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Adirondack horseshoes

July 17, 2011
By DON WILLIAMS , For The Leader Herald

Growing up in a small Adirondack town had its advantages. We often had special "entertainment" from the outside world. Northville had its horse shows (gymkanas), barbershop quartets, dance teams, skating competitions, marionette shows, and carnivals, which found an appreciative audience of young and old when they appeared. I especially remember the horseshoe champion.

It was an amazing show. It was hard to believe the horseshoe tricks were possible. Pitching horseshoes from the end of a regulation course, the champion could light a match that was placed on the top of the stake at the opposite end. Making ringers, the horseshoe encircling the stake, was not a big challenge for the champion so they held a blanket up in front of the stake so that he could not see it. No problem, he still made a ringer. He threw shoes over his shoulder, between his legs, and sideways, and they all found the stake. When blindfolded, he still pitched a perfect game.

Not only did the champion enjoy pitching horseshoes but it became a popular pastime enjoyed by Adirondackers at camps, summer homes, club houses, and gatherings of all kinds. A picnic was not a picnic without a game of horseshoes. It was not uncommon to find the horseshoe stakes in the farmyard or the backyard in a village neighborhood. It was a game that could be played by young and old alike.

Horseshoes are still played today. The object is to throw a horseshoe around a small pipe pounded into the ground. The game is produced commercially today with special horseshoes that were never on a horse, unlike the old days.

Horseshoe pitching dates back to the Greeks and Romans, in 150 A.D. Colonists brought the game to America. Soldiers during the American Revolution and the War Between the States enjoyed pitching horseshoes when they were not fighting.

The rules for pitching horseshoes were standardized in 1921. The object of the game was to pitch horseshoes at a one-inch diameter stake that extended fourteen inches out of the ground. The stake was pounded in at an angle so it leaned forward three inches. The "court" or course was 50 feet long by 10 feet wide. Six foot by 6 foot wooden frames were placed on the ground at each end to surround the stakes.

The game could be played by singles or doubles at each end. The score was kept by allowing three points for a ringer and by allowing one point for the closest to the stake horseshoe if it was within six inches of the stake. Each player pitched two horseshoes and shooting was alternated from end to end. Matching scores canceled each other. I believe the game was over when a score of 21 was reached.

Those who came before us had a saying, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Learning to play games like pitching horseshoes brought some joy into their hard-working lives.



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