Before we delve into the mechanics of a good horseshoe pitching step, some attention must first be given to the position and stance of the pitcher as these help to develop a well-balanced and accurate delivery.
There are three positions that a horseshoe pitcher may start their step from that are determined by their pitching hand. 1) Right-handed players should stand to the left of the stake on the walkway or pitching platform with their right arm inward toward the center line of the court. 2) Left-handers should take position to the right of the stake, their left arm on the inside toward the center line of the court. These first two methods keep the delivery arm nearest and in more of a direct line with the stakes. 3) A “crossfire” pitcher is one who stand on the side opposite their pitching arm would otherwise dictate. with the arm outward of the court. This gives an off center alignment and the shoe will need to be pitched a few inches farther than the usual distance. Crossfire pitching is generally discouraged for beginners.
The body should be naturally erect and the muscles free of tension. When facing the opposite stake, stand squarely with the shoulders square with the court. a turned torso often results in a pitch that is out of line with the stake. The feet should be shoulder width or less. weight should be shifted to the foot on the same side of the pitching arm. The off foot may be equal , in front of, or behind the dominant foot. The position of the off foot will influence the timing of the step of that leg and thereby also affects the timing of the release when pitching.
The step is critical as it manages the coordination of the body and the swing. If the coordination of the step is off, one of either the body or swing will fall out of balance resulting in an off target horseshoe. The Step forward should be natural and full. Right handed pitchers should step forward with their left leg, left handers with their right leg.
The step forward is preceded by a slight bend on the knee causing a slight forward dip of the shoulders. This causes the torso’s forward movement to precede the swing. The leading of the torso is common in many sports such as baseball, tennis, and golf (swings). As the knee is straightened during the step and swing, energy is given to the swing so that it become more body than arm powered.
The step gives power to the swing and the length of the step should be natural and full which supports complete balance. A step that is too long may cause a low release as the arm lags behind the body’s center of gravity. A step that is too short may result in a high or low release and lack of body generated power, this means the arm is doing most of the work, which can be very tiring to kids, thus arm only swings should be avoided.
The Step should be straight forward and in the same line as the swing, the toe pointing at the stake. If the step is out of line, the shoe will usually land to one side or the other of the stake when pitched. If a kid is having trouble with consistently missing to one side, pay close attention to their step to identify corrective actions. The foot that stays behind should remain in its place but will be extended to its toe at the end of the pitch.
A Step Drill is designed to identify a good step and then reinforce that step, developing muscle memory and consistency, with repetition. During the initial clinic sessions, this drill is undertaken without horseshoes. Just as in The Swing drill, water balloons may be used and are very popular. After the target area is set up, measure the pitching distances and mark the foul line (20 ft for younger kids, 27 ft for older kids). Next, take a string and run it from the center point of the target area back to the location a participant is standing and under their stationary non-stepping foot. With sidewalk chalks, mark the line and mark the toe box outline of the starting position of the participants feet. Now have the participant naturally pitch a few water balloons toward the target without any attention to their feet and note the precise landing distance and location of their stepping foot. Once you are confident they are using a natural step of sufficient distance, that maintains good balance, have them hold the forward step in position on the center of the chalked line, which lines up with the target center. Chalk the toebox outline of that foot. For the rest of the drill, their goal is to pitch at the target while attempting to repeat the correct footfall. Remind the youth to check their feet after each pitch and adjust as needed. Initially, It is best to do this drill away from the horseshoe court. Once mastered, this drill is repeated on the horseshoe court, first with water balloons, then with horseshoes.
A note about small kids.
The smallest kids tend to bring their back foot forward after the step, swing, and release to catch themselves and to halt their forward momentum. This is most often due to pitching a shoe that is too heavy. The youngest and smallest kids should strongly consider pitching lighter weight horseshoes in order to learn proper balance and coordination and avoid learning poor technique and form. If only heavy shoes are used, the smaller kids should add an additional step to their routine before they pitch. This is accomplished by starting a step further back than they might normally stand to start a pitch. The participant will first step with the same foot as their pitching hand. The swing will not start until that first step is complete. Now in a continuous motion the off foot makes its step forward and the shoe is pitched. This added pre-step will aid in handling a heavy shoe. However, the added motion provides opportunity to introduce error that may harm coordination and balance.