Horseshoe Pitching aficionados say there are three things your shoe must do in order to make a ringer.
1- It must be open.
2- It must be in line with the stake.
3- It must have the correct distance.
The Swing is the most vital fundamental to master. The swing will feel uncontrolled to beginner as they have not yet developed the muscles in their arm and shoulder that are required for pitching horseshoes accurately. For kids new to horseshoes, this can result in failure to even reach the opposite pit when first trying to pitch a shoe and may cause disinterest in the game. Great care and attention must be given to true beginners to help them develop muscle memory in the swing so that they have a positive experience from the start.
The proper Horseshoe Swing is one that is in a straight line close to your body. It has been appropriately called the pendulum swing. Imagine a clock pendulum swinging back and forth, it is even in its forward and reverse motions. There is no jerkiness, just a smooth straight swing, repeated time and time again. As basic as that sounds, it proves to be a challenge to develop a perfect swing as muscles memory needs to be developed and it must be of the proper form for the highest success. It helps the youth if the coach can demonstrate a pendulum. A clock can work, but even a relatively heavy object on a string tied to a stationary overhead object that allows unimpeded swinging will do.
There are three parts to the Swing that you should demonstrate to the participants.
This part of the swing starts with the arm straight, extended out in front of the pitcher. When ready, the muscles are relaxed and the weight of the shoe and arm allow for the effortless down swing of the arm until is reaches a natural apex behind the pitcher without force exerted from the pitcher. Beginning height of the arm determines the momentum of the swing, higher and the shoe will travel faster through the swing and may require the pitchers to forcibly slow the swing down; lower and the pitcher is required to forcibly speed up the swing. Forcing the shoe will affect timing of the release, step, and balance. the goal is a natural smooth pendulum-like motion.
This part of the swing is the natural continuation of the back swing as weight of the shoe and arm bring the arm back down from its rear apex and forward again. The arm should remain straight. The power in this part of the swing comes from the forward step, bent knee, and slight dip and rise of the shoulders, NOT THE ARM. Beginners have an inclination to force the shoe with their arm strength, this will soon tire the arm and results in inconsistency.
Upon release of the shoe, the arm continues on its natural course forward and upward above the head of the pitcher until the momentum of the pitch is exhausted. Keeping the arm inline with the stake through the follow-through helps in keeping the proper alignment throughout the pitching motion. If the follow through is poor, it is usually an indication of problem in the stance and step.
Now that the youth have visualized what the goal swing looks like it is time to start developing their muscle memory with drills. The most effective drill is very basic and very fun. In an open area, away from the horseshoe courts, measure the proper pitching distances for the youth in the youth league. Generally 13 years old and up will pitch from 27 or more feet away from their target, those younger are 20 feet away. Make lines with sidewalk chalks that represents those foul lines. Where the stake would be, you can make a large circle or put a large tub. Make sure the target area is something very large as the goal is not so much that they hit the target, but that they begin developing muscle memory and a smooth swing. Have the youth pitch water balloons at the target area. The Coach can watch the swing of each kid and offer help and critique for their improvement. As a coach, you may have the inclination to try to correct other aspects of their pitching form, but only focus on the swing in this first drill so that the youth will give their full attention to the proper pendulum swing.
A note about water balloons.
Water balloons for teaching horseshoe pitching to youth is extremely fun and entertaining. Fortunately, water balloons are generally inexpensive as is the water to put in them. The catch about water balloons is that they take time to fill up, especially the amount you will need for your clinic drills, which may very well be several hundred. It is recommended that a team of individuals work on the water balloons so to spread the work out. Many hands, make light work. Alternatives to balloons could be balls, or other objects. But water balloons are by far the favorite among youth. It is a good idea to plan on a few dozen balloons to be saved until the day is over and then let the kids have at a water balloon fight if they want. It is bound to happen, so if planned for it is no loss to the clinic teaching effort or plan.