Spurs have a long history as a versatile tool for improving communication between rider and mount. From the Celts and the Greeks thousands of years ago through cowboy fame in the last few hundred years to modern western events and equitation, the spur has been used as a training device, a tool for adding emphasis to a command, and a means for conveying more specific instructions.
Spurs are an important piece of riding equipment and every rider should have some experience using them. To choose the right western spurs for each individual situation, a look at the two main parts of a spur is necessary.
The rowel, the business end of the spur, is usually a small toothed wheel although occasionally consists of a simple ball. Because spurs are often used with a rolling motion, the number of teeth and their spacing makes a distinct difference in the message being given to the horse. Fewer teeth spaced far apart have much more bite and create more of a jab. Used with care, these spurs can serve well to tell a horse that a prompt and emphatic response is required. Horses with “thick sides” that are extremely unresponsive to leg cues might require this type of rowel. Rowels with more numerous teeth and fitted close together are gentler and perfect for horses whose sides are sensitive and who respond better to more specific cues than the full-length press of a leg.
The shank is the arm that holds the rowel out from the rider’s boot. For riders with long legs on horses with short barrels, a long shank will give the rider a better point of contact with the horse without requiring an extreme posture shift. Riders with short legs on extremely round-shaped mounts might also need spurs in this way. A shank that is too short can force a rider to swivel the foot, which throws off the rider’s form, increases the force of the motion, and can send a confusing message to the horse. Properly fitted, a shorter shank can be useful for more subtle cues to the mount, as well as reducing a rider’s dependence on spurs.
Choosing the right western spurs is easiest when considering how they will be most used. The needs of specific horses and events, as well as the ability levels of the riders, will create the proper equation of rowel and shank. To be sure of proper fit, riders should try on spurs only with the boots on which they will be used.
Why I use Spurs - Julie Goodnight