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.