Each properly constructed court
should have suitable, well maintained fill material in the "pit" area
surrounding the stakes. The purpose for the fill is to cushion and hold
the shoe when it lands instead of letting it bounce or slide.
CLAY: Clay dries to unusual hardness, a condition
certainly not conducive to good horseshoe pitching, but when kept moist
and putty-like, it provides excellent service. Preparation of clay is
learned by experience. Too much water will produce "slick", a liquid
solution which serves no purpose and keep the clay unmanageable. Too
little water allows the clay to crack like a cookie or even harden.
When suitably moist, with no trace of slick or cracking the clay will
be found to be pliable and soft. Watering dry clay pits should be done
by loosening the clay to 4 or 6 inch depth by shovel and adding water
(leave clay around the stake for a couple inches to prevent "slick"
from building up..."slick" tends to "pump" up around the stake after
the clay has been watered excessively). Watering clay pits after they
have been used takes only a very light sprinkling of the top surface
and then shaving only the top 2 or 3 inches of clay with a shovel and
turning it over, thus allowing the water to work on the underside of
the clay while the next game uses the freshly turned surface of clay.
This kind of maintenance after each game or practice game will keep the
clay in excellent condition throughout an entire tournament. When
courts are not in use, a light sprinkling and a cover to prevent
evaporation and sunlight will keep the court ready for the next time it
is used. Tournament directors should have shovels and sprinkler cans
available and should tell pitchers if they are expected to maintain
SAND: Moist sand will help reduce the amount of sand
knocked out of the pit by horseshoes, but under any conditions, sand
filled pits usually need to be dressed nearly every inning by kicking
and leveling sand with the foot, after shoes have been retrieved.
Tournament directors should ask pitchers to dress their courts
accordingly. Pitchers who expect to pitch in clay as well as sand
during the year should be forewarned that pitches which land short of
the stake and slide on for a ringer in a sand pit will not slide on
clay and will remain a short shoe...a bad habit to watch out for.
WHERE TO FIND GOOD CLAY: This varies in every
locality....in much of the U.S.A. good 'blue' clay seems to 'grow
wild'. In some areas there are local clays equally as good as 'blue'
clay...some may even say better? Blue Clay is also known as blue shale
and soapstone in some areas. The best characteristic of blue clay is
that it does not build up on the horseshoe like some red clays, yet it
does not leave a soapy, slippery feel (unless of course you are
pitching in 'slick' (clay with heavy water mixture that causes thick,
semi-liquid called slick). Good places to find blue clay is in
excavations such as rock quarries, strip mines, building excavations,
roadway cuts in hillsides, refuse dump earth excavations, etc. It may
be seen along roadway cuts or in piles of strip mining overburden. It
may have rock hard 'shale' with it which sometimes breaks down into
good clay but it is usually cast aside in favor of solid-free clay. If
your state does not have any blue clay (ask park departments where they
get clay for tennis courts, ask local pottery and brick factories where
they get clay) you may need to get it by the truck load from out of