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Types Of Spurs: A Comprehensive Guide To Choosing The Right Spur For You And Your Horse

types of spurs - spur type comparison - aspiring horseman

Spurs, a seemingly small piece of equipment, can significantly impact the communication between rider and horse. But with so many options and styles available, how do you know which suits you and your horse?

This comprehensive guide will explore the fascinating history behind spurs, delve into their anatomy, discuss popular spur designs, and help you choose the perfect spur for your riding discipline.

Key Takeaways

  • Spurs are used to provide subtle, precise control of movements in horsemanship.

  • Spurs come in various types for different riding disciplines and should be chosen after consulting a trainer.

  • When wearing and using spurs, ensure they are appropriate for your skill level.

Understanding Spurs and Their Purpose

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The ancient art of horsemanship would not be complete without spurs, which have been utilized for thousands of years, with their design and purpose evolving over time. Spurs are small metal devices worn on riders' boots to communicate subtly with the horse and provide precise movement control. They enhance communication between rider and horse in various riding activities and disciplines, from working cattle to taking a substantial jump.

However, improper use of spurs can lead to spur rubs, marks, or injuries on the horse's side caused by excessive pressure or friction from the spur.

The Role of Spurs in Horse Riding

Spurs play a significant role in horse riding, enhancing communication between rider and horse across diverse riding activities and disciplines. Round-end spurs, suitable for both English and Western riders, provide a gentle yet effective means of communication with the horse. In contrast, rowel spurs offer more precise communication with a revolving pronged wheel that operates independently from the neck.

Consulting a trainer before using spurs is highly advised for selecting the appropriate type for the specific riding discipline.

The Evolution of Spurs

Spurs have a rich history dating back to ancient times, evolving from simple bone or wood designs to elaborate metal creations that became a mark of rank during the era of chivalry. Early spurs were less ornate, but as knights and members of the royal family began to wear spurs, such as gilded spurs, squires donned silver, and pages were adorned with basic tin spurs. The phrase "earn his spurs" is derived from this custom, as knights advanced in rank, and is still in use today.

Over time, spurs have been adapted to meet the needs of various equestrian disciplines and are now widely used worldwide.

Anatomy of a Spur

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Several key components make up a spur.

These components include:

  • The yoke, which attaches the spur to the rider's boot

  • The shank, which extends from the yoke

  • The rowel, a wheel-like part with multiple points or spikes, which provides contact with the horse's side

Yoke and Heel Band

The yoke is the part of the spur that wraps around the rider's boot, encircling the back of the heel. It is joined to the heel band, which connects the two ends of the yoke, forming a loop that securely wraps around the back of the rider's boot heel.

This connection ensures the spur remains firmly in place during use, allowing the rider to communicate consistently with the horse.

Shank and Rowel

The shank is the stem of the spur that extends from the yoke, while the rowel is the wheel-like part at the end of the shank, featuring multiple points or spikes. The length of the shank is typically determined by the rider's leg length, the horse's barrel, and the type of riding being done.

Ropers often use a shorter shank to prevent inadvertently jabbing the horse, while long shank spurs can provide more precise communication for disciplines that require subtle cues, such as dressage.

Spur Straps

Securing the spur to the rider's boot with a snug and comfortable fit is a vital role played by spur straps. A spur strap can be made of various materials, including leather and synthetic materials.

Properly fitted spur straps help maintain the correct positioning of the spur and prevent it from coming off the rider's boot during use, ensuring effective communication with the horse.

types of spurs - horsemanship tips - aspiring horseman

Spurs come in various shapes and sizes, each designed for specific riding styles and disciplines. From the mild and simple round-end spurs to the more precise rowelled spurs used in Western riding, each type of spur serves a unique purpose and offers distinct advantages to the rider, including the popular bumper spurs. Choosing the right spurs, such as western spurs, for your needs is essential for effective communication with your horse.

Choosing the correct spur for their riding discipline is vital for riders to facilitate effective communication and prevent any discomfort or injury to the horse.

Round End Spurs

Round End Spurs:

  • Feature a rounded tip

  • Known for their simplicity, mild pressure application, and ease of use

  • Suitable for both English and Western riders

  • Provide a gentle yet effective means of communication with the horse

​These spurs are great for beginners or experienced riders who prefer a more subtle approach to communicating with their equine partner.

Knob End Spurs

Knob End Spurs have a rounded tip fashioned in an irregular "knob" shape, offering a slightly different feel and application than Round End Spurs. They are typically constructed of stainless steel and can be used for various equestrian activities, making them a versatile option for riders in multiple disciplines.

Prince of Wales Spurs

Commonly used in English riding, Prince of Wales Spurs are often found in equestrian competitions or schooling environments. These spurs feature a flat end and are suitable for riders who require more direct communication with their horse.

They are popular for show jumpers and hunters who must provide precise cues during their performance.

Swan Neck Spurs

Swan Neck Spurs are characterized by their upward curved neck and are a popular choice for dressage riders, particularly those with longer stirrup lengths. The curved neck allows for more precise contact with the horse's side, while the flat end provides a gentle yet effective form of communication.

Nonetheless, the length of the neck might affect the spur's severity, and some competitions may limit the use of this spur's harsher versions.

Waterford Spurs

Waterford Spurs are used in English riding and feature a sizable round metal ball at the end of the shank. They are designed to provide accurate and precise aids to the horse without causing pain, making them a popular choice among riders who prioritize the comfort and well-being of their equine partners.

These spurs are made from stainless steel, ensuring durability and longevity.

Barrel Racing Spurs

Designed specifically for the fast-paced sport of barrel racing, Barrel Racing Spurs are shorter and feature a rowel with small, pointed spikes. They provide precise communication and control during the competition, allowing the rider to guide their horse through tight turns and rapid acceleration using their barrel racing spur.

The pointed rowel helps communicate more precisely between the rider and the horse, permitting better control and maneuverability around the barrels.

Rowelled Spurs

Rowelled Spurs, used in Western riding, are characterized by their revolving pronged wheels that operate independently from the neck. They communicate more precisely with the horse, as the rowel spins and contacts the horse's side when the rider applies pressure with their heel.

Riders using rowelled spurs must confirm they are not sharp or excessively long, as it can lead to discomfort or injury, especially to sensitive horses.

Choosing the Right Spur for Your Riding Discipline

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Selecting the appropriate type of spur for your riding discipline is crucial for effective communication with your horse and ensuring their comfort and well-being. Dressage riders often prefer Waterford or Swan Neck spurs, while show jumpers and hunters typically opt for flatter styles, such as the Prince of Wales spur.

Western riders, on the other hand, often use longer and wider spurs with rotating rowels to communicate better with their horses. When selecting the appropriate spur for your discipline, consulting with a trainer or experienced rider is paramount.

Dressage Spurs

Dressage riders often prefer using Waterford or Swan Neck spurs, as these types provide subtle and precise aids to the horse without causing pain. These spurs stimulate the horse to move forward and maintain a consistent cadence rather than increase speed.

Dressage spurs should be used with care and caution, never causing discomfort or distress to the horse.

Show Jumping and Hunter Spurs

Show jumping and hunter spurs, such as the Prince of Wales spur, are designed to stimulate horse impulsion and forward movement during competitions and training. These spurs provide subtle cues for precise movements and jumping techniques, allowing the rider to:

  • Guide their horse through challenging courses with accuracy and control

  • Encourage impulsion and forward movement

  • Maintain proper form and balance

  • Fine-tune their horse's response to aids

​Riders should use these spurs with a stable leg and a light touch to avoid irritating the horse.

Western Riding Spurs

Western riders often use longer and wider spurs, such as rowelled spurs, to communicate better with their horses during various Western riding disciplines, including reining, cutting, and Western pleasure. The rotating rowel on these spurs allows for more precise cues and signals, making it easier for riders to control their horse's movements and speed.

Western riders need to ensure their spurs are not sharp or excessively long to prevent discomfort or injury to the horse.

Properly Wearing and Using Spurs

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Wearing spurs correctly and using them carefully is paramount for effective and safe use. The shank should point slightly downwards, and the spur should be secured on the spur rest at the back of the boot.

Spurs should be used with a stable leg to avoid irritating or annoying the horse. They are activated by lifting the heel slightly. Remember, spurs are meant to be a reinforcement, not a primary means of communication with your horse. Always start with light, even pressure and increase if necessary.

Fitting Spurs to Your Boots

Spurs should be properly fitted to your riding boots to ensure a secure and comfortable fit. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. The heel band should be secured to the spur ledge of your boot, with the shank facing downwards.

  2. Make sure the fit is neither too tight nor too loose.

  3. If necessary, bend the metal of the spurs to adjust the width for a more suitable fit.

​Properly fitted spurs will stay in place during use, allowing for effective communication with your horse.

Using Spurs Correctly

Correct usage of spurs is vital for your horse's safety and well-being. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Begin by slightly turning your toe to angle the spur's end toward your horse's side.

  2. Bring your lower leg inward to apply pressure with the spur.

  3. Remember to use spurs as a reinforcement, not as your initial reaction.

  4. Start with a light, even pressure, and increase if needed.

​Using spurs correctly can enhance your communication with your horse and improve your overall riding experience.

Spurs in Competition

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Different equestrian competitions have specific rules regarding the types of spurs allowed and prohibited to ensure the horse's and rider's safety. Riders need to familiarize themselves with their event's regulations and use the appropriate type of spurs as required.

By adhering to these rules, riders can ensure a fair and safe competitive environment for all participants.

Allowed Spur Types

Most competitions allow a variety of spurs, depending on the discipline and organization. Generally, spurs with sharp rowels, toothed spurs, and necks exceeding 3.5cm are not allowed, while dummy spurs may be accepted in certain circumstances.

Riders must check the specific rules of their event to confirm they are using the suitable type of spurs.

Restricted or Prohibited Spurs

Some competitions may restrict or prohibit certain types of spurs, such as those with sharp or overly long shanks, to ensure the safety and well-being of the horse. Riders should check their event's regulations and ensure they use allowed spurs that meet the specific criteria set by the competition's governing body.

By adhering to these rules, riders can ensure a fair and safe competitive environment for all participants.


As we've seen, spurs play a significant role in enhancing communication between rider and horse across various riding disciplines.

Understanding the different types of spurs, their anatomy, and their proper use is essential for every rider.

Whether you're a dressage rider, a show jumper, or a Western rider, selecting the right spur for your discipline will ensure effective communication and prevent any discomfort or injury to your horse.

So, explore your options, consult a trainer, and choose the perfect spur to enhance your connection with your equine partner.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there different kinds of spurs?

Yes, different types of spurs are available, such as English Rowelled Spurs Discs, Rollers, and Rollerballs. Each has a distinct design that is intended for specific purposes.

What are the kindest spurs?

Round End Spurs are the kindest spurs available, as they are made of either plastic or metal with rounded, non-sharp shanks. These are ideal for riders just beginning to use spurs or for horses who may be particularly sensitive.

How do I know what spurs to use?

When choosing western riding spurs, consider your boot heel rest, the length of your legs, and the riding you will be doing. Start with small spurs (5mm) and progress to longer ones if needed. Additionally, duller spurs may be best for sensitive horses, while slightly sharper ones may work better for horses that require a quick response to the leg. It's also essential to consult with a professional for advice.

What is the main purpose of spurs?

Spurs improve communication between rider and horse, providing precise control of movements and subtle cues for a better performance. Using spurs, the rider can give clear and consistent signals to the horse, allowing for a smoother and more efficient ride. The rider can also use the spurs to encourage the horse to move forward or to turn one way or the other.

How should I wear and use spurs correctly?

Wear spurs with the shank pointing slightly downwards and secured on the spur rest. Use them with a stable leg and light touch to avoid causing irritation.