First rule of building backyard horseshoe pits — they are backyard horseshoe pits, chill out.
They don’t have to be perfect, they don’t have to be exactly straight, and they definitely don’t have to be regulation anything.It’s your backyard, they are your pits, and the only thing that really matters is having good people to enjoy them with. The following pictures and instructions represent my latest and greatest pits, and while their predecessors definitely didn’t compare construction wise, they surely were no less fun.In fact, my last pits — those well under regulation length, on a downward slope, and with each of the four throwing areas requiring a different pitching technique because of nearby fencing or landscaping —will be my favorite until these current ones prove otherwise.The point is that throwing shoes is fun for all ages and as long as you are throwing, you’ve already built great pits.
There is no more important step than this one.If you really wanted to, you could just perform this first step, bury the buckets and pins in the ground and start throwing.Eventually pits would form from the worn away landing areas and you’d be in business.End of the day, the rest of your pit construction doesn’t matter if your pin can’t do it’s job — to stay where it is.It’s annoying and ruins the flow of a game to continually fix a shoddy pin(s).Some pins magically go nowhere without a proper foundation, but I’ve never seen both pins stay put without being properly anchored.
This step is as simple as cutting two 5 gallon plastic buckets in half and filling them with concrete.Mix the concrete right in the buckets and set the pins as close to dead-center upright as you can.Check on your buckets often as the concrete hardens to make sure the pins are still standing up, then as the concrete hardens, pitch your pins approximately 3 inches from center.Remember that rule about backyard horseshoes?Get out a tape measure, eyeball the 3 inch pitch from an eyeballed dead center of bucket and move on.There will come a point when you know the pins aren’t going anywhere, but until then you should keep an eye on things.
In the background of the previous picture you can see the start of the frames being cut out of 4×4 pressure treated lumber.For these pits shown, two 8 foot lengths and one 6 footer were used.All lengths were cut in half to create two 4′ x 3′ frames, with the longer pieces making up the sides and the shorter piece making up the back of the pit.Screw your lumber together at the corners as shown on the left. Make sure whatever wood screws you choose are long enough to embed through one piece and well into the next one and use four screws per corner for good measure.Screw the longer pieces into the outside edges of the shorter pieces and your frames are done.
Shoot for as flat of an area as possible and also pick a spot in your yard that is generally out of the way of any sort of traffic flow.You don’t want people having to walk around your pits when they are over your house, nor do you want an errant shoe to go ringing off someone’s leg during such a gathering.Horseshoes do kick off of the wood frames during play, so keep this in mind when picking a location for your pits.
Tie a string from pin to pin, and if you want, make the string 40 feet in length for regulation distance.If you don’t have the room for that length, just use the string as a reference for getting your pins and frames as straight as possible.The pins are supposed to lean in, so the pin pitches you created earlier should be pointing directly at each other.Basically, when you are throwing, you are doing so at a pin leaning towards you, not away.Before you dig, eye up everything as if you’re measuring up a golf put.Stand behind each pit, squat down, even squint, but definitely don’t over-think or go for perfection.Back–yard–horseshoes.
Once you get things close, dig two holes and bury the buckets leaving only the pins exposed.
IV. Assist Inertia
Someone once said, an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. In this case, the outside force is a heavy, U-shaped metal object being thrown from 40 feet away, so you are definitely going to need some help keeping your frames in place. Pilot drill holes into your frames and either drive large, metal spikes through these holes or preferably 2 foot pieces rebar. Go with at least a foot in length for whatever you choose to use as spikes, but the closer to 2 feet the better. Use a hammer, sledge hammer or back of an axe to drive these spikes through the pilot holes and into the ground, standing on your frame the whole time to make sure it doesn’t shift too much. Your frames will chip, splinter, and even shift a little bit over time, but these spikes will ensure they don’t go anywhere. With pins steady and frames secure, the pressure is now rightfully put on the players.
V. Add Sand
Now comes the easy part. Add sand and you’re all done. Regular play sand works best, but you can go with whatever you are most comfortable with. Place the sand right over the grass or remove the top layer of sod for extra depth. Either way is fine. Got kids? Get them involved with putting down the sand. Got kids? Good luck keeping them from thinking these are their sand boxes when you aren’t throwing shoes. Got kids? Get little, plastic horseshoes for them and play half-court. Remember, this is fun for all ages.
You can make covers to help protect your pits from the weather and especially from wild animals using them as litter boxes. Pressure treated is always best, but not necessary. You can get fancy and buy plexiglass sheets or just paint regular plywood to prevent the weather from taking a toll on your covers.
Determine the rules. There are all sorts of variations of play: taking turns throwing one shoe at a time vs. throwing both of your shoes before the other player throws, all points count vs. the cancellation system, counting leaners vs. not, etc… You can learn more about the ins and outs of backyard horseshoes here, but the most important thing is to determine which way you prefer to play and sticking to those rules. Don’t let some “pro” come over your house and tell you that the rules should be otherwise. It’s backyard horseshoes, and it’s your backyard.
Lastly — have fun.