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article number 77
article date 11-15-2011
copyright 2011 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Make a Horse Race Game for Family and Friends. It’s fun to play.
by Stu Moment

Some friends showed me a picture of a wooden horse race game which another family member had made. They didn’t have game anymore. They loved the game so I decided to quickly make a rough version for them. It had been a long time since they played it but it took only a couple of minutes for them to remember how to play.

They played it as an adult betting game but I see it as a bad weather family game. It is simple … just luck … but much fun and more important, gets laughs and fun interaction between players.

I think that you could entertain up to 6 or maybe 8 people with this game, adults or kids. If playing with kids use pennies and change the penalty “lame horse” values from 5, 10, 15 and 20 cents, to 1, 2, 3, and 4 cents. Take all the pennies out of your change jar because you will never save up for that huge TV anyway. Something in your household always breaks down and you change jar gets emptied.

It took 2 hours and 45 minutes to make the game including the planning which went into this presentation. If you round up materials ahead of time, it should take you under 2 hours to make this game. If you use golf tees instead of making pegs you can finish it even quicker.

I wondered why the board was pointed. I was told that middle dice rolls occur with a higher probability, so the pointed board evens up the odds.

First well give you the “Playing the Game” section then show you how to make it. You will find the same or alternative rules online if you search “horse race game rules”.

Playing the Game

Take a deck of cards and remove the aces, kings and jokers. The remaining cards represent the numbers 2 to 12. The jack is 11 and the queen is 12.


The family that showed me the game deals all the cards. The person who has extra cards will change as the dealer rotates so everything will end up even.


Turn all the cards over and arrange them in order while showing how many cards you have for each number.


The players take turns rolling the dice. The first 4 rolls determine “lame horses”. The first roll (not shown) was 8. The 8 peg is placed in the 5 cent row. All people holding “8” cards put 5 cents into the pot for each 8 card that they had. The second roll (not shown) was 6. The 6 peg is placed in the 10 cent row. All people holding “6” cards put 10 cents into the pot for each 6 card that they had. This picture shows that the third roll was 7. Yup … 15 cents per card. You know what to do with the fourth roll. We don’t need a picture of that.


After the 4 lame horses are determined. Rolls of the dice can cause two results. If the number rolled is a lame horse (7 in this picture) then you have to put the amount of the lame horse row into the pot (15 cents in this picture). If you roll an active (non lame) horse then that horse advances one row.


Hip Hip Hurray! The number 9 horse has reached the finish line. Those people who have number 9 cards split the pot in proportion of the amount of number 9 cards they hold. In this picture, two players each, had two number 9’s. They will split the pot.

How to make the game.

This article shows a crudely made game. Again, it takes two hours to make. You crafts people out there can make much nicer versions. You can make the board nicer … paint it or make inlays. You can also carve nicer pieces than the pegs used as horses in this presentation.

The pictures in this article give you a feel for the board layout. You can change dimensions to suit your taste. However, you do have to have the correct number of wholes.

This is the original picture from which we made a cruder version. Note that the numbered “horse pegs” are door stops.

This is our quick built version. Use this picture to count holes. There is 1 inch spacing between holes. The holes are 1 ½ inches from the sides and 1 inch from the bottom.

This drawing may help.

The following build sequence should be laughed at by true woodworkers. We could have done a nicer job (NOT) and used the “correct” tools, but we wish to inspire you to make this game for rainy day fun, even if you’re a klutz like me.


A piece of 5/8 inch ply was found in the back of the garage. After removing cob webs, make vertical lines, one inch apart beginning at 1 ½ inches from the side. You could also start in the center. Short, horizontal lines mark the location of the peg holes. Mark the correct number of holes per column.


You didn’t see this wrong use of tools to punch drill centering holes. Don’t let kids see the wrong use of tools. Do let them see you use eye protection.


For the pegs, we are going to use wire from political signs pushed into wood dowel rod. Pick a drill bit larger than the wire. The pegs should have a loose fit in the board. (When you make the pegs you will not want a loose fit between the wire and the dowel holes. You will use a smaller drill bit.)

IF YOU WANT TO SAVE TIME, use golf tees for pegs and don’t use the following suggestions, Instead drill holes to accommodate the golf tees.


Drill a hole and check the fit. It should be quite loose.


Drill all of the holes. Should you find a spare kid around the house remember, kids love to drill. Teach them to use eye protection. This project is good for practice at eyeballing vertical placement of the drill. If the holes are not perfectly vertical the project will still turn out OK. If you are a perfectionist, use a drill press.


We cut one side with a circular saw. The plywood splintered a bit at the edges. I knew it would. Why did I do that? Just a brain fart. I used a band saw on the other sides. Much nicer.


Time to sand this ugly piece of wood. Not too much … nothing will make this wood look nice.


For the horse pegs I used 5/8 inch wood dowel, cut 1 inch long. Actually I marked the dowel at 1 1/16 intervals because I cut them with the band saw. The band saw took off about 1/16 inch. Choose a drill bit the same size as the wire. Hopefully it will fit tight. I put a stop on the drill to allow holes of 5/8 inch depth. You can use tape on the drill bit just above 5/8 inch, then be careful to avoid touching the tape. You can also mark the drill with a laundry marker. Anyway, drill the holes as close to center as you can. If they are slightly off center don’t worry. They’ll be fine.


The wire is marked at 1 1/8 inch intervals. Political sign wire is soft and can be cut with these cheap bolt/cable cutters. If you use a grinder to cut wire you will have to experiment with markings in order to get a 1 1/8 inch long piece. If you use piano wire from the hardware store you will have to use a grinder. Piano wire is hard and will wreck bolt/cable cutters. It will only take you one time to learn that lesson. It took me about 10 wrecked cutters.


There they are. Eleven horses waiting to be born. The wire fits snugly into the dowel holes. If they are slightly loose, you can use silicon sealer as glue. You bought that sealer for the bathtub but never got around to the job. This job is much more fun.


Oh, forgot to tell you. Round the edges on one end of the steel rod. This smooth end will stick out of the dowel into the board but not into people fingers. Blood is difficult to get out of wood. You can stick the sharp end into the dowel. By the way, I was actually smart to plan the length of the steel rod. ½ inch sticks out of the dowel. The board is 5/8 inch thick, so when you place the game on a table, you won’t scratch Grandma’s heirloom. If the steel rods stick through, raise the board by gluing something underneath the edges of the board.

Didn’t take much touch to pound the wire into the dowel. It was easy to tell when the wire bottomed. Smooth job … no split dowels.


Hey Hey. Just about done. Used colored permanent markers to mark the board. Kids could have probably done a nicer job.

This game is brainless but fun. Better spray some clear coat on it. When kids play with it they may get it dirty. Who’s kidding who? After the kids go to bed, it’s the adults I’m worried about. Clear coat the board because spilled beer will leave its mark.


POLITICALLY CORRECT NOTE: The people who showed me how to play the game didn’t use the term “lame horse”. They called them dead horses which is a no-no even though they really love horses. If the term “lame horse” is troubling to you perhaps you could call them “horses which failed their pre-race drug test.” If this concept still gives you anxiety, change the name of the game to “Car Race Game”. If you are a Green person call it the “Eco Friendly Hybrid Car Race Game.”

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