Why I Wear Spurs

“The most abusive piece of equipment a rider will ever carry is an angry mind.”

©Tamarack Hill Farm

Someone asked, “Why do you wear spurs and carry a whip? Isn’t that abusive?”

Wow. Talk about someone who has been brainwashed by some do-gooder who does’t ride. And they say similar things to all sorts of visuals, for example, an open mouth (“You must have harsh hands.”) Armchair experts are everywhere. Ignore them.

Well, just for starters, having them doesn’t mean using them. Unless you can’t control your legs, which any decent rider can.

Second, “Better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them.”

Jack Le Goff used to say about spurs and whips, “Don’t go to war without a gun.” He didn’t mean beat and spur like some maniac, but if you are galloping down to some ditch and wall and the horse starts mentally backing up, you have some recourse.

©Tamarack Hill Farm
©Tamarack Hill Farm

Frosty, for example, is still in that phase where there are about 101 things every day to which she gives the hairy eyeball—chairs by the side of the ring, cows by the side of the path to the woods, a big rock by the trail, Rett’s plastic wrapped scale for his cows (especially when fluttering in the wind), and so forth.

When she shies sideways and I put my leg there, her tendency is to blow through the restraining leg. She will do it less against a spur than a blunt boot heel.

Or, she starts backing up at the sight of the plastic. I put my leg on. She ignores it. I tap-tap-tap with the dressage whip. She goes forward two steps, backs up three. TAP-TAP harder. She goes. I am creating a conditioned response that means “When you feel a driving aid, that means go forward.”

There is a huge gulf between abuse, training and ineffectual fumbling. Good trainers know the differences. They are not practitioners of the “Dionne Warwick School of Horse Training.”

And what, pray, is the “Dionne Warwick School of Horse Training?” It is derived from one of her songs, “Wishin’ and hopin’ and schemin’ and prayin…”

If you are too ineffectual to create correct responses, you better learn to hope and pray and dream and scheme, because sure as heck what you are doing ain’t getting it done.


About the Author

Named “One of the 50 most influential horsemen of the Twentieth Century” byThe Chronicle of the Horse, Denny Emerson was elected to the USEA Hall of Fame in 2005. He is the only rider to have ever won both a gold medal in eventing and a Tevis Buckle in endurance. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and author of How Good Riders Get Good, and continues to ride and train from his Tamarack Hill Farm in Vermont and Southern Pines, NC.

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