Spur Basics, Part 2

In the final installment of this lesson, AQHA judge LeeAnn DeMars tells why and when to use spurs while horseback riding.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In Part 1 of Spur Basics, AQHA judge LeeAnn DeMars explained the importance of proper fit of spurs and stirrup length along with the necessary leg strength and control required for using spurs properly. LeeAnn builds from that foundation to explain the proper time and place for spurs.

The Right Tool for the Job

When one of her students is ready to start using spurs, LeeAnn will generally get out a short-shanked ball spur. The horse will know the rider has spurs and will respect him or her, even though it’s a mild spur. But if the rider kicks hard, the ball spur isn’t aggravating to the horse.

If the rider has good leg position but has not yet developed a great deal of leg strength, LeeAnn will bring out a longer-shanked ball spur. This also works, she says, for little kids or light-weight riders who don’t have a lot of muscle in their legs.

“The more you contract your muscle, the weaker it gets,” she says. “So, if you’ve pulled your leg in as far as you can, it gets weaker. If you extend the length of the spur shank, it provides more leverage, and you can get more power out of that rider’s leg.”

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LeeAnn fits riders with a long-shank ball or blunt-end spur before she’ll have them use a spur with rowels.

“The rowel is sort of a last resort,” she says. “But, if I do have a rider use a rowel, it’s likely to be one that is fairly straight-shanked.”

An exception would be with small kids who might need shanks that turn in.

“Their legs don’t come down the barrel of the horse very well,” LeeAnn says. “In fact, their legs will stick straight out. Until they can encompass the horse’s barrel, they need a little extension of the leg.” Shanks that turn in provide that extension and give them some help.

“As long as they have good control of their feet, these riders are OK with spurs,” LeeAnn says.

Spurs are like bits. Needs change, and sometimes you need more than one pair. “I have three different pairs for myself,” she says. “What I use depends on the horse. If I’m on a green horse that needs to learn something, and I don’t want to aggravate him, I go to a spur that’s soft but helps me get the point across, even if I have to use it a little harder.”

Sometimes older, dull-sided horses require spurs with rowels.

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“Personally,” LeeAnn explains, “I don’t want a lot of point on my rowels.” She prefers a more blunt rowel that rolls. “That’s the whole purpose. You roll the rowel up the horse’s side, which works better than if it just jabs them. When you roll it, you get new feel with each area the rowel touches. It brings new life to the horse’s hide.”

This is akin to using your leg without a spur. It hangs straight down, and you apply pressure. If you get no response, you move it to a new area to create a different level of feel.

LeeAnn’s spurs are tipped in a little, so she can ride with a straighter foot. “They’re just barely pointed at the horse. With my short legs, I like this type.” Some shorter-legged riders might want to use spurs with shanks that curve up and then bend down. These would give more lift when the rider pressed on the spur.