that extremely long back swings tend to pull the body out of alignment and result in missed ringers. I am considering production of a new horseshoe that I had created earlier that I referred to as my “Dial-A-Grip”. It is actually named the “Avenger”. It is a fantastic shoe for learning the turn. See below.

The Avenger

The Avenger

As of September 26th. I will be adding a tip in Part 51 that incorporates a couple of inexpensive lasers to help with my arm swing down the line. It’s even more important now that I’m relegated to stationary pitching. During normal pitching, the stride is used for timing, alignment and adding the impetus necessary to pitch the horseshoe the required distance. Just because you can’t stride for various reasons, does not mean an end to my/your horseshoe pitching. Actually, it eliminates a major reason for misses. However, I had to spend a fair amount of time working on my setup to permit a balanced delivery with my arm only. I am far more accurate with my delivery now. The major question was…do I work on a restricted or unrestricted arm swing? I will pass on what I have discovered which results in a very accurate delivery.

I realized recently that this blog chronicles my “Search” going into the 8th year. I monitor the hits on this blog with a product called “Statcounter”. It shows me statistics on searches, time looking, which parts, geographical location of searcher, etc. There is no personal information captured, so I don’t know anything about the searcher such as, style of pitching, i.e., flip or turn or variations, distance pitched, horseshoes used, etc. Knowing what I know now, I would have ordered the Table of Contents from current to past.

This blog covers thousands of hours of practice, testing, thinking I had found the answer and realizing I hadn’t. I am always afraid that the searcher will start with Part 1, when I want them to start where I ended up, rather than where I began. So, I’ve decided to write Part 52, which is where I am today and why. I will place Part 52 at the beginning of the Table of Contents, so that anyone researching, will know what ended up working for me and why. More important, is instant realization of why I missed, if I did, and the ability to fix it. Part 4, has always been my guiding goal and it is where I am today. Constants are the key. Using the stationary stance in the 2015 Maryland State Singles helped me win second place in the Elders Class A division.

As of September 2nd. Sales for the Warrior was turned on August 26th, but, the http://www.hilflinghorseshoes.com website was not refreshed and did not reflect the update. If you are not seeing the new Warrior and Patriot2 selling with prices listed, please hit your “F5” function key (top of your keyboard) to refresh the information. You may be looking at a cached copy of the Hilfling website. Sorry for any inconvenience.

As of August 5th. The results from the Patriot2 ductile iron casting has come back with a horseshoe that is quite unique in a number of ways. First, the horseshoe matches my target weight of 2 pounds 8 ounces. Secondly, it has the unique characteristics of having a perfectly centered Center of Gravity. What is unique is that the cubic volume of each half of the Patriot2, i.e., top and bottom occupy the exact same cubic volume. This means that the Center of Gravity is exactly perfect from top to bottom, side to side and in this case, precise, relative to the location of the CofG within the thickness of the horseshoe. This horseshoe turns in flight like a Frisbee. Each shank has a small dimple identifying the exact location of the Center of Gravity as a gripping indicator by the turn pitcher.

Patriot2

Patriot2

The Warrior (shown on my website — http://www.hilflinghorseshoe.com ) is now NHPA approved and ready for sales. I had included the licensing fee to be able to expedite the availability of the Warrior as soon as approved. The Warrior is specifically designed for the “turn” pitcher. The Center of Gravity is precisely centered from top to bottom and side to side with a shank dimple to indicate the top to bottom location. Welcome the Warrior honoring the U.S. Marines.

The Warrior

The Warrior

For anyone interested there are a couple of free documents that may be of interest. The URL to the free PDF copy to everyone of “Down The Line” and “My Better Way” is https://app.box.com/s/h84jw77pfb1zbour84yg

This blog, The Search For My Perfect Swing, is directed to the new horseshoe pitcher, like me, who is interested in joining the large population of pitchers wanting to improve their technique. I guess I can state that I’m no longer new horseshoe pitcher. Here it is 2015 and I began this blog in 2008. Even though it is primarily directed at the Elder pitcher, those 70 and older, in addition to women, and youth who primarily flip the horseshoe, there should be some tidbits of information that might help any pitcher improve their ringer average. Golfers have a huge inventory of teaching aids available to help with their game. The horseshoe pitcher has very few. This blog covers my search to improve my game. Along the way I have tried to create aids that will help my technique.

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