Spur Basics, Part 1

In Part 1 of this two-part lesson, AQHA judge LeeAnn DeMars explains the basics of using spurs while horseback riding.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Learning to use spurs properly is all about feel, says AQHA judge LeeAnn DeMars. It’s the same sort of finesse that you strive to develop in your hands. With spurs, she says, “You must have that control through your leg and heel. The more you improve the feel, the less you have to move your leg.”

Spurs should never be a substitute for a bad leg. Most importantly, they should be used as a last resort. “Your cues start with your seat, follow down your leg and end with your spur,” she says, “Using your spurs should not be your first reaction.”

When LeeAnn works with a novice student, the trainer makes sure the rider builds leg strength and position before the beginner straps on spurs.

The rider needs to develop a steady leg,” she says.

Stirrup length has to be correct with any rider who uses spurs. Even if the stirrups are only a tad too long, some riders tend to grab with their knees.

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“This sends their toes down and heels up,” LeeAnn explains, adding that the spurs will go up with the rider’s heels, inadvertently poking the horse. “The foot doesn’t have good control, so the rider uses spurs in a way that they’re not meant to be used.”

This is especially true with a hunt saddle, even though spurs for English events are nubbier and shorter-shanked than western spurs.

“You don’t have a huge fender on an English saddle,” LeeAnn says. “There is a lot more range of motion in the rider’s leg.” A beginner hunt seat rider needs to be able to control his or her feet and legs before wearing spurs.

“Until you can get riders to keep their calves on the horse and their heels down, it’s not a good idea to stick spurs on them,” LeeAnn says. “Or they’ll be grabbing with their heels and spurs for balance, causing an unwanted reaction, such as kicking out or excessive speed.”

While some horses might not shuffle or spook, other indications demonstrate the horse’s discomfort. A horse might wring his tail in protest, pin his ears or kick out. Quite simply, your horse will let you know if you misuse your spurs.

Adjust Your Stirrup Length

When you’re adjusting stirrup length for a hunt-seat saddle, drop your feet from the irons. The bottom of the iron should be level with your anklebone. For proper western stirrup adjustment, stand in the stirrups. LeeAnn says that a hand’s width – about 4 inches of daylight – between the seat of the saddle and your seat, is about right. When you sit back down, your stirrup length should be correct.

Be Sure Your Spurs Fit

Poor-fitting spurs will rock up or down and flop around on your boot. LeeAnn says that spurs need to be snug. This comes mostly from the heel cup being the right size for the rider’s foot and boot. Spurs range from youth to ladies’ and men’s sizes. Even so, the type of boot you wear will have some bearing on the size of the spur that fits.

“A crepe-sole boot takes a wider spur than a leather-sole boot,” LeeAnn says. She suggests taking your boots with you when you shop. Keep in mind that, while you can use a vise to widen or narrow the spur, big alterations aren’t possible. About 1/4 inch is all you can expect to gain or lose. Stainless steel spurs are harder to spread.
With any spur, the heel cup, which slides over the heel of the boot, is pretty much set. If it doesn’t fit your boot from the start, there’s very little chance you’ll be able to alter the spur.

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Spur Straps

Spur straps play an important role in keeping spurs in place. LeeAnn likes wide straps on western spurs because they help the spurs stay put. And, they offer a little more protection on the inside of your foot.

Quality is an important issue, regardless of whether the straps are for western or English spurs. “Avoid cheap leather that will fall apart, or buckles that won’t work,” LeeAnn says. With English straps, the buckles need to be on the outside, with the tails pointing down. LeeAnn adds that the shanks of English spurs must also be pointed down.

“It’s not acceptable to have your spurs turned up,” she says.

In Part 2, look forward to AQHA judge LeeAnn DeMars addressing the why and when of using spurs.

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