In my opinion, there is simply no excuse for the use of spurs in polo. Spurs should be used in some cases by knowledgeable riders who need to bend horses in training around their legs, or to teach their horses to bring their hinds under them.
Spurs should not be used as a "go-forward cue" in polo games. Spurs are often used as a short-cut, a way to avoid spending the time to train the horse or keep it trained.
It is hard to watch a game in which a rider uses great force to slam his spurred heal into the horse's flank, either to get the horse to go faster or in the vain hope of winning a ride-off. Every once in a while, a light colored horse gets a cut from the spur, and there is an uproar among spectators. But in many cases, the blood is not seen on a dark-colored horse or the horse's skin is not cut. It will be just a bruise, painful to the touch, unnoticed by the rider or the spectators.
I care about the welfare of the horse. I also care about the image of our sport. I think the misuse of spurs is one of the main reasons why polo has a bad reputation in some circles.
Recently, Prince Harry was criticized for injuring his gray horse with his spurs. Do you think this is the first time this has happened? How many times has it happened on a bay but gone unnoticed? How many times did the horse suffer from painful bruising but was not cut – and so the bruising remained undetected?
Here are some of the details of the article on the prince: "Animal welfare groups are accusing Britain's Prince Harry of animal cruelty after he continued to play in a polo game after his horse was allegedly wounded by spikes on the royal's riding spurs. The director of Britain's Animal Aid charity told the paper he believes it was a "heartless and utterly selfish thing to do," for the prince to continue playing in a polo match after his horse was injured. "Polo is a very rough activity that causes stress and injuries to horses," Andrew Tyler said. "Spurs are unnecessary for a competent rider and should not be used to punish a horse for the rider's failure to gain an advantage."
Of course, the royal family has come to the prince's defense. A vet has declared that the prince was not at fault. Whatever. The point is that many polo players who do not know how to use spurs use them every time they ride to get that slow horse going. They use them roughly, without any compassion or empathy for the horse.
So, let's ban them. Let's start with interscholastic/intercollegiate polo. At almost every single I/I game that I have watched, I have seen at least one player misuse his or her spurs, heartlessly stabbing the side of the horse. It is both cruel and stupid.
Let's not take shortcuts anymore. Let's teach our young players some basic horsemanship principles. Let's make sure our horses are properly trained. Let's make sure the sport is beautiful.