Horseshoe Champion: Ronnie LeGrand uses retirement to improve his throw

Ronnie LeGrand competes at the Missouri State Horseshoe Tournament in Lebanon, Missouri, in 2021. LeGrand will be inducted into Missouri's Horseshoe Pitching Hall of Fame in September 2023.
Photo submitted by Ronnie LeGrand

Ronnie LeGrand, of Dexter, Missouri, is proof that life doesn’t end in retirement. While he may not get up every morning and go to the office, LeGrand is still working hard, having fun and competing against the best in his division. But now, instead of running LeGrand Communications — a multi-line telephone systems business — he’s pitching horseshoes and making a name for himself along the way.

LeGrand was introduced to horseshoe pitching in 1991 by his friend, Kenneth Essner, who entered them into a Knights of Columbus tournament in Scott City. They soon discovered that more than 500 teams were registered to compete.

At the time, LeGrand knew very little about the sport, including how to hold a horseshoe. He soon learned there were different ways to grip and throw it. While some throw a turn, it was the flip that came most naturally for LeGrand. After that first competition, he was hooked on the sport and looking for ways to improve.

Within a few years, LeGrand joined the National Horseshoe Pitching Association (NHPA), which allowed him to compete in sanctioned events throughout the United States and Canada. At the time he was owner of LeGrand Communications, working 40 or more hours a week and raising two daughters with his wife, Sheila.

“Being in business for yourself or working for someone can be stressful,” LeGrand said. “But participating in a sport — golf, tennis, horseshoes — allows you to get out there and get that heart rate up and forget about working. It helps all the way around.”

In 2003, LeGrand entered his first World Tournament for pitching horseshoes, but it wasn’t until 2009 — the year he retired — that LeGrand placed first in the Men’s Senior 40 Foot division in Class B. Since then, LeGrand has competed in more than 100 tournaments across the United States, including 14 World Tournaments, the latest of which was held in July 2023 in Lansing, Michigan.

Based on his ringer percentage, which is determined by dividing the total number of ringers by the total number of horseshoes pitched, LeGrand was ranked with the no. 5 seed to start the tournament. In horseshoe pitching, seeding is how contestants are placed into classes for tournaments.

His July 2023 tournament ended up being a tough week of competition, as he was tied for first place after 15 games. However, his opponent pulled ahead at the end leaving LeGrand with second place in the Elders Men division.

“I never thought I would be like this,” LeGrand said. “But it’s just getting out there and competing with people who are the same caliber as you in a sport you love, doing the best you can do and then going back and trying to get better. Sometimes [I] throw so bad, and I think it's not worth it and I'm gonna quit. But then [I] have a great game, and I think I can do this.”

To stay active and prepare for competitions, LeGrand throws anywhere from 100 to 240 horseshoes per day. Sometimes he will throw 120 in the morning and 120 in the afternoon. Other times he may do it all at once. At his home in Dexter, LeGrand has two horseshoe courts, one with “moose dirt”, which is sand, and the other filled with clay. He also has an indoor court next to his wife’s salon, Sheila’s Shoppe in Dexter. It’s here that he enjoys listening to country music as he throws, a preference to the quiet.

“In the world tournament, there’s no music. There's the clanging of the shoes. People talking. But when it gets down to a playoff for first place, you can hear a pin drop. It gets so quiet,” LeGrand said. “In my personal opinion, I think music helps relax people.”

During a competition, each person is matched with an opponent based on their age division and ringer percentage in the NHPA. A horseshoe is flipped to see who goes first, and once that is determined, the first player has 30 seconds to throw two horseshoes down to the other end. Then, it’s the opponent’s turn to throw two. Both players walk down to the end of the court and a score is called out to the scorekeeper.

A ringer, when the horseshoe encircles the peg, is worth three points. Every other horseshoe is scored based on how close it is to the peg, but must be within six inches of the peg for a point. During each game, the total number of ringers are recorded, as well as the number of horseshoes thrown. A game of 40 horseshoes will last approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

In tournaments hosted by the Knights of Columbus, horseshoes are provided, but at World Tournaments each player brings their own set of two shoes. LeGrand started with a Gordon horseshoe, but eight years ago, after being beaten out in a state tournament, his competitor told him about the Sue Snyder EZ-flip horseshoe and he’s been using it ever since.

“When you’re retired you can do anything you want to,” LeGrand said. “We go on cruises, play cards and dominoes, but this is our biggest thing. Sheila and I travel together and we love going to different cities and meeting people.”

Sheila has entered several horseshoe pitching competitions over the years and taken home multiple first- and second-place wins. She partners up with their daughter, Mendy, each year for the Knights of Columbus State tournament. No matter if they win or lose, LeGrand says, “we never quit learning.”

As of 2019-2022, LeGrand is listed as the Missouri State Champion in the Elders 30 Foot division. In September 2023, he will be inducted into the Missouri Horseshoe Pitching Hall of Fame.

“This is what you play for, I guess,” LeGrand said. “I just love to compete.”