I remember my dad and my neighbor, Jim Brewer, used to go out back with some wooden stakes, drive one into the ground and then spend the next 15 minutes arguing over how far to place the other stake.
My dad was 6-foot-4 and Mr. Brewer, as I would call him, was probably 5-foot-9. They would mark off the stakes 13 strides apart. My dad, being tall and strong, would make sure his 13 strides were stretched out and Mr. Brewer, well, he didn't particularly care for that strategic move.
Officially, horseshoe pegs are 40 feet apart and are set at a 12- to 15-degree angle forward or straight up.
I hadn't thought anything about horseshoes until recently when Dan Cornwell of Tropic Star RV Park sent about 50 photos from the “Horseshoe Olympics.” Talking with some of the competitors brought back memories. For me, getting a leaner – where the shoe actually leans against the stake, was almost more exciting than getting a ringer itself.
Texas, however, doesn't recognize leaners, and neither does the Horseshoe Olympics. Other than that, it was a little eye opening to hear that the Tropic Star RV Resort in Pharr is home to 10 horseshoe pits and a horseshoe/Rio Grande Valley legend.
Tony Comstock is that legend. A state champion horseshoe competitor – also known as a “pitcher,” it's only fitting that the octogenarian resides at Tropic Star RV Park, which happens to be the home of the horseshoe competition for the McAllen Parks & Recreation's annual Golden Olympics.
“He's a former state champion in Illinois,” said Gene Sparks, the Tropic Star horseshoe club coordinator. “He's kind of a horseshoe legend here and has a reputation across the Valley. He's over 80 and throws pretty consistent. He won a gold medal in his division too.”
Sparks, from Merriam, Kansas, began pitching about two to three years after starting his annual trek to the Valley. He said he didn't know anything about the Valley until some of the “guys I worked with retired and came down and then we started coming,” he said.
Tropic Star has 10 pits and several of the area's top competitors when it comes to horseshoes. Sparks said several competitors go out to the pits almost daily to throw. He said the key to competing is to be consistent with as few “peaks and valleys,” as possible.
“A lot of people get on high streaks or low streaks,” said Sparks, adding that when he goes back home to Kansas he doesn't throw over the summer, but it doesn't take him long now to get his groove back. “Consistency is the key.”
He also advised those who may be interested in taking up the sport that the standard throw is to toss the shoe in a way that the pitcher gets the shoe to have a turn and a half from time it's released to when it gets to the peg, “It opens the horseshoe to the peg so it can go around it.”
With no leaners in Texas, it leaves the competitors two ways to score – a ringer, which is worth three points and be the closest to the pin (within four inches, or the approximate distance between the shoe's two tips.)
A leaner is worth two points – just not in Texas.
I wonder what my dad and Mr. Brewer would think of that...once they decided on how far the stakes should be apart.