Plain or fancy, these functional pieces of equipment have much more to say than just “giddyup.”
By Kelli Neubert
July 22, 2016
Spurs, hooks, persuaders or tin belles—call them what you will. Either way, they can be serious head turners.
Yes, I’ll admit, even I do it.
When I hear that clink-ca-chink of spurs singing from the heel of walking boots, crossing the floor of a store or restaurant, I can’t help but sneak a peek at who’s wearing them.
There’s just something about spurs and the Western world that go hand-in-hand. Yes, there is a lot of utility behind them, but beyond that they can be a beautiful and unique statement, not to mention a collectible piece of artistry.
First off, let’s establish that they are not a universal “fix-all” tool for every horse, rider and situation. They need to be approached with a sense of regard and responsibility. From the time that infantrymen first rode for the US Calvary, it has been considered an esteemed privilege to even be allowed to use spurs. A rider could only wear them once he was able to prove his competency horseback, and the term “earn your spurs” is a time-honored custom still used today.
The spur is a symbol of the tradition, uniqueness and functionality of the American cowboy. As with most of our equine equipment, a lot can be told through the design and purpose of an individual’s spurs. Many cowboys and trainers have a stockpile of them, sporting many different bands, shanks and rowels, depending on the horses in their string and the task at hand. Some riders choose to have just one or two similar, versatile pairs to be used day-in and day-out, and others opt to ride bare-heeled, sans spur.
When I was younger, I just assumed that spurs were needed to make a lazy horse go. As I’ve delved deeper into my quest for knowledge and horsemanship, I’ve learned that there is much more to the metal riding aid attached to our boot heels. Though an unfortunate and devastating tool when used incorrectly, a spur can be a respected and helpful mechanism to refine commands and intentions when training a horse. They help pinpoint cues to specific areas and offer a little more clarity when we ask our horses to move their feet both forward and laterally. They can bring more dimension to our horsemanship and can communicate pressure in more concentrated areas than just our bare heels are able to do.
But enough about function—what about style? The best part about having spurs is the individuality that they express. Most spurs tell an entire story through their style, silverwork, rowels and shanks. (Side hint: If you are bad with names, check a cowboy’s spurs. Often they will sport the owner’s first name, nickname or initials somewhere on the band.)
Buckaroos who honor the vaquero and California traditions seem to favor intricate, beautiful silverwork and ornate shanks and rowels. Cowboys on the plains of Texas and Oklahoma still appreciate silverwork, but the style and approach to the flowers and scrolls is not as fancy as what you see on the West Coast. Some riders prefer bling, others are more suited toward plain and simple. Some want just a small bump of a rowel, while others enjoy the look and feel of a large Spanish rowel, complete with ringing jingle-bobs and blued silver.
Custom made, handed down or store-bought, spurs are just another widely used tool of the equine world that pairs form with function. (And yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to leave them on your boots after riding.)
That being said, if you happen to have lunch at a little café in North Texas and you hear a pair of spurs walk through that door, go ahead and sneak a peek.
And if those spurs happen to have an armadillo and cactus on one side, a bear with oak leaves on the other, fairly dull rowels and piteado straps, buckled on the inside, be sure to come over and say hello. (Because chances are, I’ve been checking out your spurs, too!)