If you've ever seen spurs online or at a tack store, you've probably noticed that there are a ton of different kinds of spurs. There are long ones and short ones, sharp ones and dull ones. Spurs, just like a bridle, saddle and a whip, are used to affect your horse's response and reaction to your aids. In short, you use all these tools to refine, reinforce and reward.
Why and when should I use spurs?
Usually, riders use spurs to get a better and quicker reaction from the horse. Spurs are used to encourage your horse to react faster to your leg, as by nature, horses can get dull to your leg.
Also, spurs can be used for precision. A highly advanced dressage rider, for instance, may want a more precise reaction from their horse when riding tempi changes or pirouettes. Spurs can be a great tool to help the horse to react with more precision, without more pressure from the leg.
In addition, some horses that are very sensitive can benefit from the use of spurs. When you use your spur gently on a sensitive horse, it's a clear and light aid for them, and thus works as a great reward.
Before you get spurs, you should ensure that you can ride using all of your aids independently. This means, that you should be able to use your seat without gripping with your legs, and use your hand without it affecting your seat and so on.
You also have to ensure that your horse is ready for spurs. Before you can use spurs on your horse, he/she should be familiar with rhythm, connection, and suppleness. Without these basics, use of spurs will only confuse your horse. Generally, you want to use spurs on a horse that needs help with quickness or better precision.
What kind of spurs do you need?
You should use as little as possible, but as much as you need. Spurs are usually chosen so that it is relative to the reaction of the horse. It's recommended to start with small spurs (5mm) and after a few rides, progress to longer ones, if needed.
Also note that dull spurs may be a great choice for sensitive horses, whereas longer and sharper ones may be better for a horse that needs both quickness to the leg and precision.
Can spurs be used at horse shows?
Spurs can be and are often used in horse shows. Though in showjumping shows the use of spurs is not mandatory, they may still come in handy. The shows are often a stressful place for a horse, and especially nervous horses easily start paying attention to things they shouldn't. Having a little oomph at the edge of your heel to urge your horse to listen more carefully can improve your ride at shows.
In dressage shows, spurs are mandatory. If your horse cannot stand spurs, you are allowed to use fake spurs (the spur frame around your heel, no actual spur).
No matter which discipline you do, it is essential to choose spurs that are good for your horse. A sensitive horse may benefit from having a short, dull spur whereas a horse that needs more "go" than "whoa" may need a longer and a sharper one.
You should test your spurs at home before going to shows with them to ensure you pick the kind of spurs that suit you and your horse.
If you're unsure about what kind of spurs to use on your horse, you can always ask your trainer. And no worries, your magnetic safety stirrups don't affect your spurs - you can still use them normally.