When Should You Spur?

Learn these guidelines to get your horse to respect your signals.

Spurs should be used as a reinforcement tool, never as punishment. Journal photo

People often ask about spurs – when or if they should use them. That depends on the person and “when or if” he can control the spurs and “when or if” he is aware of when he is using them.

Spurs should not be used as the primary signal.

First, if we are asking the horse to move off one leg, we can start by putting some life in that leg. Then, if the horse does not respond to the leg or legs, reinforcement can come with the spur.

There should be enough respect, or even intimidation, caused by the spurs that we rarely need to use them. When the horse gets too comfortable with or desensitized to the spur, we can have numerous problems. Besides the obvious problem that the horse ignores the request made with the spur, he can also get resentful to the point of switching his tail, or even kicking or bucking.

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We must be sure that the horse first understands our request. He has to understand where we want him to go. It doesn’t do any good to hurry if we are headed in the wrong direction; we will just get to the wrong place faster.

The principle of maintaining respect with your spurs is simple: Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

You can relate it to a child disregarding your warning of something being “hot” in order to touch it for themselves until they feel the burning sensation. A squeeze with our leg or legs is the warning “Hot!” and the contact with the spur is the burning sensation.

The spur should come last, and it should be the last thing you say to the horse. Regardless of what we do to cue the horse, if we ask for something in the same way more than about four times, the horse usually starts getting desensitized.

    • The first signal calls his attention.
    • The second signal lets us measure whether more, less or the same aid is needed.
    • The third signal should err on the side of being too strong so the horse does not ignore it and become desensitized.

Do what it takes with the spur. Too much can cause the horse to panic; too little can lead to resentment rather than respect.

Vaqueros have a unique set of tools including, the hackamore, spade bit, snaffle bit, two rein and bosal. Learn how to properly use these tools and more with AQHA's Vaquero Horse Training Tips eBook.