A youth league director will need to decide if horseshoes will be provided by the league, or if the participants will be asked to bring their own. The Parks and Rec department, or an existing horseshoe pitching organization, may have some available horseshoes. Sponsors may provide sufficient funds to purchase horseshoes for the youth. Whether provided through the league or not, it is important that each kid has a pair that is their own that they can practice with and keep after the league so that they can continue pitching.
Compared to other sports, Horseshoes is one of the most affordable. The basic equipment required are stakes and horseshoes. The horseshoe court is covered here. Quality horseshoes can be purchased by the pair from around $50 up to nearly $100. There are lower quality sets (including stakes) that sell for much less than $50, however, these should generally be avoided due to high breakage. The quality pairs, even though they are priced a litter higher than the big-box store sets are well worth it, as they tend to hold up for many years and most come with warranties. It is not uncommon to find well-made horseshoes that were forged 70+ years ago that are still in good shape! It is also not uncommon for the big-box sets to break during their first use.
In the early 1900’s, horseshoes were still very similar to the kinds that horses wear, albeit the larger draft horses, with an elliptic shape and no hooks. As times have changed, the size of the pitching horseshoe has remained pretty constant, but new and advanced designs have come along and there are now dozens and dozens of makes and models. A few shops specialize in quality horseshoes today, one of the most reputable is Dennis Horseshoes, serving horseshoe pitching enthusiasts since the early 1980’s .
Weight is very important
Youth in a league may be any age between about 7 and 18 years, and they will certainly differ in size, strength, and experience. One reason that a horseshoe youth league could fail is by pushing younger or small kids to pitch horseshoes that are too heavy for them. The specifications set by the National Horseshoe Pitcher’s Association (NHPA), regulate that horseshoes should not exceed 2 lbs. 10 oz., any weight under that maximum is allowable. The majority of horseshoes are medium-weight at about 2 lbs. 7 oz. – 2 lbs. 8oz. Those over 2 lbs. 8 oz. are considered heavy-weight while those under are light-weight or extra light-weight. Several horseshoe models have the lighter-weight options, which are usually a thinner version of the original model weighing from around 2 lbs up to 2 lbs. 6 oz. The lightest model manufactured today weighs 1 lb. 8 oz. and is aptly named the “Cadet,” in reference to the youngest of horseshoes pitchers.
When introducing any kid to organized horseshoes for the first time, it is wise to start them out on a light-weight pair. The last thing you want is for a kid to pitch and not even reach the opposite pit, which is very common for first-time tries and potentially very embarrassing. Success early will build self-confidence, which increases success that then builds more self-confidence and so on. The older and stronger (teenagers) will quickly and naturally move up to a medium-weight pair as they obtain some control of their pitch. Younger and smaller kids will find more success (self confidence) and have more fun pitching with the light-weight and Cadet sizes.
Is design important?
Horseshoes today come in many different designs. Some are very extreme with double hooks, reverse calks, off center weight, or large pointed ringer breakers. For most youth, horseshoes that are center balanced with smooth sides allow the youth to experiment with different hand position and pitching styles until one is found that works best for them. Models such as the Gordon are designed to work for all pitching styles (turns and flips) and are even popular in adult leagues. Horseshoes that are designed for a specific style of pitching, or with excess design variations, are not recommended for beginners in youth leagues.