Spurs for English Riding

If English is your preferred mode of horseback riding, get the 411 on proper style, fit and usage of spurs.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Acceptable English spurs in the horse-showing pen are unrowelled and shorter than one inch. Journal photo.

Hunt seat horses are prized for their natural forward movement. However, some horses might need an extra bit of encouragement. In hunt seat fence and rail classes, riders with lazy horses often turn to English spurs for that extra push.

Curious about the proper fit and use of these spurs and what styles are acceptable? Three AQHA Professional Horsewomen share their thoughts on the English spur here.

The Aid

The AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations states that optional equipment in English classes can include “spurs of the unrowelled type that are blunt, round or that include a smooth rolling rubber ball and no longer than 1 inch.” Rowelled spurs are unacceptable.

“Spurs are supposed to keep the horse straight, in front of your leg and coming from behind,” AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lainie DeBoer of Forest Lake, Minnesota, says. “They increase the momentum from behind and push the horse up into your hands.”

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Carolyn Rice of Somis, California, says some horses are encouraged to move out simply by the rider wearing spurs to support the leg.

“Many horses do not require a lot of spur pressure as long as they know that the rider has on spurs,” Carolyn says.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman and judge Nancy Sue Ryan of Nocona, Texas, says spurs should only be used to encourage the horse as an aid, not as punishment.

“The spur needs to be used as an aid to encourage forward and lateral motion of the horse,” Nancy Sue says. “An aid should help. I don’t want my horse to be scared of my hands, my legs or my spurs.”

Spur Style

Though English spurs are far more subdued in design compared to western spurs, hunt seat riders do enjoy spurs of varying styles. AQHA Corporate Partner Professional’s Choice offers several styles, including ones with rounded ends, the “Prince of Wales” blunt ends and subtle embellishments, such as horseshoes, stars or crowns with crystals.

Carolyn says she has seen equitation riders gravitate toward black spurs, but silver spurs are still popular: “There are some very pretty silvered spurs out there that are fun and still fit the conservative profile of a hunt seat rider.”

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Correct Fit

Our experts say you’ll be branded a newbie if you show up at the in-gate with upside down spurs, so be sure your spur shank is curved downward toward your heel if it has any curve to it. A spur that curves up toward the horse’s belly is incorrect.

Nancy Sue says properly fitted spurs will lie just above the spur rest, and your spur strap buckle should be positioned to the outside of the top of your ankle.

“To put your strap on, start on the outside of your foot,” Nancy Sue says. “So, for your left spur, feed the strap into the eye from the top and inside of the left side and slide it under your boot to the bottom of the right eye on the inside. Weave the strap through and buckle it on top, angling to the left just a little. If you have extra strap, tuck it underneath on the left side of your boot.”

Carolyn has seen riders compete incorrectly with spurs placed just above the boot heel in a western style. Spurs that are too big or too tight and slip-on spurs without straps are also incorrect.

“A spur fits properly on the ankle of the rider, resting on the spur rest,” Carolyn says. “The spur should be level, not slanted up or down, and it should not be too loose or too tight on the rider’s boot.”

Lainie has also witnessed riders competing with spurs improperly riding high up on their ankle and tipped upward: “As a judge, I see riders try to use their spurs like they are western spurs. Spurs that are incorrectly fitted drive me nuts.”

Proper Usage

Carolyn incorporates a spur into her aids when she has an educated horse that is sluggish to respond, but she cautions against every rider donning spurs.

“The most important thing is that the rider has control over their legs so that spurs are not being used unintentionally,” Carolyn says. “If a rider does not have adequate leg control, a short crop may be a better tool than a spur.”

Nancy Sue adds spurs to her student’s repertoire only when the rider has demonstrated sufficient leg strength and knowledge to use them sparingly.

“One of the first things I do when I am evaluating a rider-and-horse combination is to take the spurs away from the rider to see if she can use her legs,” Nancy Sue says. “The spurs should be the last thing we add. If you can’t make your horse go forward on your leg, you’re not going to use that spur. So learn to ride with your leg, and if we need to apply the spur for a little extra when we’re showing, then we will.”

Learn how hunter under saddle class got its start, and find out what the judges look for in the class today. Purchase AQHA’s “Hunter Under Saddle Clinic” DVD.

Proper use of the spur is subtle with an English horse, Nancy Sue says, but like many good western horsemen, using this aid is a gradual progression of cues.

“First use your calf, and if your calf isn’t enough, use your heel, and finally, apply your spur to encourage forward motion,” she explains. “The spur is not a weapon. Spurs are not intended to be abusive. They are an aid to encourage communication between your leg and the horse’s belly.”

Lainie categorizes her leg cues as typically being 75 percent leg and 25 percent spur, and cautions against relying on the spur for cues.

“Spurs shouldn’t be your main aid,” Lainie says. “Your main aid should be the back of your heel. It’s important to feel your horse’s sides with your legs. If you only use the spur, you lose the personal connection with your leg to really feel what’s going on with your horse.”

Lainie also suggests varying your use of spurs depending on how responsive your horse is that day.

“Even if you ride your horse with spurs, there might be days where it’s good to take them off. Test the waters without your spurs sometimes. Don’t get stuck in a rut. Try switching to a dressage whip in your training and work to get your leg stronger.”