Horseshoes are one of the most well-known symbols of luck and protection. These simple lumps of metal have been around for more than 1,500 years, enough time to accumulate a rich collection of folklore and superstition. In addition to being the source of ancient superstitions, horseshoes serve several practical purposes. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to find a horse that doesn’t wear shoes, and these nailed-on relics have earned themselves a place of prominence in many households.
Most people have heard the idiom, “close only counts in horseshoes,” but few understand the rules of this centuries-old game. The rules of the game vary, but generally speaking, a horseshoe pitched within 6 inches of the stake scores one point. A shoe that encircles the stake (a ringer) scores three points. The game is played in two-person teams on a pit of dirt or concrete, with each player pitching a total of four horseshoes. The first team to reach a predetermined score wins the match. Games are typically played to 21 points, but some groups use different scoring methods.
In the past, a pair of horseshoes was made by forging and burning a sheet of metal, then nailing it to the hoof. While modern farriers use much stronger materials, the process remains much the same. A horseshoe’s nails go through a hole in the wall of the hoof, and though it may seem painful to humans, horses don’t feel it.
Domesticated horses live lives that are much more structured than those of their wild counterparts, so they need shoes to help them traverse a variety of surfaces. They also tend to grow their hoof walls thinner than those of wild horses, and shoes can help keep them thick and strong. In addition, some horses have conditions that cause them to need traction, such as laminitis and ringbone.
Aside from the practical reasons for horseshoes, they’re fun to play, and a great way to spend some quality time with family and friends. It’s also a good form of exercise, although it may not get the heart rate up to the level of a serious runner. Still, for someone who is sedentary, playing horseshoes can get the blood pumping just a little bit, and it can be a good way to get some sun exposure.