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Sunday, 13 February 2011

Old West Spurs

Espuelas or Spurs came from the Mexicans, and were an essential part of any working cowboy's life. Next to his hat and his handmade boots the spurs were what mattered most. Spurs were known by many names in the Old West - persuaders, can openers, diggers, hooks and goughers were just a few of the titles used to describe spurs.

And although the spurs used during the period we call the Old West came from the Mexicans, their origins go back much further. The spur was used by the Celts during the La Tène period (which began in the 5th century BC), and is also mentioned by Xenophon (c. 430 - 354 BC.) Iron or bronze spurs were also used throughout the Roman Empire. The spur also existed in the medieval Arab world. Early spurs had a neck that ended in a point, called a prick, riveted to the heel band. Prick spurs had straight necks in the 11th century and bent ones in the 12th. The earliest form of the horseman's spur armed the heel with a single prick. In England, the rowel spur is shown upon the first seal of Henry III and on monuments of the 13th century, but it does not come into general use until the 14th century. The earliest rowels probably did not revolve but were fixed.

The parts of a spur include:
  • The yoke, branch, or heel band, which wraps around the heel of the boot.
  • The shank or neck, which extends from the back of the heel band and is the area that usually touches the horse
  • The rowel, seen on some spurs, a small revolving wheel or disk with radiating points at the end attached to the shank.
A commonplace Old West spur had a star shaped rowel with gently smoothed and rounded points. For contrary to popular belief that spurs were cruel most cowboys would never dream of using the spurs viciously, and besides the slightest feel of the spur would cause the well trained horse to do whatever his rider wanted. Often the more flamboyant cowboy would add Jinglebobs (dangling metal pendants) that made the spurs jingle jangle as they walked.

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