The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 37

Accurate Alignment

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.

Practice Pit Setup

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.

Right edge 18″ from 30 foot stake

The photo below shows the location of the 30 foot stake from the 27 foot foul line.

Foul line 36″ from 30 foot stake

Taking My Stance

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.

Stance relative to the right edge

Forward Swing

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.

Stride forward. Right foot remains planted.

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.

Left hand resting on left leg. With or without 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.

Horseshoes left shank on edge of approach, center over LofF cord.

Odds and Ends

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”

Continue to Part 38 for a description of the Maryland State Doubles and an Emergency on Pit 11

E-mail me if you have questions.

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The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 36

Stationary Pitching in Pictures

For those not interested in all of the technical aspects of Stationary Pitching from 27 feet I am providing the technique with the information in pictures.

Standard 1 — A strong balanced stance. Both feet on the foul line will not handle the impetus of the forward and rearward arm swing. Note Line of Flight cord drawn directly from the stake to a location directly below the CofG of the dangling horseshoe. NOTE: Once you have established your stance and upper body alignment, your head, upper body, chest and shoulders MUST NOT CHANGE!

Tip 1: Once you have devised a method to make sure you are square to your Visual Alignment Point, you will need to repeat the process on every swing. I have a vertical line on my pitching shirt that I align with the edge of the inside of my left shoe.

Tip 2: As with any method of pitching, you must control the tendency to rotate the shoulders counter-clockwise. Once I align my shoulders (See Tip 1), I place my middle finger on my left thigh directly on my front seam. I then lock my left elbow into my body. This will control the left/right rotation.

Balanced stance with Line of Flight and VAP cords.

Standard 2 — Visual Alignment Point. This is a point to the right of the stake that you personally use to align the horseshoe at address to keep it over the Line of Flight. A good starting point is the right corner of the backstop (typically 18″ to the right of the stake). My personal VAP is at the right rear corner of the distant right approach placing my horseshoes left shank 33″ to the right of the stake and 33″ above the corner. My left foot, chest and shoulders are square and facing this spot (I have a cord drawn from the front of the approach up to this point). When I swing the shoe up to this visual location I concentrate on not moving my head or shoulders during the entire swing. It is important that your left foot, chest and shoulders square up to this point and not change during the entire swing. The reason I pick a point so far right is to make sure that I get the shoe over the LofF on the backswing when I reach my Backswing Stop Point. It has been my tendency to swing outside the LofF if I try swing up and back along the LofF. So, in truth, even though I try to use the pendulum swing up and back, down the same LofF. I consider the backswing a pendulum swing and the forward a pendulum swing, they are not on the same LofF.

Standard 3 — Backswing Stop Point. The tamper is positioned directly over the LofF cord and is positioned so that it is touched at the Backswing Stop Point. This technique requires a full backswing.

Tamper centered over Line of Flight cord at Backswing Stop Point

Photo showing the CofG of the horseshoe reaching the tamper at the Backswing Stop Point (where your normal arm swing stops).

CofG of horseshoe reaching the tamper at the Backswing Stop Point.

From the Backswing Stop Point simply swing the shoe down the Line of Flight. If you don’t reach your Backswing Stop Point your distance control may suffer. It may be necessary to fine tune your stance to accurately position the LofF cord and the Backswing Stop Point.

Stationary Stance From 27 Feet (Long Version)

This part will describe a technique to stand at the foul line and throw ringers. It will also cover the exercises that make it possible to utilize this technique. In a nutshell, this is the method. I swing up to a distant target that I will call the Visual Alignment Point (VAP). I swing back to my Backswing Stop Point (BSP) and swing down the Line of Flight (LOF) and release the horseshoe at the stake. A very simple address, backswing and forward swing with release.

Lets find a Balanced Stance, Visual Alignment Point and Line of Flight. The only thing that moves throughout this process is my arm…up, back, up.

Step 1 — Balanced Stance — Lets take a temporary stance which may change depending on the location of your VAP. This is my chosen setup. My left toe is just slightly short of the foul line and turned clockwise about 10 degrees and pointing at a distant point 33 inches to the right of the stake…my VAP. This places my horseshoes CofG pointing at the right rear corner of the distant approach. My right foot is about 12 inches behind the left and turned 30-35 degrees clockwise. See image below.

Stationary Stance with left foot aligned at the Visual Alignment Point

Step 2 — The Visual Alignment Point (VAP) — This is a location somewhere to the right of the target stake that would be common with most NHPA sanctioned pits. I have chosen the right rear corner of the distant approach. This is a pretty consistent location when pits are 3′ x 6′ and with 18″ approaches. This point is the most important aspect of this method. When you swing back from this point, it must return the CofG of the horseshoe to your Backswing Stop Point (BSP) as well as a point directly over the Line of Flight location. In the image below, I have placed a tamper behind me on the approach. I swing up to my VAP and swing back to my Backswing Stop Point and move the tamper to the CofG of the horseshoe. See image.

Return from the VAP. Center of Gravity at the Backswing Stop Point.

Step 3 — Establish the Line of Flight (LOF) — Now draw a cord/string from the stake to the base of the tamper and if all is aligned properly you simply swing the shoe toward the stake down the line of flight cord. At this point you may need to fine tune the your stance relative so that the CofG of the horseshoe is directly over the LofF cord when the shoe is dangling next to the leg. I wanted this point to be on the right edge of the approach. See image below.

Line of Flight cord below tamper.

The purpose of this process is to make sure that the horseshoe reaches a point that is on the LofF. It is very difficult to swing the shoe back from the address position and pass it close enough to the leg to remain on the LofF.

The Fine Tuning — After you have established your Visual Alignment Point and your Backswing Stop Point and your Line of Flight cord, you will need to take your stance so that your left foot is pointing directly at the VAP and your upper body is perfectly square to this point.

Exercises Specific to Horseshoe Pitching

Over the past 15 years I have included visits to my local World Gym two to three times per week and have incorporated a variety of exercises designed to strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments specific to horseshoe pitching. Thus, I have included exercises that target the shoulders, hands and fingers. The one below is the best I’ve found for strengthening the shoulder area and simulating horseshoe pitching as well. All of the equipment in the right background are designed to work the various muscles of the shoulder. See image below.

Cable deck with pulley at Backswing Stop Point height.

The image below is my stance facing the opposite end of the rack. I want to simulate as much as possible my stance and arm swing to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder.

My stationary stance in front of the opposite end of the rack. With rope in hand my target is the vertical bar shown.

In the image below the rope has rubber stops on both ends. I grab the end of the rope, step to the other end, take my pitching stance and pull the cable forward to the metal bar at the other end. See image below.

Pulling cable to far end.

Below is an image of the weight stack adjustable in increments from 5 to 95 pounds. If you have access to this equipment, start with 5 pounds and perform as many repetitions as is comfortable. Continue adding weight in 5 pound increments until you cannot do 10 reps. Make sure you allow our arm to reach it’s Backswing Stop Point. Stop if you have any pain during this exercise.

Weight stack from 5 to 95 pounds.

This exercise strengthens the deltoid muscle and connecting tendons and ligaments used to raise and lower the arm. However, don’t ignore the other shoulder muscles. Mix in shoulder presses to strengthen the other muscles of the shoulder. Front and rear flys are also beneficial.

Exercising at Home

There are a variety of inexpensive products that can be used effectively at home. The photo below shows two different Surgical Tubes (Surgical in the sense they are normally made from surgical hose). This equipment can be purchased at most sporting good stores as well as fishing supply stores. If you opt to purchase raw surgical hose make sure it is the stretchable kind. Further, start with the weakest strength and work up. The best way to use this tubing is to attach it in some way at the height of your individual Backswing Stop Point. You then simply step forward with tube in hand, and pull against the tension of the tubing from the BSP in a straight line to the front.

Two examples of stretchable tubing of various strengths.

Below are two of my favorite exercisers for improving hand and finger strength. The two shown in the photo come from a company called IronMind at http://www.ironmind.com. They have a very wide array of equipment and books pertaining to all aspects of improving strength. A catalog is also available. The small gripper below is the Level 1 (IMTUG) and is specifically to improve finger strength (pinch grip). The large gripper is the Trainer (COC) and is specific for improving hand strength. Each would be the starting point to improve your grip and finger strength. There are more levels available. Each one harder to close and chosen, if you desire to continue with improvement.

Hand and Finger Grippers

Either of these grippers can be used at any time. You can also purchase these grippers through Amazon. Give them a try, I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll notice an improvement in your ability to grip your horseshoe and release on time.

Continue to Part 37 for a description of how to develop a consistent setup, swing and release directly at the stake.

E-mail me if you have questions.

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The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 35


IF IT FITS — IT SHIPS (Not Necessarily True)

Sorry for the delay in completing Part 35, but, have been having a problem with shipping horseshoes our usual way. We do not charge our customers for shipping and handling over the actual costs through the US Postal Service ($5.15) and a small amount charged by Paypal. Thus, we only charge $6.50 to ship anywhere in the U.S. Unfortunately, the Postal Service has taken exception to the fact that I add additional tape around the edges of the Priority Mail Flat Rate Mailing Envelope and recently charged the customer an additional $6.70 upon receipt. The USPS cited a small paragraph that reads in part “and the contents are entirely confined within the envelope with the adhesive provided as a means of closure.” Well, the contents were entirely confined, and, I did use the adhesive as a means of closure. I simply added regular heavy duty packing tape around the edges to keep the contents from falling out if the cardboard envelope were to tear, which unfortunately happens often. When I ship, I use an additional inner, bubble, tear proof envelope. When the foundry ships, they tightly wrap the shoes in multiple layers of plastic wrap. I simply will not charge the customer $13.20 to ship a pair of horseshoes. We’re looking for a different way and an explanation from the USPS, which I suspect will not be forthcoming, nor, will the customer be refunded the $6.70 by the USPS. Hilfling Horseshoes has refunded the fine.

UPDATE 8/17/2012 — The USPS has apparently notified their Post Offices that they are not to add “Postage Due” to any Flat Rate Envelope unless they are grossly distorted. Consequently, we will return to shipping to U.S. Zip Codes for a flat shipping charge of $6.50. That includes a fee of $5.15 for shipping and $1.35 to cover the PayPal fee. The new Flat Rate Shipping envelopes no longer mention the closure method.

Effective Horseshoe Opening

By specifications levied by the NHPA, the opening between hook calks when measured 3/4″ from the tips, cannot exceed 3-1/2″. There is a fudge factor of 1/8″ on used shoes. However, the Effective Opening should be considered to be about 5-3/4″. The image below will show how this is the case. This is the equivalent of a horseshoe with a much wider opening when factoring in opening to the left and right of the stake. As it turns out, this is important when deciding your aim point.

Personal Tendencies

As I walk, my left arm and shoulder rotate rightward as I step forward with my right leg and the opposite occurs when stepping with the left leg. Not only do my arms swing forward, but, they swing inward on an arc toward center. If I were to swing my arm up to perpendicular they would arrive in front of the center of my chest. So, why not take advantage of this natural tendency. Providing for this tendency is the basis for setting up and delivering Square to Square.

Square to Square

Square to Square is a technique that first requires setting up the pit and approach. Next, it defines my proper stance, body alignment, Visual Alignment Point, backswing and release. The purpose is to direct the horseshoe directly at the stake with proper distance control. The section on Effective Width is an important aspect of this approach.

Pit Setup

The pit setup requires two lines secured from the pit to the approach. Line 1 comes from the stake to the center front of the approach.

Line 2 takes a bit of explanation. The distance from my nose to my right shoulder is 10″. If I raised my right arm up in front of my eyes I would have moved it 10″ leftward. However, my little laser proves it actually gets there in more of an arc than a straight line. That is an important aspect of Square to Square. If you release a shoe during this upswing, you must provide for the actual location of the release point to determine how far inward your hand has moved. So, to provide for my Effective Width, I painted a second stake OSHA Yellow and drove it 3″ to the right of my primary stake, at the back of the approach. Line 2 is drawn from this Secondary Stake to my CofG location on the approach (right edge). That’s it for the setup. Pretty simple, two lines. Using this line from the Secondary Stake I found my Visual Alignment Point to be the right corner of the backboard (18″ right of the Primary Stake). See image below.

Primary and Secondary Stakes


Stance

This is the most important aspect of this technique. It’s a modified balanced martial arts stance. Most martial arts schools start with teaching the various stances. This would be known as a front stance. This is also a stance I learned when taking Aikido classes years earlier. The left foot is planted as a continuation of the line drawn from the stake to the front of the approach. The right foot is behind the left foot 12″ and at about a 35 degree angle. I rotate my shoulders so they are perfectly perpendicular to Line 1. It is imperative that I rotate my shoulders to the left to face the stake squarely. If I don’t square up to the stake, my stance is unbalanced and the results are unpredictable. Visually you can check this Square alignment by hanging your arms straight down and making sure they are perpendicular to Line 1. This places the head centered between the two feet. Next, and very important, a slight squat downward so that there is a bend in both knees. This is a well balanced solid stance and capable of handling the swing of the arm and release of the shoe. I also find that if I add a little more weight to the left foot by sliding my upper body slightly forward, my stride forward is much smoother. See the image below.

Left foot as a continuation of Line 1 to the stake


Swing, Stride and Release

My swing thought here is “QUIET”. From the time I swing up to my VAP and down past my right leg, I don’t want to move my head up or down or left or right. Perfectly still. The only thing moving is my arm. I lock in on the Secondary Stake. I take a small step forward, plant my left foot, still in perfect alignment with Line 1, keeping my right instep solidly connected to the approach and release the horseshoe toward the Secondary Stake. When I release the shoe my nose is directly over my left knee and instep of my left shoe. By using the Secondary Stake as my target, I am taking full advantage of the 5-3/4″ Effective Width. See Stride Position below. Note that the foot is still aligned with Line 1 to the stake. The feeling of this technique very much reminds me of my release of a duckpin ball thrown directly at the headpin, i.e., toe forward, bend in the knees, nose over the toe and smooth release of the ball at the foul line.

Stride forward with nose directly over instep


Higher on the Stake

Sometimes it is necessary to hit the stake a bit higher to clear a blocking shoe. This is easily done by rising up slightly prior to releasing the shoe. This effectively raises the hub of the arc and carries the shoe a bit higher with the same level of effort.

New Grip Option

I wanted to post this grip option without delay. I have always advocated an un-square arrival of the horseshoe to the stake. This includes, arriving un-flat, and slightly rotated left or right (open or closed), anything to disrupt the tendency to bounceback. I even designed a horseshoe that would turn clockwise or counter-clockwise slightly prior to arrival at the stake. I have been practicing lately with a new grip alignment that had an added benefit that was unexpected. Here it is — when I take my grip, and swing up to my Visual Alignment Point, I rotate the shoe so that the left shank is higher than the right. This does two things; 1) It forces the forearm and palm to face upward and swings the elbow in closer to the body and extends the arm more fully; 2) It allows the shoe to arrive with the right shank down and eliminates a flat arrival. It is important to keep this grip and arm alignment throughout the swing down, up and release. It also gives me a firmer grip on the shoe. Give it a try.

Shoe rotated rightward


Continue to Part 36 for a description of how to use a pitch by standing at the foul line and helpful Exercises.

E-mail me if you have questions.

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The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 34


Emergency Preparation

Recently, at our annual Maryland Horseshoe Pitchers Assn. meeting, the issue of emergency preparation was discussed. The concern was expressed about our lack of procedures to deal with on-site emergencies. It was decided to append to each score keeping clipboard, a 4 line description of our exact location, including GPS coordinates, to assist the caller and 911 operator in defining our exact location. Secondly, we would request at any tournament, the identification of anyone having CPR training. It was also suggested that one or more officers receive CPR certification.

The issue of AED (Automated External Defibrillator) availability was discussed. The cost in excess of $1K, precludes most small groups from purchasing one. However, a couple of options were presented. Summer time rental for 3 months. Or, contact with local fire departments about donation of unused or replaced AED’s to non-profit organizations.

Testing is Done — Decision Time

NOTE: The Trident, part of the Tribute series, is sanctioned for pitching in sanctioned tournaments by the NHPA. The foundry in Marcellus, Michigan is gearing up for production. I am hoping that the Trident will be available by the end of May.

The weather in Maryland has been beautiful this Winter and Spring. It has given me and various testers the opportunity to test a variety of my prototypes. A request to design a shoe similar to the Ted Allen gave me an opportunity to work on a turn shoe. Most of my shoes have been designed for the flip pitcher. However, a change in the design of my hook calk allows any of those shoes to be flipped or turned from either side. So, I decided to put a bit more emphasis on shoes that could be flipped or turned by concentrating on the shank design. The result was the Aviator, Eagle, Trident and Coastie.

Last week, two pitchers from my Legion Post 7 league wanted to test my prototypes. One was a 40 foot reverse flipper like my partner and the other was a 40 foot 1-1/4 turner. The flipper chose the Eagle and the turner chose the Trident. Both improved their ringer averages by 7%. Recently, I have been testing the Trident exclusively to determine if it was a candidate for NHPA licensing. It had already been approved by the NHPA based on conformance to their specifications. The only thing left was the $300 licensing fee. Last night, my partner, also a 40 foot reverse flipper was able to flip the Trident perfectly end over end after a dozen practice throws. So, my decision is made. It will be the Trident for the NHPA and Pro Tour tournaments this year, after I’ve sent the $300 of course. Whether to go into production or not is another issue. The description of the Trident is below. Click the image for a larger view.

Trident (USN)

The design of the Trident considered the role of a double purpose horseshoe. Most horseshoes are designed to target one method of throwing a horseshoe, either for turning or flipping. However, there is one aspect of horseshoe pitching that is often overlooked … the scoring of points. The facts are, a turner will frequently defeat a flipper of equal ringer average, relative to points. It’s simply a matter of the arrival of the shoe.

The Trident was designed to be considered a dual purpose horseshoe.

For the TURNER, the shanks were designed to provide the correct shape and width for turning. A shank notch was provided to show the exact location of the center of gravity. The thumb calk was designed to be at the same height as the hook calks, thus providing for a three-point landing.

For the FLIPPER, the ringer break was designed to deflect the shoe left or right, while not providing a location square to the line of flight. The shape of each side of the ringer break allowed the flipper the option of gripping the shoe for a slight rotation left or right when arriving at the stake. The location of the index and middle finger dictates which will occur. The thumb calk was designed to provide a firm, but, not tight grip pressure on the shoe. The width of the thumb calk was designed to allow the thumb to encourage a slight rotation if chosen. The overall shape of the shoe is more rectangular, thus, providing more opportunity to score points. I have always felt that a flipping shoe benefits from arriving over-flipped slightly. That is, the back of the shoe hits the ground before anything else. However, a rounded back end encourages a deflection left or right. Therefore, the back end of the Trident was designed to encourage a square forward thrust when it hits the ground. This feature is important whenever a shoe or shoes are already in front of the stake and allows the Trident to skip over the blocking shoe(s). A shoe that is under-flipped, that is, points down at arrival has little chance of moving forward.

Finally, the shoe is perfectly balanced. The top and bottom of the shoe are equal at the center of gravity location. Further, the shoe is designed to be perimeter weighted. The outer edges are thicker than the inner. The hook calks are symmetrical, allowing the shoe to be flipped or turned from either side. The hook calk is blunted at the front end for safety purposes.

Having said all of that, I may not go into production on this shoe. It is very expensive for an individual to produce horseshoes. It is also very difficult to find a foundry casting ductile iron or forging and willing to handle the production, not to mention the cleaning, painting, weight matching, boxing and shipping horseshoes. Finally, I don’t make any money from the sale of my horseshoes. All funds go directly to the foundry.

Continue to Part 35 for a description of a technique called Square to Square.

E-mail me if you have questions.

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The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 33


A New Season Has Arrived

The new season is upon us. The HP Pro Tour has already announced their new schedule and I have been tasked with setting up the records for American Legion Post 7. During the past few months I have been busy testing, designing and producing prototypes for 2012. The GrabIt has been licensed for another year. I have received back from the foundry 8 different designs undergoing various phases of testing and have 3 more 3D printed and awaiting prototype casting at the foundry.

A Stance Change — In Part 31, I described a rather unusual stance. It was a stance developed to permit me to look down the target line at release and totally eliminate arrival of the shoe on the right side of the stake. It served me well in 2011 with a 1st place win in the HP Pro Tour event in Frederick, Md., and other Maryland tournaments. However, it places a bit of pressure on the left hip and I want to offer an alternative that is a bit more traditional, but, still considers the role of the left shoulder at release.

The following is a good second choice from either left or right side. Place the left foot back and right foot forward. Place more weight on the right foot. This will force the Line of Flight cord further right and will naturally require a shift rightward to the Visual Alignment Point.

The Hilfling Aviator

As mentioned, the Aviator has been approved by the NHPA for licensing for 2012. I would have to pay the $300 licensing fee for the 1st year. I want to describe the design features of the Aviator that are unique, relative to other produced horseshoes. The Aviator is designed to produce a shoe that weighs 2 pounds 8 ounces. The Aviator is roughly based on the shape of the Steinfeldt of old. The Aviator top and bottom shown below.

The Aviator Top and Bottom

Thumb Calk — has been designed to allow the first joint of the thumb to lock-in to the top edge of the calk and fit naturally to the depression behind the ringer break. This feature shown below.

The Aviator Thumb Calk

Hook Calk — The hook calks are quite unique. First, they are symmetrical, i.e., calk shape is the same on the top and bottom. Thus, it permits a shoe to be flipped or turned properly without the necessity to have a shoe created specifically for flipping and one for turning. Most shoes designed for flipping have the thumb calk on one side and the skid plates of the hook calk on the other. For turning, thumb calk and skid plates are on the same side. See image below.

The Aviator Hook Calk

The second unique feature is — the front end of the hook calk is blunted. This is specifically designed as a safety feature. Last spring, I was keeping score behind and to the right of the pit when a traditional shoe hit the top of the stake and ricocheted upward and the front point of the hook calk hit me in the chest. It broke the skin, left a huge bruise and I still have a knot on my chest from the impact. I decided to change the design of the hook calk to eliminate this sharp point. See image below.

The Aviator Blunted Hook Calk

Shank Shape — The shape of the shank has been changed to add the shoe weight to the outer perimeter of the shank. It gently slopes inward to provide a more appropriate grip position for the thumb and fingers. See image below.

Shank Notch — The shank notch is provided to define the halfway point and center of gravity of the shoe. See image below.

The Aviator Shank and Notch

Ringer Break — The ringer break has been designed to deflect the shoe left or right and eliminate bounceback. It is also designed to permit the reverse flippers a proper grip position. See image below.

The Aviator Ringer Break

The Hilfling Patriot

Here I’m introducing a new concept in turning the horseshoe. Most turners will rotate the shoe 3/4, 1-1/4 or 1-3/4 turns. The 3/4 flip-turn is also popular. The Patriot is designed to turn 1/3 to 1/2 rotations. While experimenting with a variety of pitching grips for flips and turns, I used a 1/2 turn with Snyder EZ Flips for one tournament season. It worked pretty well, but, the sharp edge of the thumb calk and hook became problematic after an hour or so of pitching. So, I decided to design a shoe that allowed me to hold the shoe at the hook calk and turn the shoe 1/3 or 1/2 times. Here is the logic.

If you turn a shoe, the side opposite your grip will generally be a little closer to the ground when released. If you were to grip the shoe at the thumb calk as an extension of the arm, when released the hook calks are closer to the ground than the thumb calk. If you were to release the shoe with 1 complete turn, it would arrive at the stake with the hook calks down. In order for the shoe to arrive flat you would have to add a little move to flatten the shoe when released. If you were to turn a shoe 1/2 rotation, the edge opposite the fingers would arrive exactly as released. For example, if I grip one of the hook calks, in most cases the thumb calk end would be lower than the hook calks at release. Therefore, the shoe would arrive with the thumb calk end lower, which is a good thing. If you flip a shoe, it is only flat 1/360th of a revolution. Sometimes, flat, sometimes under rotated and sometimes over rotated. The thumb calk has a notch for the placement of the thumb and the normally sharp inner point of the hook calk has been flattened and enlarged. Below is an image of the Patriot.

The Patriot

The Patriot can be flipped or turned. I have designed the shoe to be tip heavy by 1/4″. If used as a flip shoe the oversized ringer break adds a platform to support the weight of the shoe with the index finger. The shoe can also be used as a traditional turn shoe.

Continue to Part 34 for a discussion of Emergency Preparation measures and the licensing of the newest horseshoe — the “Trident.”

E-mail me if you have questions.

Table of Contents

The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 32


A Rewarding 2011

The pitching season for 2011 is over for the year. Between tournament pitching and design, it’s been a very productive and rewarding year. The season was ended with second places in the Maryland Singles and Maryland Doubles, topped off with a first place in the HP Pro Tour event in Frederick, Maryland for Class 2–30 feet. I also won the Maryland Points Challenge for 2011. Design wise, I completed the design of three new horseshoes which were approved by the NHPA. In addition, I completed the design of 4 additional models, all of which have been 3D printed and and sent to the foundry for prototype casting. These 4 designs are scheduled to be returned the first week of November. Each of the new designs are discussed below.

Three New Designs NHPA Approved

Three designs, two of which are part of the Tribute Series were submitted to the NHPA for approval. All three were approved by the NHPA on 10 September 2011. Testing is underway and decisions about production will be made after testing is completed. Each of the three is discussed below. Each of the horseshoes includes a Hilfling designed hook calk which is the same on both sides. This design permits a flip shoe with thumb calk up, to be turned with the thumb calk down. Click any image for a larger view.

The Aviator — is the first approved as part of the Tribute Series and is dedicated to the U.S. Air Force. It is similar in appearance to the Steinfeldt horseshoe of old. This horseshoe, like most of the Hilfling shoes is perfectly balanced. There is a shank notch to define the Center of Gravity point. The Aviator is perimeter weighted around the outer perimeter and includes the Hilfling hook calk for the flip or turn.

Aviator Top and Bottom

The Trident — The Trident is the second in the Tribute Series and is dedicated to the U.S. Navy. The Trident has a unique ringer break, is perimeter weighted, shank notched and perfectly balanced. The ringer break is designed to give the flipper the option of flipping square, open or closed. The position of the index and middle fingers will dictate which of the three choices control the flight of the horseshoe. The indentations around the ringer break fit the reverse flipper perfectly. The Hilfling hook calk is incorporated.

The Trident -- Top and Bottom

The Eagle — The Eagle is the third of the three designs approved by the NHPA. The design was an experiment in an egg-shaped shank. There is a small ringer break and an indentation to define the center of gravity on each shank. The shoe can be flipped or turned with the Hilfling calk.

The Eagle -- Top and Bottom

Four New Designs

The four designs below have all been 3D printed and shipped to the foundry for prototype casting. Candidates for NHPA approval will be submitted to the NHPA. Two of the shoes are part of the Tribute Series. The Warrior dedicated to the U.S. Marines and the Patriot dedicated to the Vietnam Veteran.

The Warrior — is dedicated to the U.S. Marine. The Warrior is perimeter weighted, balanced and can be flipped or turned. It takes advantage of the full width and height permitted for any approved horseshoe. This is a great shoe for capturing all of those important single points.

The Warrior -- Top and Bottom

The Torque — The Torque is the most unusual horseshoe I’ve designed. It is roughly based on the shape of the Aviator. It has been my observation that a shoe that arrives slightly rotated either open or closed reduces lost ringers. This shoe allows the pitcher to grip the shoe normally, but, will apply an automatic rotation depending on which side is flipped. First, it has a thumb calk on both sides. The center of gravity has been relocated to force the shoe to rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on which side is flipped. Normally, causing this rotation is a function of the location of your thumb on the calk. I have found that it is easier to allow the shoe to rotate automatically without changing my thumb position on the calk. The shoe should be gripped and flipped as usual, but, it will rotate slightly prior to arriving at the stake. The pitcher decides which rotation is best to eliminate bounceback or unwanted rotation around the stake. I pitch from the right side and have found that a shoe that rotates counter-clockwise works best for me. Normally, a shoe coming in from the right will continue rotating clockwise. I find that forcing the shoe to rotate counter-clockwise reduces the amount of rotation, in sand or clay. This should help eliminate losing ringers that are pushed off backwards.

The Torque -- Top and Bottom

The Patriot — The Patriot is dedicated to the Vietnam Veteran. This is specifically a turn shoe. In addition, the thumb calk is narrower and raised to the same level as the height of the hook calks. I’ve made the shanks a bit wider at the center of gravity. I also designed this shoe to be easily changed to a flip shoe. This Patriot is designed more for the finger turner. It also works particularly well for a flip-turn as the shoe should arrive with a 3-point landing. The hook calks are with the traditional skid plates.

The Patriot -- Top and Bottom

The Gyro — The Gyro is a departure from my normal design. It is roughly designed after the Ted Allen. It is specifically a turn shoe. Again, the thumb calk is narrower and higher than traditional thumb calks. This is a turn shoe for the hand grip.

The Gyro -- Top and Bottom

Continue to Part 33 for a description of an alternative stance and two shoes for possible production.

E-mail me if you have questions.

Table of Contents

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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