In horseshoe pitching, the rule of thumb is the same as any other sport. “When the other guy’s shoe is going on, it always looks like the easiest one to throw.” There is nothing wrong with that way of thinking if you feel comfortable holding and throwing the shoe the same as someone else does.
I started out trying
to throw the Reverse 3/4 turn, like Curt Day threw. It sure looked
easy for his shoe to go on when I watched him. But when the rubber
hit the road, I found that I simply could not control the shoe to only
turn 3/4 of a turn and “reverse“ seemed unnatural for me. My shoe
wanted to turn more with my “natural delivery motion”. Therefore,
I saw Mark Seibold throw his 1-1/4 and liked the way it looked when it
went on. I also found it easier for me to hold my horseshoe with
the “hammer grip". (Mark does not use the hammer grip, with the four
fingers wrapping around the shank. His first three finger joints
are on the inside edge, with his little finger resting against the caulk
and his thumb running pretty much vertically up the shank).
So that is what I throw to this day. I throw
the 1-1/4 turn with the hammer grip. Why the hammer grip? Because
I have tried to hold the horseshoe higher up the shanks and find that I
can’t keep it under control when I swing to release the shoe. With
the hammer grip, the horseshoe is in the palm of my hand, not on
The illustrations of the rotating shoe with the six most common turns in this newsletter, show the position of the horseshoe from an aerial view. Sometimes the FLIP turn is just referred to as “a Flip”. I call it a turn, because the shoe is turning, but it is turning vertically; whereas the other turns in the illustrations are turning horizontally. In 1975, I watched a horseshoe pitcher in the World Tournament hosted in Lafayette, Indiana, throw a flip turn with a 75% to 80% ringer percentage. It is not common for pitchers to perfect this turn with such accuracy, but Jesse Gonzales did.
So that is what I throw to this day. I throw the 1-1/4 turn with the hammer grip. Why the hammer grip? Because I have tried to hold the horseshoe higher up the shanks and find that I can’t keep it under control when I swing to release the shoe. With the hammer grip, the horseshoe is in the palm of my hand, not onmy finger tips. Each pitcher needs to try different holds to determine the best hold for him.
The flip turn is
also the easiest turn for a beginner to visualize, because it is often
open, to some degree in flight and when it hits the stake, but can easily
flip off. But it is a difficult turn for a pitcher to use if a pitcher
wants to improve their ringer percentage over a period of time. A
flip turn shoe rarely uses the hooks of a shoe to “grab“ the stake as other
How does one decide which turn might be best for him. I explained how I decided. Another way is to simply experiment on the courts (some prefer to experiment when no one else is around). To start with, one could begin using the 1 turn throw, which I have also occasionally seen pitchers throwing. The clockwise one turn is pictured to the far right of this page. The shoe is pretty easy to visualize. It is held up in the position that the pitcher wants the shoe to be when it encounters the stake.
As the shoe is taken back in the back swing and brought forward in the forward swing, it needs to be given a turn rotation motion around the center of the horseshoe (see the first issue of Flying Horseshoes for a discussion about the delivery of a shoe.) This is a pretty good shoe for the flip turn thrower to practice with because it is held in the same position as the flip turn pitcher holds his shoe before executing the flip turn. Where the difference comes in is during the back swing, the shoe needs to be turned slightly counter-clockwise (for a right handed pitcher) to a point where the pitcher begins a clockwise turn on it when he starts the forward swing. A left handed pitcher winds up CW and has a CCW delivery unless he is throwing a left-handed reverse turn!
A good beginning practice, whatever turn a pitcher is attempting to learn, is to hold the shoe out in front of him in the exact position he wants it in when it is released. A good added measure is to hold the shoe at the level in front of him that he wants to be holding it for the last split second before it is released. I’m speaking here to the pitcher who is looking for a turn and wants to go about the easiest way to find it—in my opinion.
Once the shoe is held in the release position and at the desired release level, the pitcher can think how he wants the points of the shoe to come into the stake. If they are both pointed up upon release, or both pointed down upon release or some combination of up for one and down for the other, that is likely the way they will come in with the proper rotation motion put around the center of gravity of the shoe.
Many good pitchers have a delivery “rehearsal” practice swing before they execute “the real thing”. The practice swing may be slow or close to actual speed desired on the real swing, but this gives the pitcher a chance to “wind the shoe up” counter-clockwise in order to be “unwound” clockwise for the delivery. It is in the practice swing that the pitcher tries different degrees of wind up rotation—beside the leg or at the extent of his back swing—to watch what effect it has on the turning shoe when it is released.
If the pitcher finds
that a certain amount of wind up seems to cause the shoe to “overturn”
when it reaches the stake or a little less wind up seems to cause the shoe
to “under turn”; then the pitcher at this point might decide to take off
1/4 of the turn of the shoe by holding with the hold for a 3/4 turn (illustrated
on the front page) or hold it with the hold for a 1-1/4 turn if he tends
to always overturn a 1 rotation throw, but does not want to change the
amount of wind up. Although what I have written here would let an
isolated pitcher try out some different things to learn to throw a horizontal
turning shoe, if there is a turn he likes watching when he watches another
pitcher on the courts; the best thing is to ask them to help you with the
turn they throw. Most pitchers are happy to show everything they’ve
learned to someone interested in listening.
Once a pitcher finds a turn that best suits him and has an understanding of the delivery motion on the shoe, then he may decide to hold the shoe up beside or in front of his face and do away with the “rehearsal” swing I discussed for the learning stage of experimenting with a new turn. Some of the best pitchers of all time used what is called a “set” pitching style, rather than the “rhythm” pitching style I wrote about on this page.
Besides the motion
put on the shoe to turn it, the length of one’s step (short step to throw
higher, long step to throw lower), the tempo of the delivery—some control
their nerves more and maintain better comfort by throwing a little faster,
while for others it is just the opposite. Some pitchers say they
do not roll their arms at all, or very much, to put rotation on the shoe;
but rather hold the shoe higher on the shank above the center of gravity
of the shoe to speed up the rotation or lower on the shank nearer the center
of the shoe to slow down the rotation.
“Timing” is the combination of all these motions working together in the synchronized way that delivers the nicest looking open shoe for each pitcher.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different things. Good pitchers did!