Training Exercises: Spur Use

Used primarily for lateral movement left and right.

The precise placement of a spur on a horse’s body can induce him to move different parts of his body left or right: his shoulder, his rear, his rib cage. Spurs can make leg yields more precise. They can help you refine the subtlety of leg communication for a new level of performance.

Initiating a movement should be as easy as touching these areas subtly (“feathering” not jabbing or stabbing). He should move forward off of seat (lean slightly forward), leg (squeeze with thighs), lower leg (encourage with calf and heel), then spur (only if necessary).

It goes without saying that if your horse is not used to spurs, it is your responsibility as a trainer to introduce them thoroughly and gently.

Start on the ground as was explained in the lesson for introducing leg cues.

Substitute the spur (in your hand) for your heel.

Know the pressure points for leg cues. To reiterate:
Close to the front cinch will cue him to move his front quarters away from the pressure.
Where your leg naturally hangs is considered the middle. Pressing there will move your horse’s rib cage over, away from the pressure as in a side pass.
Behind the cinch, more in the area just in front of the back cinch will move your horse’s hind quarters over.

Using your spur in your hand, begin to lightly touch, then (if necessary) slowly, steadily roll and press the area he understands already. As soon as he responds with the proper step, relieve the pressure and allow him to rest to think about it. (Review Release Training).

If he is ignoring the spur, use your wrist to “roll” the rowel up his side a couple of inches – more firmly. Repeat until he is moving to the lightest touch from the spur rowel – a feather-light roll or touch. Change areas and repeat.

This training should be fairly quick, as he already knows the pressure points and the maneuvers. He just needs to get used to the feel of the “pointed” spur vs. your rounded heel. The spur should not be “sharp” or painful, but firm (and steadily uncomfortable if necessary). As light a touch as possible but as firm as necessary to get him to move away from the pressure.

AFTER a trained horse has adjusted to the feel of a spur both on the ground and under saddle, a spur can be used to reinforce leg cues that a horse is not respecting. As with a bit, the spur is not engaged unless the horse begins to lay down on the job – to show you a lack of respect for the leg cue. At that point, the spur can be used to remind him that your leg does have a consequence if he fails to respond quickly. However, it is used as a reminder only. He will only be as responsive to your leg as the lightest pressure you use. If you constantly “nag” with a spur your horse will become dull to the cues and require constant babysitting to perform.

Barrel Racers often “encourage” a horse to move more quickly with a well-timed spur. In this instance, timing is all-important. A spur either initiates a movement (as in side pass) or advances a movement (as in move more quickly around this turn).

Initiating a movement only takes a little forethought and some coordination to use only one leg at a time and keep your hands and seat coordinated with your request.

Advancing a movement is not at all easy for a novice. (Used improperly, a spur can completely blow a horse’s own timing up.)

Types of Spurs

You may notice that the type of spur in the top picture has a neck that points down. How long the neck of the spur is and what direction is points are important as they relate to how much equipment is between your heel and the horse and whether your want to urge him forward, pick up his ribs etc.

MORE TO COME

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