Not horsin’ around

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Carter is horseshoe champion

By Michele Roberts

 The game of horseshoes has a long history, one that can be traced back to ancient Rome. According to the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, records were not kept in the United States on horseshoe tournaments or competitions until 1909, but it has been established that one of the driving force behind present day horseshoe pitching came from the throwing of mule shoes in Union camps during the Civil War. One Lancaster resident recently demonstrated his skill in the sport July 24 and 25 at the 2013 National Senior Games held in Cleveland, Ohio.


Herschel Carter took first place in horseshoe pitching during the games, which isn’t surprising since Carter said he’s been pitching horseshoes since he was seven years old. 


“I’ve been pitching for 65 years,” he said. “But I’m certainly not the oldest person to be pitching by a long shot. When you go to these national tournaments, you’ll see guys in their 80’s, 90’s, even 100 years old, pitching horseshoes. I saw one guy at this tournament pitching from a wheelchair.”

Carter, a member of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, said that competition horseshoe pitching is a far cry from pitching in the back yard just for fun.

“Everything is regulation, just like any other sport,” he said. “Your horseshoes have to be the right weight, the right width apart at the tips, and they certify everything before you get in and start pitching. You have to show a picture ID so they can verify your age and make sure you’re being put in the right class.”

Even the surface around the stakes the horseshoe is thrown at is regulated. 

In regular backyard play, the stake is often situated in a bare patch of dirt, which would allow a player to possibly slide the horseshoe three or four feet closer to the stake. 


But this is not the case in regulation play.

“It’s like clay mixed with a fine powder, then they get it wet,” Carter said. “It has the consistency of mud in a pig pen. I actually put the same set-up in my own yard so I could practice like that.”

Carter said he pitched every day for six months in order to get ready for the senior games. 

He added that people might be surprised to learn how important it is to stay in shape when playing horseshoes on a regular basis.

“The horseshoes weigh about 2.8 pounds,” he said. “You pitch 30 horseshoes per game, and in a tournament you might pitch 10 games a day. That’s 300 horseshoes. I’m a person who has always liked to be in good shape. I ran track and played football in high school and I’ve been active my whole life. So if you’re not in shape when you start playing horseshoes, it will definitely get you in shape fast. Another thing you have to get used to is the sun because you can be out in it for quite a while during a tournament. We pitched for six hours on the first day, five hours on the second day, and if you’re not used to the sun, you would definitely feel it.”

The game of horseshoes is now so popular there are now Pro Tours around the country and even world championships. 

The next World Championship of horseshoes is set to take place in Utah in September.

“I won’t make it this year, but I hope to get to the next one,” he said. “There were over 300 people pitching horseshoes in the senior games, and there are usually around 1,200 at the world championship games. But the funny thing is, some of the best horseshoe pitchers probably won’t ever leave their neighborhood. I grew up in a neighborhood with three of the best horseshoe players ever in South Carolina within a quarter mile radius of me. Playing against them was how I kept improving. They were legends in the sport. I don’t know if people realize what they can do out here now, but one thing I would like to see in this area is a place where seniors could come and play horseshoes, or ping pong, stuff like that. I think it would make a world of difference to folks around here, because I am sure we’ve got some great players right here in this county,” he said.

For more information on tournament horseshoe play, visit the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association at www.horseshoepitching.com.