Spurs, worn in pairs, are worn on riding boots and used to help direct a horse’s movement forward and laterally. Although common lore makes everyone think that spurs are used to gouge a horse’s side to make him run like the wind, they should actually be used to refine your leg cues. They are for lateral movement, not forward movement. Rule should be seat, leg, calf, then PRESS with the spur to get a more focused aid. See Spur Use & Training
In western riding the spurs are usually heavier and have rowels that rotate. The neck is usually a little longer to accommodate the leg position of the western rider on the saddle’s fenders. (English spurs generally have a shorter neck because English riders have less leather and padding between their leg and the horse.)
The length of the shank can have an affect on the amount of leg movement needed to cue the horse. Long shanks make contact with the horse with less discernible motion than short shanks, which take more leg movement to reach the right spot.
If you ride a saddle or pad that has close contact, you can use a shorter shank. If your western saddle has a lot of bulk under the stirrup fenders, long shanks will reach more easily. Best to ride your horse without the spur first, notice where your legs are in relation to the cues you want to give and get a feel for how much length you need to reach it without turning your leg in knots.
However, novice spur-wearers might want to start with short shanks to prevent accidental contact until they get used to the spur on the boot. Constant kicking or accidental gouging will make a horse sore and/or make him “dead to the leg”.
Some spurs are highly decorated and engraved, and some western spurs have chap guards to prevent the rider’s chaps from interfering with the rowels of the spur. Sometimes decorative Jingle Bobs are also added for decoration.
Spurs are sized according to the size boot they are made to fit. Thus, men’s spurs have a wider heel band (the part that wraps around the heel of the boot) to fit wider boots than women’s and children’s spurs fit.
Rowels are described by the type and size of points. A rowel with many small teeth is milder than one with only a few, larger teeth. Rowels that roll are usually used in a pressing to slight rolling action on the horse’s sides to cue some particular body position change. Pressing is considerably softer than jabbing. If pressing doesn’t work, a small roll might suffice. But more than that can cause pain.
Bumper Spurs are commonly used by barrel racers. They have the “bumping” area on the side of the boot heel instead of the back so that a rider doesn’t have to rotate the foot at all to bump the horse. Commonly used to help guide the horse and lift his rib cage in a tight turn.
Gal Leg Spur: The shank of the spur (between the band and the rowel) is shaped like a woman’s leg. Some have a decorative piece (like a fish head or other design) in place of the shoe.
Some spurs have just a small ball on the end to help place the leg cue in just the right spot without actually “spurring” the horse. They are often called “humane” spurs.
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