BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS
(If you are an Arsenal supporter then you’re in the wrong place unless you want to read an article about horses).
I am just going to come out and say it. Spurs should only be used if you are a very, VERY good rider. If a rider does not have the skills, knowledge or patience to re-educate a horse with desensitised sides, which is why the majority of bad riders are using them, then spurs are the last thing they need.
It is not my intention to become part of the no bits, no spurs, no anything brigade. Spurs may have their place in the equestrian world, and are traditionally used all over the planet, in my view, to refine the leg aid. An extremely well trained horse may for whatever reason ignore the leg, and I use the word ‘ignore’ loosely. There could be many reasons why the horse has not responded in that particular instance. So strapped to the leg of an expert, one that is aware of their own movements and knows exactly what they are asking of the horse, then yes spurs have their place. But then compare that to someone that has been riding 3 years and are strapping spurs on because they are about to do a pre-novice dressage test, or jump 60 cm at the local show.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that KICKING a horse in the ribs with a blunt piece of metal probably hurts like hell. If in doubt, hand your spurs to a friend and have them punch you in the ribs with them. Many will argue they only use them when necessary, and even when used it will be a jab, not a kick. Really? No-one will convince me an inexperienced rider has such a great command over their legs that they are aware of what their legs are doing 100% of the time. If a rider cannot rule out an accidental jab might just occur – no matter how infrequently – then they shouldn’t be wearing them. Yes horses can ignore the leg, but in many cases they have been taught those flapping, constant nagging legs, at times, mean nothing. If a horse is at the stage where over time, they are frequently ignoring certain aids, then it’s time to readdress your riding skills, not reach for spurs.
Egos should be left in the car, and for good reason. Admitting you may need help and employing a trainer is no failure by any means. This is exactly what you should be doing. By actually admitting the relationship between rider and horse is unravelling to a degree that the horse is ignoring the rider – this is the first step to improving. Strapping spurs on and reaching for a whip with a horse that is already confused about what you are asking is creating a recipe for disaster. What happens when the next piece of equipment fails, reach for an electric cattle prod? No, of course you would be horrified if I suggested such a cruel thing! So then, do you think your horse is happy with your untrained legs that are jabbing metal into his sides?
So where do you go from here?
You go back to basics.
Decide if your walk was perfect before you ask for a trot. Slow, medium, fast walk…was it perfect? I bet it wasn’t. Many of you enter that arena, walk one lap and go into trot to warm up. How do I know you are doing that? Because I used to as well, it was the way I was taught, it’s the way everyone is taught. Even before a lesson, I have been asked many times by the instructor have you warmed up? I was taught a good schooling session always involved walk, trot and canter. Yet how did that instructor even know my walk was perfect, how would have they known how my horse was when entering the arena, how many instructors can even read equine body language? I could have spent 10 minutes at the arena gate booting a rearing horse for all that instructor knows. I could have spent 10 minutes teaching my horse to completely ignore my leg.
A good trainer will know, a trainer that really wants to help you improve will want to see everything you do with that horse.
99% of us, yes including me, that aren’t at the top of our game, are not expert horse riders, do not have an excellent command of every single muscle, aid, movement, presence of mind and seat, so before reaching for those spurs…find yourself an excellent trainer instead.
Here I further discuss the subject of spurs, and give an example of their misuse, including the confusion and discomfort that they can potentially cause:
I am in no way slating this rider, simply because every one of us makes mistakes, no-one can ever say, at least shouldn’t say, they are perfect riders. Unsavoury things have been said about this lady across various social media platforms, yet none of it is helpful. We should all strive to learn from each other, and to increase our knowledge which in turn improves the welfare of the horse. I don’t care who you are, no one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. It is better to be aware of our lack of horsemanship knowledge in order to build our education, than pretend we know everything and remain ignorant.