How Does Scoring Work In Horseshoes?

Horseshoes Scoring

Horseshoes is a classic summertime game that has been played at cookouts and in parks across America for well over a century. Top-level players compete in sanctioned tournaments hosted by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA). Regardless of your skill level, you need to know how scoring works in horseshoes if you want to win. Keep reading for all the answers on how to keep the score straight in your next horseshoes game!

Scoring Basics

In the game of horseshoes, scoring happens at the end of each inning. An inning is a round in which each player or team takes a turn pitching their two horseshoes at the stake, with the intention of getting the horseshoe around the stake or as close to it as they can. Players score points based on where their horseshoes land in relation to the stake and their opponents’ horseshoes.

The first side leaves their horseshoes in place when the second side pitches their horseshoes, making it possible to knock an opponent’s shoe away. This contributes to the strategy of horseshoes, making defending against scores as important as scoring points.

After all four horseshoes for an inning have been pitched, they will be determined to be “live shoes,” those legally pitched and landing within the pit, or “dead shoes,” those illegally pitched or landing outside the pit. Live shoes are scored, and dead shoes are not.

All live shoes are then judged to be either “in count” or “out of count.” Shoes in count, also called “close shoes,” are either in contact with the stake or within six inches of the stake. Shoes out of count are those landing outside of the six-inch radius. Like dead shoes, shoes out of count are not scored.

The shoes in count are then scored. Horseshoes that encircle the stake are called “ringers” and receive a score of three points. Of the other shoes in count, those closer than both of the opponent’s horseshoes receive a score of one point. This includes horseshoes that are touching or otherwise in contact with the stake without encircling it, called “leaners.”

The maximum number of points that can be scored in an inning is six by pitching two ringers. If you pitch a ringer plus another shoe in play, which is closer to the stake than either of your opponent’s horseshoes, you will be awarded four points for the inning. 

Cancellation vs. Count-All

There are two methods of scoring horseshoes: cancellation scoring and count-all scoring. In sanctioned tournaments, the tournament director must announce the scoring method prior to the start of the competition.

Cancellation scoring gets its name because the ringers of one player cancel the points earned by an opponent’s ringers. Thus, in cancellation scoring, if one player pitches two ringers and their opponent pitches one ringer, the first player will only receive three points, and their opponent will receive none.

All shoes in play for both sides are scored in count-all scoring, and ringers do not cancel. Single points must still be earned by getting a horseshoe closer to the stake than both of your opponent’s shoes. But the scoring of ringers is not affected by your opponent’s ringers as it is in cancellation scoring. 


There are a few different ways to win a game of horseshoes, depending on whether you are playing a point limit game, a shoe limit game, or a combination of the two. To win a point limit game, you must be the first to reach a predetermined score. This total is typically 40 points in regulation games. As soon as the predetermined point limit is reached, play ceases, and the side with the higher score is declared the winner, regardless of how many horseshoes have been thrown.

Shoe limit games are won by the side with the highest score after a predetermined number of horseshoes are pitched. Sanctioned games are usually played to a limit of 40 or 50 shoes. As soon as the predetermined number of horseshoes have been pitched, a shoe limit game is over, and a winner is declared based on which side has the higher score.

Some regulation games use a “point limit or shoe limit” format that combines the two basic types of game. In point limit or shoe limit games, play stops after a predetermined number of points has been scored or a predetermined number of horseshoes has been thrown, whichever happens first.

A game of horseshoes cannot end in a tie. If the predetermined number of points or shoes is reached and the score is tied, overtime innings are played two at a time as necessary until a winner can be determined


What is the scoring system in horseshoes?

The game of horseshoes utilizes a points-based scoring system that calculates points at the end of each inning. An inning is a round of play in which each side takes a turn throwing both of their horseshoes toward the stake. After each inning, horseshoes encircling the stake (called ringers) are scored three points. 

In games utilizing count-all scoring, every ringer counts toward your score. But in cancellation scoring, if your opponent pitches a ringer, your ringer will be canceled, and you will not receive a score for it. In either scoring method, you can also score one point by landing a horseshoe within six inches of the stake and closer to it than both of your opponent’s horseshoes. 

What is a learner worth in horseshoes?

In horseshoes, a leaner is worth only one point. This makes a leaner worth the same amount as a horseshoe that is within six inches of the stake. A leaner is a horseshoe that is touching the stake but is not wrapped around it.

What score is a horseshoes game played to?

Casual horseshoes games are usually played to a winning score of 11, 15, or 21 points. This game format is called point limit and is also used in regulation play. A regulation point limit game is typically played to a winning score of 40 points. Some sanctioned tournaments use shoe limit games. In shoe limit games, each side gets to pitch a predetermined number of horseshoes (typically 50), after which the side with the highest score is declared the winner. Ties are settled by playing two additional overtime innings, repeating until the tie is broken.