(“. . . giant hairy exotics ridden by diminutive ladies . . . “)
So when do you start wearing them? Remember, they are supposed to be a tool of refinement, not a force multiplier. In the World of Horse there are bigly unclassical exceptions. But for the moment we will leave out the cleverly recalcitrant pony who has discovered it’s less work to gravitate towards the out gate than to keep going around the arena or giant hairy exotics ridden by diminutive ladies whose legs barely come past the saddle flap. Feel free to add to this list.
To be serious for a moment, two things to remember: In Dressage Life you shouldn’t wear spurs until your legs are stable enough that you can use them selectively, and as Steffen Peters reminds us, you must never use your spurs to sustain a movement–no nagging!
That said, we move on …
On the subject of spurs, Colonel Sommer told the story of a rider who only ever wore one. He figured if he could make one side of the horse go where he wanted, the other side would come along.
I tested that premise once in real life. I had been asked to show a combined driving horse in a ridden dressage test—something he had never done. He had also never gone in public without blinkers, and he was very leery of his surroundings including the white boards and the letters. He was not afraid of the whip per se, but he was terrified of seeing it switch from one side to the other behind his head. On the warm-up day I had accidentally started a spur mark on his left flank as I tried to get him somewhere near C. Bad! The solution was not to wear the left spur in the test and to carry the whip on that side. The complication was that since he would not allow me to switch the whip, I had to carry it the whole time in that hand and reinforce my right leg when needed with a spur only on that boot. I can hear purists saying, “This horse clearly did not belong in the show ring yet,” and I wouldn’t begin to disagree. But there we were.
One final item—As I have probably related more times than you’ve wished to hear, I started riding as a young adult during the summer between high school and college. I took the deep immersion approach, had lessons every alternate day, rode like crazy, and after nine weeks went fox hunting for the first time right before I left for school. During those weeks I was first exposed to a whole different world—totally unlike my suburban upbringing—and I had developed an unexpected but deep emotional affinity for the people and the land itself as well as for the horses.
In my homesick, freshman-like way, I thought of them often as I tried to adjust to life as a flea in an overwhelming Ivy League environment. I thought considerably less of the other part of my summer which was working on an 18,000 hen egg farm.(after which I didn’t want to look at an egg for years!) One afternoon a roommate brought me a cryptic postcard from my friends on the farm which alluded to a package waiting for me and the comment, “You’ve finally earned your spurs!” I was thrilled both to be remembered and to get some positive indication of my prowess as a rider. Eagerly I tore the brown paper open expecting to find gleaming metal spurs. Instead the box contained two disembodied lower legs from a chicken—one who like a certain percentage of her sisters had developed rooster-like heels. Yes, these were to be my new spurs!