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History of Horse Spurs
 By Saferaphus   •   13th Jul 2018   •   409 views   •   0 comments
The first spurs ever worn could well have been made of wood or bone. But like many things made of natural materials, examples may not have survived the centuries. Spurs show up fairly early in the riding horse human history. By about the 5th century BCE spurs were being used in Northern Europe. Spurs as we know them, have always traditionally made of metal. Historically, they were hand forged out of whatever metal was used at the time; bronze or a mix of metals and then later on, iron. Today they usually are made of metal, but there also spurs made of flexible plastic. These are very lightweight and come in many colors.

History of Horse Spurs

Basic spurs haven’t changed much over the centuries. The earliest went around the rider’s heel and had a straight post on the back that was used to cue the horse. Often this was sharp, obviously intended to prick the horse. Later spurs, made about the 11th century had curved shanks, and shortly thereafter, a disc was added, similar to the rowels of today, but stationary, and unable to spin like rowel spurs.

By the fourteenth century, the age of chivalry was well underway and spurs became a symbol of the wearer’s social rank. Spurs were gilded in precious metals and worn only by royalty or knights in armor. Your rank would have been indicated by what your spurs were gilded in. The less valuable the metal gilding, the lower your rank. Those of the highest rank might also have their spurs set with precious stones and decorated with engraving. These ornate fourteenth century spurs also featured rotating sharp, multi-armed rowels.



By the 15th century, the shanks of the spurs became elongated, able to reach underneath the elaborate armored and caparisoned horses. A knight in heavy armor would be encumbered even though the armor was made to sit a horse in. The long spurs helped cue the horse despite the restricted leg movement. This is the time period from which the phrase ‘earn (or win) your spurs’ originated from. When a knight moved up in the ranks, he would be ceremoniously presented with a new set of spurs. If the knight were demoted however, the shanks of his spurs were cleaved off in a less prestigious ceremony. Occasions like this, in lieu of reality TV, were the time period’s ‘voting off the island’. During major battles, when knights on horseback took a profound drubbing by their enemy, spurs were taken as tokens of the victory.

Elaborate spur designs made it to the new world when the Spaniard first brought horses to the Americas. The Spaniards rode their horses in ornate costume and even the spurs were over the top with rowels up to 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. Today, many spurs worn by those who ride western take design inspiration from those worn in the 14th and 15th century although the rowels, while still sharply pointed are smaller in diameter.

In Northern Europe, the spur was pared down, appearing more utilitarian than decorated. These more practical designs persist today, with a straight or slightly curved shank, and a small plain yoke that fits around the heel of a boot. Antique spurs will appear much smaller than those you can buy today, because the foot size of the average person is much smaller, and the boots or shoes not quite so heavily made. Some English style spurs have a small rotating rowel, and some would argue that this makes them somewhat less harsh, because they roll, than a straight dull prong style spur.

Today there are many styles of spurs available to riders. And, there is controversy about their use. And of course, they may be of purely ceremonial use. Upon graduation, a member of the RCMP will ‘earn their spurs’ and a prestigious ‘Golden Spur’ award is given to worthy officers. You Don't even have to have any connection to horses to wear spurs. Motorcycle riders and those who just like to dress the part and hear that jingle jangle will wear spurs. To which we have a little advice. Don’t squat.
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