A pair of Port Alberni pitchers are headed to the B.C. provincial horseshoe championships in Abbotsford Sept. 4–5.
Nicole Dabney and her father, Jack Dabney, are both members of the Dry Creek Horseshoe Club and practice regularly at the Dry Creek Park horseshoe pitches. Nicole is ranked second in the women’s A division while Jack will compete in the Elders B division at the B.C.’s.
Nicole won the Women’s A division at the Island championships over the August long weekend.
The Dabneys began dabbling in horseshoes in 2005 after Jack saw a news report about an Island horseshoe championship happening in Port Alberni. “I didn’t even know we had a club here,” he said.
“I started out with a seven-and-a-half (ringer) average. In 2008 I went to Calgary to the Canadian championships with a 29 percent average and won the D division.”
Horseshoe players are ranked by the number of “ringers” they get—horseshoes they throw that hits a metal post or pin in the front of a pit at each end of the pitch—out of 100. They have to throw a minimum of 150 throws to have a ringer average recorded, Jack explained. He throws a 40.75 percent ringer average now. Nicole has a 52.6 percent average. World champion Lindsay Hodgins of Duncan used to throw between 60 and 80 percent ringer average.
Nicole said she started competing in horseshoes as a way to do something with her father. Now in her 20s, she started as a junior and was Island champion at that level for six years. She spent two as peewee champion. She regularly competed against Hodgins, she said, often coming in second behind her.
“The main reason I do this is to bond with my Dad,” she said. “I enjoy it because it gets me out, it’s physical, I get some sunshine. It’s good eye-hand coordination too. You really have to focus on what you’re doing.”
Horseshoes is an individual sport even though people play in pairs or against another person, she said. “You’re playing yourself” because you rely on your own accuracy and not a teammate’s to gain points.
It is also an inexpensive sport: the club has practice horseshoes for beginners, and a set of two shoes runs between $45 and $80 depending on the type. Nicole’s most recent set is eight years old, she said. Tournaments cost between $10 and $20 not including travel, and the social aspect is priceless. Nicole said she has grown up with the Dry Creek club members. “They’re like family.”
There are horseshoe clubs in Cumberland, Powell River, Port Alberni, Ladysmith, Victoria and Sooke on Vancouver Island. There was a club in Nanaimo but the Dabneys weren’t sure if it was running. Each club hosts a tourney (Port Alberni’s takes place in June every year) during the season, which runs from May to September. Practices happen year round if members are willing. One does not have to compete in order to enjoy the sport, and one doesn’t have to go to every tournament, Nicole explained.
Once a year Jack introduces high school students from Port Alberni to the sport during an outdoor sports class. He said he has seen many promising players, but parents are reluctant to bring their kids to the pitch at Dry Creek Park because of its location on Fourth Avenue. He said with the upcoming addition of a disc golf course, he hopes the park will attract other recreational activities and gain a better reputation.
Club members number 18 and the Dabneys are hoping to raise the sport’s profile. They don’t have any junior players at the moment, but Victoria and Sooke clubs do. Port Alberni club members built the pitch at Dry Creek Park using their own fundraising; they have 12 covered pitches and six more in a grassed area behind locked toilet facilities. Six more pitches and the club would be able to host a Canadian championship—Jack’s ultimate goal.
For those curious about horseshoes, search for Dry Creek Horseshoe Club on Facebook or call Jack Dabney at 250-731-7202. Or come down to the pitch Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2-3 p.m. and talk to any of the club members.