Saturday, March 5, 2016

Something to spur your interest this week.


   “Spurs are no different than a bat or a crop, or a whip. It’s an aid to help get discipline. He should not be afraid of your crop, or your spurs, or your bat or your whip or your romal. He should not be afraid of it. But the way most people use it is, ‘You better be afraid or I’ll hurt you.’ Then he is thinking wrong. A horse doesn’t want to get hurt, no more than you or I. You’re going to have to do something to make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. But you should never do anything to hurt him on purpose."
                              Ray Hunt

Custom spurs by John Jennings SOLD 

The spurs in the image above are just about the prettiest pair of spurs I have ever seen. And I have seen many spurs; from Conquistador Prick spurs to plain English push -on's. I think that these typify the art form to which a pair of spurs should aspire. I  would never let these spurs see the underbelly of a horse. But that is just me. Antique and vintage spurs are a western item that many, many people collect, myself included. New artisans, including John Jennings, should and will, be added to the roster of modern collectible spur makers. Cowboys in the Wild West didn't really think too much about Art, they just wanted a really good pair of spurs, and because they wore all of their wealth on their person, they would often splurge on some 'upgrades'. 

I want this post to speak more to the using spur, the every day spur, the spurs that you may have hanging on your cowboy boots right now. Most of us don't want to wear our 'fancy' spurs out in the working pen, but we still want to buy quality.  

There used to be a horse trainer who lived in my town. I'd go to the supermarket, and I could hear his spurs ringing from two aisles away. One day some smartguy asked this trainer, " Are you a cowboy?"  
 The horse trainer replied, rather proudly, "Yep."
To which the smartguy asked,
"Did you ride your horse here?"

Cowboys are right proud to have a nice pair of spurs, even to the point of wearing them in inappropriate places. 

The appropriate place, of course, is while riding your horse.
Surprisingly a lot of horse people don't wear spurs. There could be a lot of reasons for that, ranging from,
 " Spurs are cruel."
 " I don't know what kind of spur I need."

Spurs, used without thought, can be cruel, but on average the spur is a tool; no more, no less.

If you are wondering where to start when buying a pair, here are a few things to consider.

There are a four styles of Western spurs ( English style spurs are not in my wheel house, so I won't mention them much here. ) 

The spur has three main parts, and to buy, talk about or use a spur, you should know what they are. 

The Yolk or Heel band.

My very own spurs for work. More the Texas style than the California Style.

That is the band that wraps around the heel of your boot.It can be thin or thick. My preference is for thicker. I like the 2 inch band, but most ladies spurs are a bit thinner at 1 inch, like the ones pictures above.

The shank or neck.

The best spurs are made attached to the heel band as one piece. Newer custom spurs are frequently made in two pieces, the shank welded or forged to the heel band, then polished so the seam doesn't show. That is perfectly acceptable. The shank can bend inward at an angle, be swept up like a swan's neck or straight as a pin. The more bend you have in the shank, the shorter distance your leg has to travel. In Western Horsemanship, you don't want your legs to move at all, so a spur with a long shank,(2") curving inward ( either full, one half, or a quarter) might be what you want. One the other hand,while cutting cattle, you wouldn't want to inadvertently spur your horse while turning back a wily steer, so a short straight, shank might suit better. Look to see what kind of spur the riders of your discipline  are using, and ask about them. 

The Rowel

These can be super simple, or wildly ornate. They can be smooth and round as a coin, or spiked as a Texas cactus. The rest of the spur is just a method to wear this strapped to your cowboy boot.

I like to say that riding a horse without spurs is like trying to eat soup with a fork. It can be done, but you are gonna miss a lot of the good stuff. Anyone can strap on a pair of spurs, that's the easy part! A horse needs to be trained to respond to the pressure. The poke and jab method of those old cowboys are a thing of the past. I would advise getting proper instruction on the use of hands, legs and spur from a certified trainer.  All spurs should be an AID to your legs, seat and hands. Riding with spurs won't instantly make you a cowboy, have a well trained horse or improve your  skills.
And always start with the mildest form of spur. Once a horse is dull sided and over spurred, it is very hard to undo the damage.

With that said, here are a few styles to think about. Some I like and use, others; not so much.

The Motivator. 

These are great for a rider just beginning to use spurs, a youth, or for highly sensitive or well trained horses. The weight of the metal against the ribs adds a little extra 'oomph' to your leg commands.

The Ball Spur

I really like to ride with these, especially on a young horse. They are heavy enough to be noticed, but not aggressive. If you get caught in a bronc situation, the weight of your swinging leg won't gouge your mount. It is easy to reinforce your leg aids with a firm nudge from these spurs.

Five Rowel or Cloverleaf

5 pointed rowel on a 1 1/2" band with plain straight leather straps.

Probably the most used spur for recreational riders, these small rowels aren't sharpened. The added rotating rowel can 'feather' up the rib or belly for a subtler cue, or be used in a firmer manner for a pony that isn't paying attention. By pressing with your leg aid, these spurs provide a good tool for a skilled rider.

Rock Grinders

Argentine spurs with rock grinder rowels and an added smooth coin rowel disc on top.Note the heel chains. 

A single rock grinder in the Mexican style.

Some horses are over so over spurred, lazy or in attentive, that the rock grinders- spurs with sharpened rowel points- are drug out. In my opinion if you have to use such an extreme method to make your horse listen, maybe you need to go wayyy back and try to reinforce your basics. I do see these types of spurs used, but I would never advocate them. Instead , they should be elevated to the 'ART FORM' status so they could languish on your collectibles shelf. 

Different parts of the country also wear their spurs differently. The use of chap guards,( the small hook at the top of the spur to keep your chaps from rolling up in your rowel)  heel chains,(used to keep the heel band in place, going under the boot)  and ornamental heel bands show a Mexican or Californio style. Not surprising! California was swarming with Vaquero's from Spain and Mexico during it's heyday, and the fancier styles have stuck with us. 

Cowboys from Texas have a little plainer heel band, more applied decoration and straighter shanks.

Spur straps are an important fashion accessory. The straps have gone from a straight plain piece of  harness leather to something highly decorated. You want bling? You can find them! How about the new fashion of painting the decoration on the leather? It's all good!

For me, a supple usable strap works fine, 

If I've helped anyone learn even a little something about spurs here, I'd love to hear from you!

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