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Why Cowboy Boots Have Spurs? Plus 5 Tips For Using Them

Last updated: November 21, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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Cowboy boots often feature spurs, a tool designed to enhance communication between a rider and their horse. Spurs, when attached to the heel of cowboy boots, enable the rider to deliver precise commands. A gentle tap of the spurs can signal the horse to accelerate, move laterally, slow down, or change direction, aiding in focused and effective horse riding.

Contrary to some misconceptions, when used properly, spurs are not inhumane and do not harm the horse. Instead, they serve as a beneficial aid in equestrian activities. This article explores the purpose of spurs on cowboy boots and offers five practical tips for their use, ensuring rider comfort and horse welfare.

Why Spurs are Worn on Cowboy Boots.

Spurs are metallic instruments worn around the heels of riding boots. They have three main parts: the yoke, neck, and rowel. The yoke is the part that slides around the heel of the boot; some people call this the heel band.

Picture of spurs on kids cowboy boots.

The neck (or shank) extends out from the center of the yoke at the rear of the heel, and it holds the rowel, the spinning disk with points. Spurs are aids intended to help guide the movements of a horse.

These spurs are kept in place by crescent-shaped leather “spur straps.” In olden times, cowboys would fix small pendants to the shaft of their spurs, calling them “jingle bobs” because of the jingling sounds they produced.

You can still buy Jingle Bob spurs if you like to hear the sound of your spurs when you walk. Check out Tough-1 BS Jingle Bob Spurs for sale on Amazon; they spin and jingle when you walk.

Buy on Amazon

Today, some cowboys wear spurs with their cowboy boots as a fashion accessory without any practical function. But most spurs are used when riding horses to command their movements.

picture of a person wearing spurs on their cowboy boots,

You can check out the different styles for sale on Amazon by clicking here. You see spurs with varying neck lengths, rowel designs, and even ones made with balls instead of rowels.

The purpose of spurs on cowboy boots.

Spurs are used to fine-tune commands and enhance leg, seat, hand, and voice gestures to control horses. They facilitate effective communication between the rider and the horse. Through subtle signals, a rider can use spurs to motivate a horse to move forward, pick up the pace, move to the side, or even turn around.

It doesn’t take much pressure; you barely touch the horse’s thigh with the spur to guide its movement. And through hours of riding and training horses, learn to understand the messages you convey with spurs. But how does it know how to react? Well, because it has been trained to know what to do and when to do it.

It knows it’s done well when you release the horse from the spur’s touch. It’s a pressure-and-release system of training, not unlike many other training methods. Now, horses aren’t the only ones needing training- riders must be trained, too.

As they say, riders must ‘earn their spurs.’ If the horse kicks, bucks pin its ears, or just gives off tensed, agitated vibes- stop; you’re doing something wrong! If you accidentally touch the horse with the spur, you’re giving it mixed signals, so it doesn’t know what to do. The better trained you and your horse are, the easier you can communicate via spurs.

Otherwise, it’s like you’re speaking louder to a foreigner who wouldn’t understand anyway because they don’t speak the language. I’ve never been trained to ride with spurs, so I don’t ride with them.

But my son-in-law grew up riding with spurs and loves using them. His entire family rides with spurs and says they wouldn’t want to ride without them. I can tell already that my grandson will grow up to ride with spurs like his daddy.

Picture of English stirrups,

Do Spurs Hurt The Horse?

Spurs are not cruel inventions; they don’t hurt horses when used correctly. The horse is supposed to feel pressure, not pain when poked.

Spurs that can wound the animal are inhumane, and using them to injure a horse is illegal for obvious reasons. The spurs are an extension of your feet and shouldn’t be pointy. When you buy your spurs, ensure they are rounded and not pointed before using them.

The tips might become a bit sharp over time, so watch for that. The spur should also not be too long. If you’re unsure, consult a professional with experience riding with spurs to choose the right pair for you.

Also, remember that not all horses need spurs. ‘Then, why use them at all, you might ask, because they are gentler- yes. They tend to elicit quicker and more precise reactions from the horse if you and the animal are trained correctly to work with spurs.

If you want to ride with spurs but are worried about hurting your horse, some spurs are designed with special ends to prevent injuring horses. One option is the Coronet Soft Touch Roller Ball Humane Spurs.

These spurs have a rollerball instead of a pointy rowel and work great for sensitive horses. The area of the spur that touches the horse is smooth and humane. You can click here to read what Amazon customers say about these spurs.

Picture of roller ball spurs.
Horze Roller Ball Spurs – 20 mm

Did Cowboys Really Wear Spurs?

Yes, cowboy really wore spurs and still do, actually. Spurs have been around since the Iron Age. Romans would even use them in combat. However, western movies often don’t use real spurs simply because actors aren’t trained to use them.

Spurs are not meant to serve as a disciplining tool, and riders know that. They value their horses, and most of the time, they know not to mistreat them. If you have mastered the art of riding with spurs, don’t shy away from using them. Mere touches should be enough most of the time, so put pressure only when and as needed.

Over time, you will develop a nonverbal connection with your horse, and it will probably understand what you want simply by a gentle nudge of your legs. Spurs are beneficial to gain control over the horse, but only if the horse is trained correctly and if and only if used correctly.

The bottom line is that spurs should enhance communication, not distort it. Therefore, use as little pressure with spurs as possible but as much as you need.

Can you wear spurs with any cowboy boots?

Spurs fit most cowboy boots, and you only need to check the rear portion of the boots to ensure it has a spur ledge. The spur ledge is the part of the boot that extends beyond the heel and prevents the spur yoke from slipping off.

Every pair of cowboy boots I’ve seen has a spur ledge. My favorite boots for riding are Justin Ropers. I cover these boots and two others in an article you can read here: The 3 Best Cowboy Boots for Western Horseback Riding.

How do you put spurs on cowboy boots?

Spurs are designed to attach to cowboy boots with two small leather straps that connect in front of your boots like a simple belt. The ends of the leather straps fasten to the spur yoke by sliding its holes onto the yoke buttons.

When you put your spurs on your boots, ensure they are tight enough to prevent them from slipping past your heel ledge; this is your primary consideration. Your spurs should fit snugly but not tight.

If you’re in the market for new leather straps for your spurs, Amazon has a large selection you can check out here.

Tips for using spurs:

  • Don’t ride a horse with spurs unless you’ve been trained in their use. This is critical because improperly using spurs can damage a good horse.
  • Only use spurs on horses that are trained with leg cues.
  • Cue your horse with your legs even while riding with spurs; only use the spurs when the animal misses a cue or makes a mistake, and then you slightly touch the horse with the spurs to get its attention.
  • Adjust your spurs to ride comfortably without inadvertently hitting your horse with the rowels.
  • Ride sparingly with Spurs. My son-in-law rides horses daily but only puts his spurs on when he works cows. His horse gets excited when he rides with his spurs and anticipates a fun-filled day.

Below is a helpful YouTube video explaining how to use spurs correctly.

YouTube video


Are spurs cruel to horses?

No. Spurs are often used by riders to cue their horses to move forward. However, if misused, they can cause skin scratches, bleeding, and other pain. As a result, spurs should only be worn by experienced riders who know how to use them correctly.

What are spurs used for?

Riders use spurs to communicate with their horse. While spurs are most commonly associated with cowboy culture, they are a valuable tool for various riding disciplines. They can help a rider achieve subtle and effective communication with their horse when used correctly.