Why Cowboy Boots Have Spurs? [Detailed Horse Guide]

If you’re new to cowboy boots, you might wonder, “why do cowboy boots have spurs?”.

Spurs help riders keep their feet in the stirrups while riding and add a bit of flair to the boots. 

While some cowboy boot spurs are purely ornamental, others can be used to prod a horse during training or herding gently.

In this blog post, I’ll explain the history and function of spurs and show you how to use them correctly. Keep reading to learn more.

Key Takeaways

  • Cowboy boots have been around for over a century and are a staple in western fashion.
  • Spurs serve both practical and decorative purposes.
  • Western spurs help keep feet in the stirrups while riding and can also be used to prod a horse during training or herding.

CHECK: Best Western Horse Riding Boots

History Of Spurs

The first spurs were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who used them as WEAPONS in warfare. [1] 

In the Middle Ages, spurs were often decorated with jewels and other adornments, and they became a SYMBOL of status and power.

Eventually, spurs made their way to West America, where cowboys and ranchers adopted them. 

Spurs helped riders KEEP their feet in the stirrups while riding and served as a gentle prod for horses during herding or training.

Today, cowboy boots with spurs are still worn by rodeo riders, cowboys, and western enthusiasts. Spurs are also used in some equestrian disciplines, such as DRESSAGE.

Pro Tip: If you’re new to cowboy boots, be sure to buy a pair that fits well. Spurs should not rub or chafe against your leg.

Different Parts Of Spurs

There are different parts of a spur, and it’s helpful to know the terminology before you buy a pair.

cowboy boots and hat

There are three main parts to a spur:

  • Shank
  • Rowel
  • Heel band


The shank is the part of the spur that RESTS against the rider’s boot. It can be straight, curved, or V-shaped.


The rowel is the rotating disk at the end of the shank. It’s usually made of metal and has sharp points that can be used to prod a horse GENTLY.

Heel Band

The heel band is the part of the spur that wraps around the BACK of the boot. It helps keep the spur in place and can also be decorated with engravings or jewels.

How Do Spurs Work?

Spurs are worn on the BACK of the boot, just below the heel. They are attached to the boot with a leather strap called a spur strap.

When you press your heel down, the rowel (the rotating disk at the end of the spur) comes into contact with the horse’s side. 

The PRESSURE from the rowel encourages the horse to move forward.

Using too much pressure can cause PAIN or irritation to the horse, so it’s important to learn how to use spurs correctly.

Pro Tip: If you’re new to spurs, practice using them on a carrot or some other object before you try them on a horse.

If you’ve ever wondered why cowboy boots have a pointed toe, you might want to check out my article on ‘Why are cowboy boots pointed?’ for some interesting insights.

How To Use Spurs Correctly

Now that you know more about the question, “Why do cowboy boots have spurs,” let’s talk about how to use them correctly.

If you are an inexperienced rider, it’s best to avoid using spurs altogether. It is recommended that only experienced riders use spurs; even then, they should be used GENTLY.

Here are a few tips for using spurs correctly:

When you use spurs, start with gentle pressure and increase the pressure gradually. Listen to your horse’s reactions and stop if tit seems uncomfortable.

It’s also important to clean and lubricate your spurs regularly to prevent them from causing irritation.

Finally, make sure the spur straps are FITTED correctly. The spur should sit snugly against your boot, and the strap should be tight enough that it won’t slip off.

Pro Tip: If your spurs hurt or irritate your horse, try using a softer rowel or rubbing the points down with sandpaper.

Check out this video for more tips:

The Various Types Of Spurs

Now that you know how to use spurs, let’s talk about the available types of spurs. Here are the main types of spurs:

Ornamental Spurs: These spurs are purely DECORATIVE and don’t have any function. Rodeo riders and cowboys often wear them as a part of their uniform.

Training Spurs: These spurs have a ROUNDED rowel that is used to prod the horse during training GENTLY. The rowel is usually made of softer material like leather or rubber.

Performance Spurs: These spurs have a SHARP rowel used to prod the horse’s flank DURING a performance. The rowel is usually made of metal.

Herding Spurs: These spurs have a LONG shank and a sharp rowel used to prod the horse DURING herding.

Eastern Spurs: These cowboy spurs have a shorter shank and rowel used in DRESSAGE (or fake spurs). These are classed as milder spurs and are not as likely to cause pain or irritation.

How To Pick The Right Spurs For You

The first thing to consider is what you’ll be using them for. 

We know that cowboys wear spurs in place of a riding crop, but you could be choosing spurs as part of your riding UNIFORM for dressage, eventing, show jumping, or even racing.

The different disciplines will have their requirements for the type of spur you can wear.

For example, in DRESSAGE, only mild spurs are allowed; these have a shorter shank and rowel to prevent them from causing discomfort to the horse. 

In eventing and show jumping, however, sharper spurs can help the horse respond quickly.

Another thing to consider is the SIZE of the spur. Spurs come in a range of sizes, from small to large. The right size for you will depend on the size of your boot and your personal preference.

Finally, think about the MATERIAL of the spur. Spurs are usually made from metal, leather, or rubber. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages.

Check out more tack tips in this video:

How To Attach Spurs To Boots

Now that you’ve chosen the right spurs, it’s time to attach them to your boots. Here’s how:

  • Thread the spur strap through the loop on the spur.
  • Put your boot through the strap and pull it up snugly against the heel of your boot.
  • Buckle the strap in place.

Make sure it’s tight enough that the spur won’t slip but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable.

Tips For Wearing And Caring For Spurs

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your spurs:

  • Wear them with a comfortable pair of boots to prevent slipping or blisters.
  • Make sure the straps are tight enough that they won’t slip but not so tight that they’re uncomfortable.
  • Be gentle when using the spurs, and don’t use too much force to get the desired result.
  • Regularly clean the metal parts and condition the leather straps.

Do All Cowboy Boots Have Spurs?

You can wear cowboy boots with or without spurs. It’s up to the rider to DECIDE whether to add this extra protection and style to their boots.

If you wear cowboy boot spurs, ensure you understand how to use them correctly and pick a pair that fits well. With a bit of care, your spurs will last for years.

Unusual Laws About Spurs

Did you know there are laws in place regarding spurs? Here are a few of the more unusual ones:

  • It is against the law in Oklahoma to use spurs on a steer unless you’re a licensed cowboy. [2]
  • In California, wearing spurs in public places is illegal. [3]
  • Cowboys cannot wear spurs inside a hotel lobby in Arizona since 2012 as it’s illegal. [4]

It must be tough to be a cowboy in these states! Make sure you know the laws in your area before donning your spurs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will My Horse Get Hurt If I Use Spurs?

If used correctly, spurs should not hurt your horse. However, if you use them improperly or with too much force, they could cause injury.

Can I Use Spurs If I’m A Beginner?

It’s best to wait until you have a good relationship with your horse and understand how to use them correctly before using spurs.

Do Spurs Come in Different Sizes?

Spurs come in different sizes. 
Be sure to pick a comfortable size that won’t slip off. No matter your experience level, spurs can add personality and style to your cowboy boots. They’ll last for years.

What Is The Difference Between a Rowel and a Spur?

A rowel is the rotating metal disk on the end of the spur that is used to prod the horse. The spur is the entire device, including the strap and buckle.


The answer to your question, “Why do cowboy boots have spurs?” is that spurs serve both practical and decorative purposes and come in many different styles.

Whether you’re looking for something purely ornamental or that can be used to prod your horse during training, there’s sure to be a pair of cowboy boot spurs that suit your needs.

cowboy boot with spurs


  1. Cave Creek Museum. Spurs in America’s Southwest – Cave Creek Museum. Cave Creek Museum. Published November 4, 2018. Accessed November 15, 2022. https://cavecreekmuseum.org/spurs-in-americas-southwest/
  2. WARREN J. COLUMN ONE : Cowboys Hanging Up Spurs : Ranchers are hiring foreign hands who will put up with low pay and ha. Los Angeles Times. Published June 6, 1990. Accessed November 15, 2022. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1990-06-06-mn-569-story.html
  3. Chou E. LA City Council calls for ban on the use of electric prods, spurs and other instruments in rodeos. Daily News. Published February 23, 2021. Accessed November 15, 2022. https://www.dailynews.com/2021/02/23/la-city-council-calls-for-ban-on-the-use-of-electric-prods-spurs-and-other-instruments-in-rodeos/
  4. KOLD. ONLY ON KOLD: Strange laws still on the books in Arizona. https://www.kold.com. Published November 27, 2012. Accessed November 15, 2022. https://www.kold.com/story/20189233/only-on-kold-stange-laws-still-on-the-books-in-arizona/

Bryanna Tanase
Bryanna Tanase

Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
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