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Spurs - Do You Really Need Them?
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Spurs - Do You Really Need Them?

Every riding horse is taught to respond to pressure from the rider’s leg. This could be to ask the horse to move forward, change pace or work with more energy; or it could be to ask the horse to move sideways. In dressage, spurs are an artificial aid which can be used to enhance a rider’s leg aids enabling you to sit more quietly and make the horse’s performance appear effortless in response to invisible signals, especially in the lateral exercises.

There are a number of things to be borne in mind however before you decide to use spurs. They are not a fashion accessory and no one will think any less of you as a rider just because you choose not to wear them.

Why are you considering using them? Not every horse needs to be ridden with spurs. If your horse is very sensitive and inclined to become tense or ‘hot’, spurs may cause more problems than they do good. Don’t be tempted to ride young, green horses in spurs habitually. Your horse should go from your leg first, not from the whip or spur.

If you do have a rather lazy horse which is inclined to ignore your subtle leg aids, it can be useful to wear spurs every now and then to sharpen up his reactions, but beware using them every time you ride as horses soon become ‘dull’ to them.

Look at your own position and seat. Can you sit deep and quietly with a still leg? If you are inclined to lose your balance or if your leg swings, wearing spurs will not be a comfortable experience for your horse and the result could be loss of rhythm, tension and resistance. When you ride with spurs, always allow the horse a chance to respond to the aid from your leg first; don’t use them every time you ask the horse a question.

When you want to use your spurs, turn your toe out slightly to angle the shank towards the horse’s side, then bring your lower leg inwards. You should be able to feel when the spur touches the horse. Don’t apply more pressure than you need to and never use the spur on every single stride. As soon as you have a response to your spur, relax your leg and reward the horse by taking the pressure away.

There are lots of different types of spurs available; short ones, roweled ones, long ones etc; the variety is quite bewildering. The shape of spur you choose will be to some extent influenced by your body shape. If you have long legs and your horse is short or narrow-bodies, you may find longer shanks suit you best whereas a short-legged rider on a big horse would be better with a short shanked spur with soft, round ends.

Spurs are not necessarily bad things but they should only be used by a skilled rider with a good seat. Incorrectly used, they can cause pain and distress to the horse which will quickly come to resent being ridden at all so think carefully before you decide to use them.

More about leg, aids, horse, dressage, spurs, riding

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  1. PonyGirl
    Excellent and much needed article on spurs! I do ride my pony horses with spurs, but there are several reasons for this. Since I have another horse with me when I work, my hands are not free to discipline my horse if necessary. However, this is rarely necessary with my ponies, especially after the first 6 months of using them. Since my right hand (and sometimes my left) is occupied handling the race horse, I rely on heavily on leg aids. If I touch my horse with the side of my leg, it means one thing, if I touch him with the side of my foot, it means something else, and if I touch him lightly with the rowel of my spur it means something different again. So mostly, I use the spur to refine my cues. Every once in a while, I might poke a horse with the rowel, but this is very unusual. You should surely ride well enough to be aware if and where you are touching your horse with the spur, and your balance has to be good enough not to spur him accidentally. A mistimed spur is definitely worse than no spur at all. Definitely a great article!
    1. autumnap
      Thank you kindly! I think there are too many dressage riders out there who wear spurs just because everyone else does and they treat them like some kind of horsey fashion accessory.
  2. shumes
    Very interesting post. I think spurs can be a wonderful tool for an experienced rider but far too many riders, particularly those in western disciplines, rush to use them. I see small kids using spurs on their horses in barrel racing, pole bending, etc a lot. Always feel terrible for the horses :( Voted up! Please visit my newest article and vote it up if you enjoy it, http://www.ofhorse.com/view-post/How-to-Achieve-Your-Equestrian-Goals.
    1. autumnap
      Thank you! Will check out your article. Sometimes we go to watch the local show jumping competitions and it's horrifying how many kids wear spurs on ponies that really don't need any more encouragement to go faster!
  3. jst4horses
    As pony girl wrote below, spurs can be an aid in a job, but I hope she uses a blunt end spur. I do not use spurs. I train horses in shorts and a tank top bareback until I saddle up, then I train in riding jeans or exercisers riding pants........I often train barefoot. One day I was exercising a horse for a woman on vacation, my students were actually doing the riding. They could not get that horse to move if at all, faster than a slow walk. I said, if I get up there with my broken back, I had been hit by a moving van on the freeway driving in an open jeep wrangler and was recovering slowly, I am going to be upset at you all. I got up, asked the horse to walk, trot, canter, stop, switch directions, all with just a snaffle bit and my tennis shoes. One of the girls said to me "I think you are a horse!". a nice complement, but it is my favorite story to tell that horses like us to be in control, and not just trying to "make" them do anything. I really like this article, but hope people will use more time in training and gaining skill than buying spurs. I retrained a barrel horse who had been spur trained, and before that had been owned by a Charro team for performance, so well knew harsh rowels. She moved rapidly into one of the finest responsive horses I have ever worked with. I could move my eyes, not even my whole head, and she went where directed. All those years of being spurred and roweled still make me feel sad for her. She is one of my best, most friendly therapy horses for kids and veterans. She is on video with a woman with horrible knobbly arthritis, shown patiently standing beside the woman and the special mounting block......what a great girl, and I am proud that she no longer is spurred.
    1. autumnap
      That's a great story! Glad it all worked out well for her.

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