In the new Western Horseman book, Ride Smarter: On to the Next Level of Horsemanship, popular horseman, clinician and 2010 Road to the Horse Champion Craig Cameron helps readers learn to see things from a horse’s perspective.
Cameron builds on the topics introduced in his 2004 book, Ride Smart, and offers advice on a variety of topics, including horse selection, bit choices, disciplining a horse, cross-training between arena and trail, using patterns and obstacles to advance your horse and your horsemanship, traveling with your horse, and problem solving. Each chapter includes “Here’s How,” simple and practical training tips; and “True Story,” a personal anecdote about a memorable experience.
In this “Here’s How” from Chapter 8, “The Use of Cues,” Cameron talks about the importance of learning to use spurs correctly.
The Paycheck Rider
Using your legs and using spurs are two different things. For some people, spurs seem to be nothing more than a fashion statement. But, for any true horseman, spurs are a wonderful tool.
Spurs are not for stabbing and jabbing. They simply help you to be lighter with your horse as you signal or cue him. It takes less effort to get the job done. Many horses tune out a dull heel, but are responsive to even the lightest touch of a spur.
I recommend a short shank and a dull rowel for almost all riders. That way, they can do a better job of controlling the signals they are giving with their spurs.
When I’m riding, I’m very particular about how I place my feet. If I put my foot at the cinch, I’m asking for the horse’s front end to move. If I move my foot back an inch or two, I control his rib cage. If I put my foot back a little bit farther, I control his hindquarters. If I’m consistent in the way I use my spurs, the horse learns those signals quickly, and I am doing a better job of controlling the whole horse.
The spur becomes part of our cue system, just like our hands, seat or legs. As with other cues, the release is as important as the cue itself. That is the reward for the horse. The release is everything. I always tell people to learn to be a “paycheck rider.”
If you have a job, your motivation and main incentive is your paycheck. For the horse, his paycheck is that release. There should always be as much release as there is pressure, whether it is from the bit, your legs or hands, or your spurs. Find the balance with your cues and don’t forget the importance of the release.
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