Game of the Month: Quoits, Dobblers and Horseshoes

by Dagonell the Juggler

The National Horseshoe Pitchers Association says that the game of horseshoes dates back to the Roman empire. While modern play sets may never have been near a horse, actual horseshoes were used in tournament play right up until 1909. The game may have started with blacksmith's children playing with old worn out and cast off shoes.

Quoits is played with fully closed rings, slightly concave on top and slightly convex on the bottom. Horseshoes is played with U-shaped open rings. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that modern quoits evolved from the Greek throwing of the discus. Timothy Finn, the author of Pub Games of England disagrees with that saying that it reflects the author's "scholarly absorption with the classical past." I tend to agree. The discus is a contest of sheer distance, quoits has a fixed distance and is a competition for accuracy. The rules for quoits and horseshoes are virtually identical, only the shape of the projectile is different. While we tend to think of all horseshoes being U-shaped, this is not the case. Some horseshoes are closed rings, either to better conform to a specific breed of horse or to help protect a hoof injury. I speak from experience, I spent a summer apprenticed to a mundane blacksmith. In some parts of England, quoits are still referred to as "shoes", and horseshoes are thought of as the "rustic" version of quoits.

In 1337, war with France was all but imminent. Edward III passed an edict declaring all sports and leisure activities except archery to be unlawful. It was hoped that this would encourage Englishmen to spend more time practicing with the longbow. While quoits was not specifically mentioned then, it was listed as an 'inportune game' in a similar edict by Richard II in 1388. While the actual law wasn't repealed until James I took the throne in the early 17th century, we know that the game was still played.

On St. Mark's Day (April 25) in 1409, near the tomb of Bishop Osmund of Salisbury, Richard Wodewell, a local carpenter was playing quoits when he struck a nine-year girl in the head with the iron ring. She was thought to be dead, but Richard prayed at the tomb of Bishop Osmund and the girl revived. An account of this in Latin, was given as evidence before a papal comission to canonize the bishop. The account refers to the hurled object only as "massa ferrea" (iron piece) however separate accounts in English specifically refer to it as a quoit.

    Rules for Horseshoes (from National Horseshoe Pitchers Association):
  1. Any shoe must be within one horseshoe-width (measured across the outside of the open end of the shoe) of the stake to be considered for points. (Official rules call for 6 inches max).
  2. The closest shoe to the stake gets 1 point.
  3. If you have two shoes closer than any of your opponent's, you get 2 points.
  4. Ringers are worth 3 points each and must completely encircle the stake so the ends can be touched with a straight-edge without touching the stake.
  5. If you have the closest shoe and a ringer, it's 4 points.
  6. If your opponent throws a ringer on top of yours, they cancel and no points are scored.
  7. Leaners are worth 1 point and are considered closer than any adjacent shoe except ringers.
  8. First player/team to score 40 points wins.

The rules for quoits are nearly identical, except that ringers are 2 points, the game is to 21 points and the distance between stakes is 33 feet instead of the 40 feet for horseshoes.

Dobbers is the indoor version of quoits. Among Elizabethan conviction records in minor courts, quoits is listed as a known indoor game. The usual target is a six-inch wooden peg at the center of a one-foot circle within a two-foot circle. Most 'dobbers' used today are rubber or plastic. A ringer is 5 points, inner circle is 2 points, outer circle 1 point. Each player throws four dobbers on his turn. First player to make exactly 61 points, wins. If the first player scores 61 points and the second player is within 20 points of the first player, he is allowed 'last-ups' to try for a tie game.


National Horseshoe Pitchers Association --

1911 Edition Encyclopedia Britannica --

Finn, Timothy -- Pub Games of England, Queen Anne's Press, 1975