Chris Woods learned to throw horseshoes in an orchard in Fawn Grove. His whole family would pitch horseshoes together when it rained and they couldn't work on their farm.
"I was probably 5 or 6 the first time I did it," said Woods, 78, of Springettsbury Township.
On Thursday, Woods was one of several contenders in the Pennsylvania Farm Show Horseshoe Pitching Competition in the Small Arena.
Woods won second place in the 30-foot competition for men and women age 70 and over. In 2006, he won the state championship for Pennsylvania. He participates in tournaments throughout Pennsylvania year-round and has a barrel full of trophies at his home in addition to the ones he has on display.
A lot of players talk a big game and are eager to give out advice, but their scores really don't give them the credibility to do that, said Woods as he shook his head.
"In five minutes, everybody you're playing with will know if you are good," Woods said.
As he helped Farm Show visitors who were giving horseshoe pitching a try in a court beside the competitors, his main piece of advice was to "keep your hand flat."
"This isn't bowling," he said.
Sometimes making the smallest change in the way you hold the horseshoe or your throwing form will make a huge difference, said Woods.
"You have to change a little thing to make it work," he said. "The same old thing doesn't always work. You could move your finger a quarter of an inch and that could change a lot."
Horseshoe pitching competitions were held at the farm show from 1931 until 1957, and were reinstalled in the farm show programming in 2007 when event organizers decided to bring back some of the classic events, said Dick Scott, who organized Thursday's competition.
"Being in the spotlight like this is very rare," Scott said. "We only do this once a year, so some guys handle this better than others."
"This is a mental game," said Scott.
The leads can change very quickly, Scott said, as players take turns pitching two horseshoes at a time until they have each pitched a total of 10 horseshoes.
Players are used to throwing more than 50 horseshoes in a game, which allows muscle memory to work better, but this format adds more pressure, said Scott.
In the format used at the Farm Show the maximum number of points a player can get is 30, he said.
A "ringer" is worth three points, and any horseshoe that lands within six inches of the peg is worth one point. No points are given if the horseshoe hits the backstop.
- Reach Chelsea Shank at email@example.com.