Spurs have been around for a couple of thousand years, worn by Celtic, Roman, and Arabian horsemen alike. In all that time, the design of spurs has changed little. A spur’s yoke is still secured to the back of the boot heel by straps. At the outside-bottom part of the yoke is a shank, which is often, but not always, adorned at its end with a decorative, spiked, rotating rowel.
While some spurs were made for English riding styles—the Prince of Wales, the Waterford—the spurs of the popular imagination are those made in the 19th-century American west, particularly in the Southwest, where the influence of Mexican jewelers and silversmiths had an huge impact on the design of these tools to spur horses to action.
While English spurs were, for the most part, restrained in their design, Western spurs were big and ornate, supplemented by leather chaps guards. The shanks of English spurs were usually flat or rounded at their ends, intended to command horses in precise movements rather than driving them hard after runaway cattle. Western spurs were loud in design and sound—rowels that were fitted loosely so they’d jingle and jangle are known as pajados.
In recent years, decorative motorcycle spurs have gained popularity among those who prefer iron two-wheeled horses to real ones.