Wearing Spurs While Horseback Riding

New Riders and Spurs

Spurs on a pair of black English boots.
Long spurs on English boots.

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Spurs are often a symbol fo horsemanship, but do you really need to ride with spurs? A very long time ago, I met a horse that had been on a team that went to the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. While I don't remember very much about the horse, I do recall the rash of short scars down either side of the horse's barrel. These scars were very clearly the result of the aggressive use of spurs. Perhaps that's where my aversion to using spurs began, and while I understand they may have uses in advanced riding, I feel most of us are better off without.

I have very rarely ever felt the need to wear spurs. When I was in my early teens I had a large pony, that in order to get it to do anything beyond a cow pony jog, needed the occasional nudge with a spur. The task of getting my current horse to trot along smartly would certainly be made easier if I wore spurs, but because I'm probably as belligerent as she can be, I choose not to, relying instead on a dressage whip to reinforce my leg and seat aids. Spurs are rarely necessary and it's all too easy to rely on these artificial aids before learning the proper natural aids.

Spurs should be a last resort for the beginner rider, although they can be used effectively by advanced riders to give refined cues to a well-trained horse. If you're still struggling with keeping your seat quiet or mastering the trot or canter/lope, spurs are rarely a good idea. It is very easy to inadvertently jab a horse if you don't have perfect control over your lower leg. Spurs aren't really intended to make a horse simply go faster, but to add precision to leg cues.

If you do choose to wear spurs on the advice of your instructor or coach, choose the shortest neck you can find. Spurs with rowels, disks, long, curved necks and points are not suitable for beginners. The most common type of spur is the English "Prince of Wales", and these are suitable for both beginner English and western riders. These can be found with either a round button or very short shank. Motivator spurs are also available, and these have no neck or shank, but a thicker bluntly serrated edge along the inside of the heel band. The downside of these spurs is that it's almost easier to bump the horse with them accidentally as you don't have to turn your heel in to apply them.

All spurs are worn with the neck or shank pointing downwards. They should sit at the junction of your heel and ankle, although some "motivators" will sit atop the heel seam of your boots. If there are small spur rests on your boots, the spur lays on top of these. The strap should buckle on the outside (not the 'horse side') of your riding boot, with the point of the strap pointing downwards

Like using a whip, the spur has to instantaneously back up any ignored demand. If your horse ignores your leg aid, you will use the spur, as a quick press, not a jab, within seconds of your ignored cue. The cues should be ask-slight leg aid, tell-a bump from the calf, demand pressure from the spur. You should not be lifting your leg away from the horse's side as this happens.

Overuse of the spur can cause a horse to become frightened or provoked. Bucking or bolting can result if the rider uses spurs improperly. Some horses may learn to ignore the spur and become deadened to the cues the rider gives. So the spur, which is applied to the horse by slightly lifting the heel and turning the heel inwards, needs to be applied very judiciously. Spurring should never, never be a form of punishment. If you're turning your toes out so that you are jabbing your horse with the spur shank, you are overusing the spur and need to learn how to apply proper leg aids. Spurs should never leave a mark in the skin or hair coat. This indicates the spurs are being used improperly.