By Alex Lee
It’s said that iron horseshoes, like those used today, first appeared in the second century BC. It was also around this time that the Roman cavalry invented the game of horseshoe pitching – horseshoes tossed at stakes driven into the ground.
Some 2,000 years later the game is still played in much the same way. While the game has suffered with the advent of the more mobile and flashy game of cornhole, traditionalists still pitch the iron horseshoes at a metal stake pounded into the turf. There are even online events in which pitchers live-stream their tosses and compete against opponents around the world via the Internet.
You might be surprised to learn that Kalamazoo County appears to be a hotbed of horseshoe pitching talent. On a recent August evening I attended a horseshoe tournament sponsored by the Kalamazoo Area Horseshoe Club behind VFW Post 1527 in Portage. The club has between 40 and 50 members, and you can learn more and follow them on their Facebook page.
I met Bryce VanCleave, a 12-year-old from Schoolcraft. The middle schooler, who also participates in wrestling, football, and track, started pitching at the age of 9 and was the state champ a year later. Bryce said the thing he likes most about the sport is “the community around it.” He describes that community as “very friendly and even more supportive.” Bryce’s younger brother Jackson, age 9, also pitches and won 5th place in the World Championship held in Lansing in July. Also participating in her first tournament was 6-year-old Audrey Hetrick, also of Schoolcraft.
The Kalamazoo Area Horseshoe Club had three additional trophy winners in the July World Championships. Chuck Osborn of Climax captured a second place, John Cousins of Vicksburg also won a second place, and Roger Keyes of Vicksburg took a third place. Others from the club who participated in the World Championships are Dan and Jake Mendham, Cody Cousins, Jen Hess, Joe Hetrick, Kary Christiansen, Dave Benedict, Larry Majerski and Bob Dale.
According to the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA), at http://www.horsepitching.com, there are three ways to score. A ringer is worth three points, a leaner is worth two, and a close shoe is worth one. The NHPA does say one should agree to the scoring before playing, which seems wise because Joe Hetrick of the Kalamazoo Club told me, “Leaners in our tournament are only awarded 1 point.”
In addition to the NHPA, there is also a Michigan Horseshoe Pitchers Association (MHPA) at mhpahorseshoes.com. Either the national or state organization can assist you in joining or finding a club to pitch with. And by the way, the association between the horseshoe and good luck is believed by many to come from St. Dunstan, the patron saint of blacksmiths. It’s said that St, Dunstan, in 969 AD, shoed the Devil’s own cloven hoof with such great force and pain that he vowed to never again enter over a threshold with a horseshoe nailed above it.