Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spurs by Sandra Crowley

Spurs assist reins and a rider’s natural commands of leg, seat, hands, and voice to urge a horse to step forward, sideways, or execute complicated movements such as dressage or a Lipizzaner’s "Airs Above The Ground."
Celts used spurs during the 5th century BC and their usage was also mentioned by the ancient Greek, Xenophon (c 430-354BC), an historian and soldier. In medieval times, squires’ spurs were silvered. A squire traded up when he “won his spurs,” a reference to gaining his knighthood and the gilt spurs that accompanied that honor. Spanish Conquistadors wore Espuela Grande, the “Grand Spur," with rowels as large as six inches.  
The Old West's US Calvary didn't award spurs to its new members, nicknamed "Shave Tails" for their assignment to horses whose tails had been shaved to warn other riders to give the novice more room. It was only after the amateur had proved capability with horse and saber that he was awarded his Spurs. Troopers often spent an entire month's pay to buy distinctive sets engraved with his mount's name, or his sweethearts. The traditional Calvary spur is usually a Prince of Wales type that's also popular in English style riding. It's sleek in design because the rider’s leg is positioned close to the horse and the preferred blunt tip helps provide precise aid guiding the horse into lateral and complex movements, such as pirouettes.

Antique spurs
Western spurs are heavier due to the rough country and have a longer neck to offset the saddle’s longer stirrup set and thicker fender that puts the rider’s leg further from the horse. Metal buttons, either attached to the heel band or to hinges on the heel band, fit through slits in the spur strap to fasten both pieces together. There may also be small curved-up hooks, “chap guards,” on the neck (shank) between the heel band and rowel. The hooks keep the chaps from interfering with the rowels. A tie-down (a short length of chain, leather, or rubber) goes under the instep of the boot, tight against the heel, to stop the spur from rotating upward. Some cowboys add small metal jingle bobs or jingo bobs near the rowel to create a jingling sound whenever they take a step. That’s the jingle fans of Clint Eastwood hear in many of his western movies.

Spur chap guard and jingle bobs
Western spurs are often highly decorated. Silver heel bands, plain or engraved, are popular as are hand-tooled or silver studded/buckled leather straps. Would you believe gem crusted? That one-of-a-kind gift for the lady who has everything.    
Roper's saddle-higher cantle, and taller, heavily wrapped swell/horn.


It only takes a few minutes in the saddle to teach a rider new to spurs how to wear them--a spur’s strap buckle goes on the outside of the boot which positions the spur so that the neck points downward, giving a smooth roll of the rowel against the horse’s side in an upward motion as the rider brings her heel in and back. It’s not the ease of reaching the horse’s side with the spur or the difficulty of making that contact that tells the rider she’s got her spurs on right. If the spur strap buckle rests against the inside of the boot, the stirrup rubs against it, quickly giving the rider a sore spot. Better her than her horse!

In the picture of my husband's roping saddle, you'll notice the leather strap flopped over the bottom spur. That strap is the spur's tie-down, described earlier, that fits between the sole of his boot and his boot heel. Chain is the preferred tie-down as it holds up to the friction and wear of walking. Of course, a cowboy would rather ride his horse five feet than walk that distance. BTW, that roping saddle is ten times heavier than my Australian saddle. The reinforced construction is necessary to stand up to the antics of the animal in the rope's loop!  

Notice the rowels on my spurs in the pic on the lower right are practically smooth while my husband's have a deeper tooth. He's ridden tougher country on less "enjoyable" horses. lol Riding is the one place I want to simply enjoy rather than be challenged. 
My Australian saddle with braided handle rather than horn.

Spurs, like the brothel tokens I posted about last month, have become a popular collectors item. Possibly one of the most famous spur makers was Oscar Crockett. Born in 1887 in Pecos, Texas, he opened his first blacksmith shop in 1916 in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. He left Oklahoma for Kansas City where he worked for or with C. P. Shipley until 1920 when Oscar bought out Shipley’s bit and spur department, creating the Crockett Bit and Spur Company with his uncle, W. Brice. Oscar and his uncle prospered, eventually moving the company to Lenexa, Kansas. By 1940, Crockett Bit and Spur Company supported 18 workers and sold 105 bits and 177 styles of spurs. Oscar made one last move, to Boulder, Colorado, in 1943. His business continued to grow and gain worldwide recognition until his death in 1949 when his wife sold out to James Renalde, owner of the Denver Metals Foundry.
A collectible spur made by Oscar will have “CROCKETT” marked inside it. A “CR” stands for Crockett Renalde. If the spur has an anchor mark, it was made by Judd and Anchor, a rival company.

This post is just a nibble of the fascinating information available on line. I highly recommend you take a few extra minutes and visit the Lipizzaner, US Calvary, and Western spurs links. Thank you. I enjoyed our visit. 

Sandra Crowley
Caught by a Clown, a spicy romantic suspense


  1. Sandy, now I have to go look at the spur I bought at an auction. I love western memorabilia. My husband and coworkers bought their former boss a special set of spurs as a retirement gift. I don't remember the name of the maker, but they were a special gal-leg spur. Great info. I'm so impressed that you and Douglas have your own spurs. LOL

  2. SANDRA--you really know what you're talking about!
    The husband of a longtime friend makes spurs in his garage. He's an old-time cowboy/bull rider, and you would not believe his artistic abilities. They are custom made and cost a small fortune, depending on what the buyer wants. Famous people have bought his spurs, they are in little museums out in Big Bend area, and he has a coffee table book about them.
    I noticed Caroline mention a handmade gift of spurs but couldn't remember the maker.
    The man I'm speaking of is Robert Pruett--could it be him?
    Thanks, Sandra--just a great post.

  3. Thanks, Caroline. I hope you find you bought a true collectible! But, don't be impressed Douglas and I have our own spurs. They're nothing special and neither are our riding skills--just the love of getting further into the back country than we're willing to walk ourselves. lol

    Celia, Thank you for your kind words. Isn't it fun knowing someone who has an unusual talent. I'd love to interview Mr. Pruett. I bet he has some impressive stories that would entertain Driven 2 Danger's readers. Do you think he might be interested?

  4. Interesting post. My dad had an antique pair of spurs someone stole many years ago that were worth a small fortune. He also has a pair made by Chavez--famous maker.

    Most people don't wear/use spurs correctly. Amuses me to see people wear them into the store where I work.

  5. Sandra what fun info on spurs and the pictures are great! I have an old set of spurs in my office hanging on a western coatrack and darned if I know if they were ever worn by a real cowboy or not. Picked them up at a flea market in Houston a long time ago. I have heard that custom spurs are very expensive.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, D'Ann. What a funny visual somebody clinking through the store.

    Marin, we're always on the lookout for old spurs; they turn up in the most unusual places sometimes. And, with fascinating stories.

  7. Sandy, what an interesting post! I enjoyed it so much, especially learning more about the US Calvary and its customs. ~ Ashley


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