Do spurs hurt horses? The quick answer is, “It depends on who’s using them and how they’re using them”. So…how do you use spurs correctly on a horse? Spurs are no different than reins, a bit, or even a halter. They are a tool of communication.
Are Halters Cruel?
For example, if you turn around and shake a lead rope with a metal clip too aggressively, what’s going to happen? That clip is going to hit the horse in the jaw and possibly hurt him right? But does that mean halters are cruel? No. It’s the same with your spurs or any other piece of equipment you use on your horse. You can’t use spurs (or any tack) as a form of punishment or unfair consequence for not doing what you wanted fast or good enough. So, do spurs hurt horses? Well, yeah, if you use them the wrong way.
Which Type Spurs Should I Use?
Many people think that a large rowel on a spur looks cruel and must hurt the horse. But, the truth is, the larger the rowel, the less severe the spur is. A small rowel would compare to poking your hand with the point of a pencil. A large rowel would compare to poking your hand with the eraser.
So, how do you use spurs correctly on a horse?
Always give your horse the option of “the good deal” first. For example, let’s say you’re wanting your horse to move forward. You’d first just come in with just your calf and then, if needed, lightly contact the horse with a spur. At this point you gave your horse the opportunity to do what you asked him to do with very little pressure. Did he move? No? Time to amp up the pressure.
As you are adding pressure with a spur, you are also bringing up the life in your body, your seat, and in your reins. The spur is simply an additional signal, not a tool to hurt horses. Don’t sit lifeless on your horse and try to use a spur to get a response.
And the second, and I mean the second he responds, the spur pressure disappears. Over time you will create a horse that’s very light to the touch of your spurs.
Proper timing is essential and stretches across all aspects of horse training. If you’d like to read more about developing your timing, check out my article, ‘How To Train A Horse To Do Anything You Want‘.
So, with all that said, do spurs hurt horses?
The answer: yes and no. Spurs are simply a means to help the rider communicate more efficiently and not intended to hurt the horse. And just as any tool can be used to either wreak havoc or build something great, spurs are no different.
Besides using spurs incorrectly, there are several other common mistakes people make with their horses. I’m doing a free online training webinar where I’ll cover what most people do that hinders their horse’s confidence, willingness, and ability to learn.