WHAT A BLOODY MESS! By Milly Shand is published in Issue 7 of the CONCORDIA INTERNATIONAL EQUESTRIAN MAGAZINE – the current issue and archived issues are free to download and read online.
It was at a National Judges Convention that I realised that the inappropriate use of spurs was largely ignored. This was years ago, but as far as I can tell, little has changed.
To counter the accusation of being ‘ignorant’ and an ‘armchair critic’ I will share with you that at that time I was a British Dressage list four judge, a group two (advanced level) competitor and a trainer who had some time previously developed a deep hatred of kicking horses – especially with spurs.
The format was that a test would be ridden at each level by a National Champion and an eminent guest judge would mark and comment out loud on each movement. Then, equally eminent experts would discuss the test before audience questions were answered.
An advanced combination entered the arena. I remember the sickness that I felt in the pit of my stomach as I watched the rider spurring her horse with nearly every stride that he took. She rode the test. The International Dressage Judge gave his generous marks for each movement – but at no point did he mention or mark down the rider for the use of the spurs.
The audience was very large but I knew that I had to comment, so with my heart pounding I tactfully asked a question:
“When there has been an overuse of the spur in a dressage test should it be marked down in the relevant movement or the collective marks or both?”
The eminent judge replied curtly that ‘of course’ there should be no overuse of the spurs and asked for the next question. The microphone was taken from me. There would be no more conversation on this subject.
Has anything changed since then? Blood caused by spurs now leads to elimination, but spurs must cause pain even without the shedding of blood.
We are led to believe that the spur is there to achieve the most subtle communication with the horse, but look carefully, in reality, there is very often – even with the most advanced of riders – nothing subtle about it.
This article is published in Issue 7 of the CONCORDIA INTERNATIONAL EQUESTRIAN MAGAZINE – the current issue and archived issues are free to download and read online.