Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What Do Wednesday: Spurs

I'm going to try not to offend 32 readers like I did with my draw reins post (they unsubscribed, lulz), but this is something worth talking about IMO. There have been several instances of elimination due to the blood rule because of spurs (Olympics most notably & Steffan Peters in 2015) and has generated some talk on COTH too a while back.

As with any training aid, I feel there is a time and a place for spurs and also a level of skill required for such a tool. I also feel quite strongly against using spurs on a horse that needs those ridiculous pads to keep them from rubbing or bleeding. If a horse needs those, then surely they can feel your heel on their side, since they're so sensitive and all.

Also, you look ridiculous

Taking that with a grain of salt, I know FEI dressage tests require them and spurs are usually used for refinement and not abusive tactics.


Too often though I've seen spurs put on inexperienced riders with lazy horses which only results in jabbing them over and over due to a weak position. OR on asshats who stab the fuck out of their horses because they apparently cannot train horses to respond normally to aids. Not exactly the smartest decision, but hey, to each their own, I'm not the #tackpolice

I will judge you quietly though.

Just like whips, godforsaken draw reins, nosebands and bits, spurs are a tool and must be treated with that kind of respect. A Dressage TODAY article stated it quite well; using the four R's
Response: Usually the first reason why you may want to use spurs is to achieve a better reaction to your leg. Even with the most competent rider, a horse may become dull to the leg. It is important to remember that most horses by nature take the path of least resistance to some degree. A spur used for response helps the horse notice that the leg has been applied and that you are expecting a reaction.
Reinforce: Spurs can be useful in reinforcing a specific aid. In the case of a dull horse, after applying the leg and getting an insufficient forward reaction, the spur could be used to reinforce that the leg means to move more forward.
Refine: Some advanced riders use spurs to allow their legs to make smaller movements to achieve more precise reactions. For example, during a flying-change aid, if a horse was swinging sideways due to being overly reactive to leg pressure, a quick pulse with the spur may help to straighten him and quicken the change. A spur used in this way allows the rider to use less leg pressure, thereby refining the change aid
 Reward: In the case of sensitive or more advanced horses who do not like to be ridden with a significant amount of leg pressure, the spur can be used to thank the horse for being so responsive. These types of horses often appreciate the clarity of an aid that a properly applied spur can provide. 
Personally, I think that sums it up perfectly and the response explanation is my favorite. Training horses is quite the fickle endeavor and there are tools at our disposal to help us along the way. Not every horse is the same, and not every rider is the same.
For myself, I tend to ride sans whip and spurs on both horses, though I have been known to slap the roller spurs on occasion. I try to train them with as little resistance from them as possible, because hot thoroughbreds, and I think the absence of gimmicks and training tools are key to that. Generally takes much longer than those people who try to fake training with headsets and fear based training, but whatever. (WHAT, good training take a long time and not a few shorts months or years? WHO KNEW). But I do realize a worthy application of such tools when I see one.
The only spur I'll use
Yankee especially now, since he's been ridden by a green rider with little to no specific application of certain aids, has become incredibly dull and lazy to the aids. Bad pony. Even before then, if we were working a complicated exercise with lots of lateral work and canter transitions, I would put the spurs on for quiet reminders (response, and reinforcement) and some moderate refinement between application of certain aids. 
Sans spurs flatwork circa 2014/I wish I was this skinny still
 "If your seat is stable only because you are gripping with your lower legs and hanging on the reins, you are not ready for spurs"
Yankee has never been a sensitive creature on the flat, but could be lazy and would absolutely ignore the shit out of you if he was not nicely reminded that he is a horse and must horse when asked nicely. Then, for the next ride, the spurs would come off and not be needed again for a few weeks. I like those kinds of tools. 
Applying said spur to said lazy beast

Whoop there is it, the frame we've been looking for
With Bacardi I kept whips and spurs away from him for two years. As an incredible reactive horse to literally anything, I could only assume what type of uncalled for reaction I would get if I utilized them. Not to mention they were never needed, so there was no point in ever wearing spurs or carrying a whip. I still have not once carried a whip jumping with him but have used a dressage whip exactly 3 times on two separate rides as reminders for leg means go.
"the spur should be used to turn up the volume of the leg aid. For example, encouraging the horse to move more forward toward the bit or getting him to step more deeply sideways in a leg yield"
Now that he's older and has the basics down pat and we've moved forward in the jumper ring,  I did experiment with roller spurs on him twice. Most recently (as of two weeks-ish) he's been ever so resistant to turning right. I put on the spurs for the first time ever and barely touched his side and that did the trick, with exuberance. I wore them for one schooling session and the show, and I'm still not sure I have the skills to keep them quiet enough on a horse like him. I honestly didn't need them for the show, and should have not used them.
I spy roller spurs
So with B, I doubt he will ever "need" them, since his sides (and everything else) is already so sensitive and I simply have to become a better rider and not use gimmicks for good, solid training. With Yankee, he does benefit from them on occasion, but I limit use to those occasions when he needs a reminder of his training and I can keep them quiet enough in flatwork on him. I don't think I would let his leaser use them just yet though.
So, if you made it to this point, I want to know if you use spurs and why! If not, why? Do you use them every ride? Sporadically? Why or why not? I must know!


  1. Roger is definitely NOT lazy and definitely has a fully-installed "go button," especially over jumps, so I don't use spurs over fences ever...that's just not a good idea for either of us haha. However, we're starting to introduce and finesse our lateral work on the flat, so I've been using the roller spurs just as an additional aid when asking to bend left or right, or help with leg yields and such. Roger recognizes and responds to the roller spurs, so it's a welcome addition to my tack setup, without being harsh or leaving marks on his side. Roller spurs are just the right amount of nudge without being super aggressive, so I luff them.

  2. My Arabian mare is lazy. I need either spurs or whip to get her to wake the heck up. Leg means something little mare! Lol! But she's getting better. She hates the whip but I'd good with the spurs, so spur it is!

    1. I feel the laziness, omg. Yankee has gotten really bad lately

  3. ...that's the first time I've seen one of those pads. Wow.

  4. I am a big proponent of not going to war without a weapon - stick and spurs every ride! I also ride a lot of lazy horses. (the kick ride is kinda my thing, apparently) After doing this for 20 years, my leg and seat are good enough that if I'm not actively using the spur, it doesn't really bother the horse. I'd rather have my tools and not need them, than need them and not have them. Dino has frustratingly started to get rubs on his left side after a wet spring where he got spur rubs and then some kind of weird fungus, but that's a whole 'nother story in itself! In short, spurs every day, all day.

  5. I always ride with a spur. That said, when I was getting back into riding shape and felt like I was flopping around all over the place, I ditched the spurs for awhile until I got fit and stable in the saddle again. I didn't feel that poking him in the side on accident was fair. I used to always ride with a whip as well with previous horses - just to have it in hand in case I needed it. Since I've had Dylan though, I haven't carried one once. He doesn't need it. When he needs to be sharpened up a little to the aids, the spur is there and he responds right away. But he does occasionally need the reminder when he gets a little stuck laterally going in his less bendy direction - and that's when I feel they are very useful. I don't use them until I need them.

    And I totally agree with those stupid pads, but the last time I said something about it on my Facebook I got jumped on for it, so I won't say more!

    1. Those pads are the actual worst--I will gladly back you up on that.

      Poking on accident is def not fair and my actual pet peeve about spur usage...but let be real, you're a badass and if you want to ride with spurs every ride, you def can. Cant say that for everyone. I love the sharpening affect spurs can have with a really good rider!

  6. I always ride with a spur, but it drives me fucking batty when I see someone get on a lazy horse with spurs when they have a super uneducated leg. Yes, your horse might be going faster now, but THAT'S NOT WHAT THEY'RE THERE FOR. To me, a spur is to whisper an aid to your horse--I can do one poke and accomplish something that otherwise would take a whole lot of thumping or at least constant leg application.

    Also, maybe it's coming from the track, but I'm not offended by those pads in the slightest. Horses have super sensitive skin, and some are more prone to rubs than others. We had quite a few horses in our barn at Saratoga being ridden by some of the best exercise riders out there (I worked with Georgie Alvarez--American Pharoah's rider) who would need the long pad to prevent nothing more sinister than a boot rub from a rider's moving toe as they galloped.

    1. SAME OMG SAME. You said it so well, spurs are a whisper.

      I get the pad for BOOT rubs...but if you ride in spurs and use that pad, maybe take off the spurs.

    2. Yeah, buuut what if they're going to get rubbed with our without a spur and they need the pad for just a plain old tall boot rub, and the rider is educated enough to wear spurs on every other horse on the planet (P Dutty I know being the big name here). So they're not to hide bad spur riding, just general boot tub riding and the spur is there for typical training. I dunno, I understand how people can get up in arms about it, I totally do, I'm just not one of them. :)

  7. I have ridden with spurs in the past on both Murray and other horses, typically when instructed. I don't think my leg is stable enough right now, but in the past it has been (going through phases of conquering one aspect of positioning and then discovering there's an even more correct way to do it that ultimately weakens everything etc. etc.). Murray needed a couple of months of desensitization to them, since the first few times I popped them on he went absolutely bananas for no reason but was ALSO not following instructions. I want other people to be able to get on him and ride with a judicious application of spurs.

    There are a few things I hate spurs for. The biggest one is bad training or misapplication. In terms of speed/forward aids (as Carly above): if you are constantly goosing your horse with the spurs just to get them to move forward, you're just going to need MOAR and BIGGAR spurs in the future if you aren't good at what you do, and let's get real here, 98% of us aren't ALL THAT GOOD at riding.

    The other thing is spurs that jam into horses' sides with every stride. THAT'S NOT HOW THIS WORKS. THAT'S NOT HOW ANY OF THIS WORKS.

    This is correlated with spurs that are turned up over the heel. What is wrong with your riding and training that you need to stab your spurs up so high into your horse's side and do it EVERY STRIDE?

    The feels about spurs. We have them.

    1. I have the feels too. Glad I'm not the only one here!

      Misapplication is my actual biggest pet peeve with spurs. As Carly said and the article stated pretty well, spurs are a whisper!

  8. some good perspectives here. I used to always ride with spurs, mostly for the finesse aspect as you mentioned. My current horse tho, hates them. He sucks behind the bit and does the opposite of forward. So now we go for the 'pony club kick' and dressage whip method :P

    as far as those pads/bellybands are concerned, sometimes horses have crappy hair or if it's really dry they can get rubs from just about everything. I feel like I've noticed they've become far more prevalent, particularly in warmup situations.

    1. LOL that method can work too, especially with the sensitive beasts. B is on the fence about them...he reacts hugely to the application, but does not freak out. I still don't know if I can justify using them always though.

      I can really understand the use of the pad for horses that are sensitive and get rubs with normal gear. HOWEVER. If you need it for a horse that gets rubs with spurs, IMO they don't need spurs! That is just my opinion though. I know PDutty uses that damn pad with one of his horses and I was crestfallen to learning of my favs needs that ghastly thing for spurs, but he is a pro. *died a little inside*

  9. I have issued Spurs at various times on various horses. Connie used to need rowel Spurs or she'd be like na bro can't be bothered. I mostly use roller Spurs for the occasional flat ride now because both horses are a little sharp to the leg

  10. At my barn I LOVE that you have to have express permission from trainer on whether you can use spurs in your lessons. It keeps people from misusing them and creating even more issues! That said, it helped my mare a lot, and I still benefit from them on certain horses.

  11. I wear small POW with rounded edges. During the summer I ride with spurs every ride because Holly is lazy in the heat, and hot hot days I get a whip just in case. Usually one or two swipes and the whip does plenty just being in my hand to motivate. Winter spurs are usually on just incase I need them for lateral work, but if she's really high I leave them ringside. Our trainer is really good at pulling riders spurs etc if not being used properly.

  12. I have never seen those pads before. Those are awful!

    Anyways....I won't use spurs because my legs suck. I can't keep my toes in for the life of me. While I do have two lazy beasts, they do respond to a tap with a whip. But in all honesty, even that is used more for flicking flies off ears while riding.

  13. That saddle pad is ridiculous. I cannot imagine anyone actually using it. Anyway, I've used spurs before and would use them again. Obviously they shouldn't be used abusively, but I don't have a problem with them as an aid.

  14. Every time every ride. Our rides always ALWAYS start off with a reminder that he has to move his ass and his legs in response to my aids, and if I don't have spurs and a whip I get blown off. There is really no underestimating how lazy my horse is. I don't use 'em when I don't need to but at some point in every single ride I need to. Guaranteed.

  15. So one of the few voices in defense of the pad...I have a chestnut who is very thick skinned and not at all sensitive to spur aids. And trust me, I've tried. And pros have tried. So he is a spurs every ride type of horse. I use them when I need him to bend through the rib cage in particular, because he really likes to pretend he doesn't do that. Riding him without spurs is like a kid riding a pony who is ignoring them, and is totally and utterly worthless.

    This horse is also one who sweats thickly and profusely, and the more humid it is, the worse it is. Although chestnut, he is not at all sensitive skinned, and never ever gets rub.

    Except occasionally, perhaps once every two years or so, it will be the perfect storm of a dressage lesson on an incredibly hot, humid day combined with him being very stiff. So I'll use my spur (the same ones I use every other day with absolutely no issue) more than average to get him to bend through the ribcage. Nothing will be out of the ordinary in the way he reacts to them. Then, I'll get it off and lo and behold, he'll have a spur rub.

    There's always a dammit moment that goes with that.

    I give the rubs time to heal before sitting in a dressage saddle again but the problem is that even after it heals it is usually still hot as balls, he's sweating like crazy, and now the healed rub has no hair to protect it. And no, he's not any more reactive, so I still need spurs but don't want to risk another rub, now even easier to get with no hairy protection.

    So I don't use that saddle pad, but I'll throw a beach towel on under my normal pad. I grease the hell out of my spurs and the rub with vasoline and I bust out the towel until all the hair grows back. Because it's usually like a month before it's fully back.

    I think I've had to do this only twice, maaaybe three times in the entire time I've owned him, which is almost a decade now.

    I agree that I don't love seeing the pads used as a method to prevent the rubs in the first place, because it means your spur aid isn't right. But if a rub does happen for some reason, it's a good tool to use while the rub grows the hair back in on a horse that really does need a spur.

    1. YUP. THIS. This has been happening to my pony on and off since this spring when it was very damp and he was clipped and got some kind of skin.. thing.. and the hair in that spot is now not as thick as it used to be and prone to rubs. I have found that slathering the spot in MTG before rides really helps! I also cannot ride without spurs unless we are trail riding or hunting - I need the help for any type of ring work!

  16. No spurs, but I will often carry a whip just so that it is no biggie (also TBs: go is not a problem, LOL)

  17. I use spurs on Moe during dressage tests, and I have for many years. He is really, really dull in the dressage ring, so I use them for "response". I ask with a non-spur leg cue, he ignores me, I nudge him with a tiny baby nubby spur, and he's like "OKAY, FINE" and responds like a normal horse. His lesson children do not use spurs on him, and I don't use them when jumping, hacking, or doing anything but dressage.

    I have used them on Gina as a refinement aid to produce better lateral movements in dressage tests, but I prefer not to use them because if I am not SUPER SUPER SUPER quiet with them, she gets agitated.

    I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with spurs or their usage, but like anything else, you have to use them mindfully and correctly.

  18. I agree that spurs have their place and the first time I wore them I had an appropriate lesson on using spurs. I used them for a few months on Ries to get a better response to my leg aids, but now I don't need them. I definitely wouldn't wear any on Monty, and the one time I accidentally had them on I had to focus so hard on having a quiet leg. Argorn on the other hand, REQUIRES spurs. He is so dead to the leg. But you don't have to abuse them. I think he just prefers them? I have to use them to establish forward at the beginning of the ride and after that just for aids (he has so many buttons you have to be so precise with your aid). I seriously thought my train was nutso when she told me I needed this giant spurs with him but he is trained 4th level and after using them it makes sense. He requires absolute precision with spurs though, so you can just jab jab jab and expect him to perform.

  19. I 9 times out of 10 ride with spurs. I like having them, I might need them, but I know how to ride without constantly jabbing my horse so... yeah?


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