Why Spurs Are For More Than Just Looks

To most any person raised in the city, the cowboy’s jingling spur rowels might appear to be pure pretension, but the spurs to which they are attached are a very necessary part of his equipment. Not that the cowboy doesn’t enjoy the jingle mind you. In fact, long ago cowboys are known to have fastened small pear-shaped pendants to the axle of the spur rowel and called them “jingle-bobs.” The sole purpose of the jingle-bob is to jingle-jangle when our cowboy walks – typically bow-legged from so many hours in the saddle and typically slowly from, well, so many hours in the saddle.

But purpose is far more important than style to the cowboy. Large-roweled spurs are usually preferred. The larger the rowel the more points it has and many points don’t dig as deeply into a horse’s flank as the few points on a small rowel. Spurs are kept in place on the boot by a broad, crescent-shaped piece of leather laid over the instep referred to, not surprisingly, as a spur strap. Occasionally chains also pass under the boot in front of the heel to anchor the spurs, but if a cowboy’s spurs are well-balanced and custom built, chains are simply not necessary.

Spurs in the Old West

In the old west, a cowboy never buckled on a pair of spurs until he had filed the sharp rowels to make them blunt. Sharp rowels make a horse nervous, so nervous that he will not always give his best effort. Since spurs are used to signal that quick action is needed, and not for cruelty or discipline, sometimes a motion of the leg or calf is sufficient. Usually, though, the mere touch of the spur to the flank is all a well-trained cow horse needs to get the point that quick movement is required to do his job. Cowboys value their horses unlike few other things in the world, so the thought of unkindness – especially towards his working partner – is beyond the cowboy’s comprehension. His spur is merely a signal for the horse to take action.

Spurs (2)
The author relaxing with his spurs on.

If you see (or hear) a cowboy coming with his spurs on, rest assured he is ready for work and so is his horse. So, let’s reflect for a minute on the horse, the recipient of the instant signal. Perhaps, even for a moment, imagine yourself thinking as a horse. What is your signal to quick, decisive action to help a team achieve its goals? For you to achieve your goals?

It’s a matter of focus

I think often we are slow to take action to improve our situation or to get out of a particularly bad situation because we tend to overthink things. We focus on what could go wrong versus what could go right. Every one of us recognizes that our lives would be immensely better if we took the positive actions we’ve been avoiding. Showing interest in that hobby. Taking the first step towards starting our own business. Actually getting in a habit of regular exercise and a better diet. All are goals that we may have, and all require action. Horses are exceptionally effective at working cattle because they don’t pause to sort through all the “what ifs.” They feel the touch of the spur, see the eyes of the cow, and they take action!

I’ve spent large portions of my life analyzing and planning and thinking about something, only to find myself mired in a bog of inaction not much different from a quick sand pit in some old western movie. After all, I’m an accountant, so in addition to my pocket protector and green eyeshade, I was issued a healthy aversion to risk. And risk, or the perception of the negative effects of taking on risk, is what holds so many of us back from taking action. Plus, let’s admit it, it’s easier and safer to not take action. But, is it best?

For General George S. Patton (an accomplished horseman in his own right), decisive action in battle was essential to victory. “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week,” he is quoted as believing. And, I came to learn he was right. So for me, the only way out of the morass of over thinking and under acting was to prove to myself that I was better off taking action, any action, than thinking something through yet again.

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”  

– George S. Patton

Just take any action

I believe if we find ourselves thinking, “I’m waiting for help,” or “the conditions aren’t quite right,” or “I don’t know where to start,” we run the risk of failing to act for the better. We should pause for a moment and then find some action, any action to get us started. And for the risk-adverse crowd, I recognize that sometimes things are so important that a bit of thought and planning is needed. For matters where the risk is measured in terms of life or death, we should spend a bit more time to get it right before we act. I believe, however, that in most circumstances we spend too much time in our lives fearing all the negatives that we subconsciously trade out good, productive action for well-intentioned, albeit unnecessary planning.

The horse and his cowboy always take quick, instinctive action on the open range, and those actions usually always work out for the best. So, the next time you are struggling with what to do to get that business off the ground or how to get out of debt, think like a cowboy and his horse, touch that spur to your belly and take action. Any action, no matter how small, will do. And, I think you’ll find that most any action will help you achieve your goal.

With that, I’ve buckled on my spurs and am off to work some cattle with my horse.

Until next time, happy trails! ★


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