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The Importance of Spurs Decoded
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The Importance of Spurs Decoded

There is such a great variety of horse related events going on in the world making it hard to keep them all straight. All of these events differ greatly from one another but one thing they all tend to have in common is the use of spurs, especially in western events. So why do riders use them regardless of what event they are taking part in, if the events are so different from each other? In order to decode the importance of spurs, we should first understand what their use is and the differences we'll find.

Different Spurs for Different Uses

There are many types of spurs on the market, each with a different use. The two core differences in spurs are in the length of the shanks and the severity of the rowels. The rowels can be very mild as well as very sharp, based on how much help you need directing your horse.

Spurs can help a rider control his horse more easily by making sure that the horse’s muscular sensors can easily feel the rider’s touch. This allows riders to transmit movement signals to their horses more effectively.

The Horse’s Dilemma

In order to truly decode the importance of spurs, we need to look at how they negatively affect the horse as well.

When a rider uses a spur to touch the horse’s rectus abdominis, a muscle that helps the horse sense a rider’s touch and interpret it as a movement signal, the horse’s brain gets the signal to go forward. This is a very simple form of conditioned reflex. This indication to go forward comes from the horse’s memory, based on stimuli that are stored in its brain ever since training. When a rider touches the horse’s muscles, the horse’s brain tells it to move.

However, once spurs are brought into the equation, the situation gets a little more complicated. The horse’s brain may also associate the touch of a spur with discomfort or pain. When a spur touches the horse’s muscles, there is a dilemma because the horse’s brain is now telling it to move while at the same time this message is being resisted by the fear of pain. This results in a compromise on the horse’s part, between what its rider wants from it and its own bodily reactions. The result is a drop in overall performance.

Using the Right Spurs

This is why it is so important for riders to use spurs only when they absolutely need them. Spurs should only be used when your horse does not respond to the touch of your legs; they should be an addition to the existing leg pressure and not a replacement for it. Something as simple as gently pushing the spurs against your horse or poking it with them can make the difference in the horse’s mental condition. Spurs should be used as a tool to help your horse understand your cues better, not as a weapon to make the horse do what you want by force.

The post has tried to make it clear that the common idea among riders that spurs always help the horse, without any consequences, is misguided. They can be a cause of discomfort for your horse if not used correctly, and it is vital that you decode and understand the importance of their correct use before you start putting them on.

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Leave a Comment

  1. autumnap
    autumnap
    Nice article. Dressage riders are the worst culprits I think. I get fed up with judging riders who think spurs are there to make their horses go forward when they are actually supposed to be a subtle aid for use in lateral exercises.
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  2. jst4horses
    I train and my best times riding are in shorts, and bare feet. When I do use spurs, I use the soft ball spur shown in the picture, I use it for formal training for people who insist on showing their horses. I have never met a horse yet, including American Pharaoh, who was just at Santa Anita, that said WHOOPTY DOO, get out the spurs, and kick me instead of spending the time necessary to train me and most importantly to train yourself. Spurs ........I hate them. I have seen way too many horses galled and stabbed by them. But I have also seen some great horsemen, who wear them to get their points in competitions who NEVER use them. I have NEVER worn a western spur, no need for it. I have worn a Dressage ball spur because I had to train horses to get used to it for their owners or paid riders.............I have no problem with the costume parade, but do think it is not necessary to use items in the costume parade that NEVER were intended for the best training method, or the best interest of the horse. I have had many a pair of hundreds of dollars show boots and their requisite spurs, and I still know my horses, and the horses I train and I have the best rides and days when I am in shorts, they are bareback or with just a pad, and we are just out soaking up sunshine and playing together as they learn and I learn how to do our best without all that junk. Take a clean look at the American Pharaoh, i love that his name is Fay, rah, OH due to a mistake of someone in the recording process.........his owner says it Fay, rah OH.......and laughs and makes comments about the grammar police. That horse is trained by one of the world's top trianers. Just watching him jog on the track with an exercise rider is awesome, BECAUSE Baffert is very careful of his riders, trainers, and jockeys. While spurs are on, jockeys say.......heels up, and use their stick mostly if they are good riders, on their leg or boot, NOT on the horse. It is a pleasure to watch Baffert's horses exercise, or run races. and they do not run because of spurs.
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  3. Animal Whisperer Rosi Caswell
    Good article. Spurs CAN enhance a horse and rider's performance, BUT the rider must be well versed in the fitting and usage of spurs, and must be experienced enough to be able to use them for the right reasons, and know when to, and when not to use them. Personally, overall I would counsel against the use of spurs of any type, unless I hear a very valid reason for doing so. That is not condemning the riders who do use them positively, benefiting both horse and rider, but caution must ALWAYS be a crucial factor.
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