In today’s modern world, speed and efficiency is the major criteria for any mode of transport. When you speak of transportation, the first to come in mind is a car, an airplane, bus or train.
In the old days, the most basic form of transportation is the use of a horse.
Riding a horse either for working or recreational purposes requires proficiency and skill. This skill is referred to as equestrianism.
The advent of equestrianism gave birth to the creation of various horse equipment and riding aids like the horse saddle, the horse stirrups, horse bridle with reins, and horse spurs.
What Are Horse Spurs?
Horse spurs are metal riding aids designed for directing the movement of any animal you are riding.
The horse spurs come in pairs and are worn on the heels of your riding boots.
Horse spurs are often used in various equestrian disciplines to command horses in support of leg, voice, and hand commands while riding.
Spurs have three components:
- The branch or the yoke, which is the band that you wrap around the heel of your boots.
- The neck or shank that protrudes from the yoke. This part touches your horse.
- The rowels or disk with sharp points attached on the shank.
A horse spur used by the English has a slight difference from the spur used by Western cowboys.
The Invention Of Horse Spurs
The Celts started using spurs during the Iron Age period in 5th century BC.
The earliest spurs date back to the time of the Roman conquest. The type of spurs available were prick spurs.
The Romans used horse spurs to free their hands while steering their horses using their legs during combat.
The Roman Empire used bronze or iron spurs during the 11th century. They redesigned them using bent necks in the 12th century.
The first rowel form of spur was seen on the first seal of Henry III and on monuments in England during the 13th century. It did not become popular until after the 14th century, though.
Medieval Knights wore gilded spurs while squires wore silvered. Spurs were symbols of knighthood.
After the Battle of the Golden Spurs, the Flemish who won against France hang the spurs of the French army as war trophies.
When the rowel design became more popular, the prick design went into a transformation. It became shorter with a thicker neck and dull end similar to what would soon become the modern design called “Prince of Wales”.
The glorious era of the riding spurs were in the 15th century, when spur designs became an art form.
The design became lavish in decoration and engraving. Some say this was due to the abundant availability of precious metals, particularly silver.
The Spanish conquistadors introduced using spurs in Mexico and South America.
The first design were patterned after the English design but later on, the Americans changed it to suit their needs.
Originally, the Americans used solid brass with a slight curve and rowel until the Civil War.
The spurs underwent a design change to a straight neck without the rowel. This became the standard design until World War II when cavalries were replaced by war machines.
Horse spurs were part of the standard cavalry officer’s uniform.
The Advent Of Equestrian Sports
Equestrian training started with the Greek military who trained their horses’ movements to use as attack and evade battle tactics.
Greek Military Commander, Xenophon who was born in 430 BC, made the first written record of horse training.
During the Renaissance period, aristocrats displayed their trained horses during equestrian pageants.
It was in 1912 that equestrian became a competitive sport when introduced in the Olympic Games held in Stockholm.
Equestrian Riding Disciplines
Although there are many riding disciplines pursued by both English and Western riders, there are only three riding disciplines used in the Olympic Games.
Those three are:
- Dressage where horse and rider perform a series of pre-determined events
- Show jumping where rider and horse attempts to clear a series of obstacles by jumping clear off them within a set time limit.
- Eventing where riders compete in three types of dressage, races, cross-country and show jumping in one competition.
Using Spurs In Equestrian Sports Competition
Spurs are used by most equestrian disciplines, albeit subtly. Most equestrian organizations have their own rules regarding the design and use of spurs.
Penalties and sanctions are imposed when manner of use clearly shows animal abuse.
There have been instances during the Olympic Games when riders were disqualified from the competition due to misuse of equestrian spurs.
The only instance when spurs are not use in subtle fashion is on rodeo events.
Rodeo events require riders to buck their horses intentionally and they use spurs to induce a reaction.
Choosing The Right Horse Spurs For Riding
There are many cases when horses suffer cuts, rashes, and unnecessary pain due to the use of spurs.
Spurs can hurt your horse if you do not know how to use it subtly. If you are a beginner in horse riding, do not use riding spurs. A beginner does not have the proper control to use spurs with subtleness.
Another reason why spurs become an object of pain rather than an aid is the use of the wrong type of spurs.
Types of horse spurs
There are various types of horse spurs. You will find that more than one type of spur is applicable to a particular riding discipline.
Choosing a spur based on a riding discipline is easier than choosing based on its different types.
- Dressage uses spurs that have short neck length because the rider’s leg has close contact with the horse. Type of spurs that most dressage riders use are the Swan Neck, the Waterford spur and the Disc spur.
- Show Jumping uses a more flat style spur such as the Prince of Wales style. Prince of Wales style spurs are commonly use as equestrian spurs.
- Western Riding (Rodeo) uses a longer and wider style and commonly has rotating rowels.
The decision to use horse spurs or equestrian spurs depends on your personal preference.
Though history has shown that using them has given horse riders a competitive edge, there is still the fact that if not used correctly riding spurs can be abusive to your animal.
If you are using spurs, take extra precaution to avoid hurting your horse by learning how use them correctly.