Man’s lifelong passion for pitching horseshoes nets a World Championship trophy | VailDaily.com

Man’s lifelong passion for pitching horseshoes nets a World Championship trophy

Doug Bartlett, right, shows off his third place trophy shortly after the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association World Championships in July.
Special to the Daily |

EAGLE — For the record, one does not throw a horseshoe.

The correct verb is to pitch a horseshoe, and knowing that is the first step in understanding that while horseshoes is often practiced as a casual backyard entertainment, it is also a worldwide competitive sport that is televised by ESPN. There are also folks out there who take their horseshoes seriously. Doug Bartlett, of Eagle, is a great example.

His third place trophy from the recent National Horseshoe Pitchers Association World Championship testifies to that fact.

Last summer’s competition held in Topeka, Kansas, was Bartlett’s third trip to the association’s championship event. Roughly 1,400 pitchers compete at the annual championships, with play divided into about 90 divisions. Competitors are placed in divisions based on their ringer percentage as determined through competition in sanctioned events throughout the year.

The top six competitors in each class earn cash and the top three win trophies. Which brings us back to Bartlett.

“I will definitely go back. We are hooked on the Worlds,” said Bartlett.

“It is always held in really odd places like St. George, Utah, and Buffalo, New York, and Topeka, Kansas, but we always find fun things to do,” said his wife, Sue Bartlett.

Lifetime building

Bartlett has spent his whole life building to his current horseshoe prowess.

“I started when I was 12 years old. The town I lived in had a league, just like bowling,” he said. Bartlett’s dad was part of that league.

“If someone didn’t show up, I was the guy who played,” said Bartlett.

A few years have passed, but Bartlett has always kept up with the game.

“You meet great people,” he said. “And it is very competitive. If you played high school sports and you are a competition person, this is something you can play all of your life.”

Bartlett has found a lot of kindred spirits in the Eagle Valley. The local pitching crew is a small but mighty force.

To be reckoned with

A fellow named Leonard Chaney started the local horseshoe club in the 1980s and when the town of Gypsum donated an area behind the Gypsum Fire Station for a horseshoe park, it was dedicated to Chaney’s memory.

Bartlett noted other club members including Charlie Bryant, Alan Baptist and George Hudspeth worked hard to keep the club going and eventually become a sanctioned Colorado Horseshoe Pitchers Association club.

“From 1990 to the present there have been 12 world champions from the lower Eagle Valley. Many more have won state championships and our club continues to grow,” said Bartlett. “This area right here, for being so small, has great participation and great pitchers.”

Only two pitchers from the Eagle club made it to the World Championships this year. Along with Bartlett, Mark Silverthorn traveled to Topeka for the event.

While there is plenty of fun to be had at a championships, the competition is serious stuff.

“It’s like any sport, it has gamesmanship and head games,” said Bartlett’s wife. “Yes, everyone can pitch a horseshoe, but not everyone can pitch a horseshoe well.”

As a serious competitor, Bartlett throws using a turn motion. Some pitchers swear by the flip technique, but Bartlett said most serious pitchers eschew that motion. What all that means involves a complicated explanation. Suffice to say there is more to pitching horseshoes consistently well than most people realize.

According to Bartlett, the best local pitcher is Kenny Trujillo but there’s also a great Medina family dynasty.

“The Matt Medina family from Gypsum had a perfect weekend at the state tournament,” said Bartlett. “Matt Sr. took first in the Men’s Class C, Matt Jr. took first in the Junior Class and Amylyn took first in the Cadet Class. The Eagle Club has 11 people go to the state tournament in Fort Collins and eight of those 11 placed in the top three spots.”

Building toward next year

Shortly after his World Championships appearance, Bartlett underwent shoulder surgery (to his non-throwing arm) that sidelined him for the past few months. He figures he will hit the sanctioned indoor winter circuit to get in the six tournaments he needs to qualify for next year’s Worlds. He has no plans to stop competing in the foreseeable future.

Like his dad, Bartlett introduced his three sons to the sport. Sam, Sean and Danner all pitched at one time or another and a couple of the Bartlett boys still toss shoes occasionally at events such as Eagle Flight Days and Gypsum Daze.

For aspiring players, Bartlett issued an invitation to check out the club gatherings that happen every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Eagle River Center. The cost to pitch is $5.