This is a bit of a controversial topic in the horse world. Some would never use spurs on a horse and don’t condone it, and some would never ride without them. So, what is the purpose of spurs and why are they needed? If they are needed at all. Then, are there spurs that are mild and some that are severe? And how do you know which ones they are? These are all important questions and I hope to touch on all of them and more.
Purpose of Spurs
The true purpose of spurs is not to force a horse to do or go where it doesn’t want to. Rather, when used properly, spurs have the ability to increase the communication between horse and rider. Although, like many other tools, they are misused and can cause harm and pain to the horse. Knowing which spurs are more likely to cause discomfort to your horse is important. It’s no different from choosing the right bit or the right saddle to fit your horse. These are tools that need to be used in the correct way.
How are Spurs supposed to Be Used?
First of all, spurs are for advancing your horse under saddle, not starting. When you and your horse are ready for lighter cues and maneuvers, then spurs can be introduced. You would never gouge or kick your horse to go faster. But when asking for lateral movement or quick maneuvers, often you can better communicate these cues with the use of spurs.
Types of Spurs
There are many types of spurs and I don’t know all the names of them, but I do know that there’s an important aspect to consider when looking at a spur. Pressure distribution is something that has a great deal to do with how the spur is going to be felt.
Consider taking one sharp pencil and pushing it into your palm. It won’t take much pressure before it starts hurting. Now if you took 5 sharp pencils and pushed them into your palm, then it wouldn’t hurt near as bad. That is what pressure distribution does.
Therefore, the more rowels on a spur, the more mild it typically is. The more spread out the rowels, the less pressure distribution there is. Sometimes, the bigger the spur and the more rowels, the more intimidating they look, but those can actually be more mild.
English spurs are often blunt without rowels, but can still be painful if misused. For example, take a dressage whip, tapping a horse with it is a way of communicating and does not cause pain. But too much force with the same whip is considered cruel and abusive. It’s the same with spurs. It’s not the spur that is cruel, it is often who is using it.
How to know if spurs hurt
Again, it depends on the type of spur you have and I really recommend testing it on yourself. If you strike your own palm with the spur, it shouldn’t hurt. Try to use the same amount of pressure or slightly more than you would use on a horse. If it causes pain in your hand, then I wouldn’t recommend that spur. You should feel it, but not to a high degree that it hurts.
The second test would be on your horse. If your horse acts negatively to the spur, then maybe it bothers him and you should try a different spur. Ears pinning or tail swishing are all negative signs. Possibly even kicking out, which would be a more extreme reaction. If your horse is responding positively, they will be a little quicker to pay attention or possibly lighter on what you’re asking. Always listen to your horse and watch for subtle cues.
I think it’s up to the individual if they want to use spurs. They can be misused, and a person needs to learn to use them correctly and effectively if they are going to use them at all. I don’t think spurs are cruel if you know how to use them. I hope this information has helped you understand them a little more. Leave me a comment below if this changed your view on- if spurs are cruel?
Custom Cowboy Shop has a wide variety of western spurs that you can check out.
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