In the pub the other night a friend and colleague mentioned how much she despises whips which got me thinking.
Coincidentally, I’d been listening to a Monty Roberts interview earlier that day when he also said that he despises whips and that how his goal is to remove it from the Number One spot of Things Most Often Bought in a Tack Shop.
Now I’m not going to advocate that we all start beating the horses, but rather think about why the whip has come to be so popular.
In my daily life I use the lunge whip. It has two uses for me.
A) it means I can work horses on the lunge much more efficiently and correctly as it’s an extension of my arm, and a wave of it backs up my voice aid so the horses become more attuned to my commands. This passes on into my teaching.
B) when you are teaching little children who’s legs aren’t strong, long, or coordinated enough, me standing in the middle of the school holding a lunge whip mimics the lunging process and so the pony is more attuned to me and my voice, more forwards for the child so they can practice their up-downs, and the ponies stay round the outside track. As I’m slightly further away from the kids I can evaluate and teach them better.
So for me the lunge whip is a useful ally, making my life a lot easier, just by having it in my hand. There is always the danger of tripping myself up however.
I can totally see how the lunge whip can be misused and cause abuse. How many times have I seen an amateur whip holder waving it around and it snakes towards the horses heads? Perhaps there should be enforced lessons where a would-be whip holder practices using the whip effectively without a horse. I.e. Keeping it below hock level and not cracking it.
Next we have the short whip, or jumping stick. When competing I barely use it, just a press on the shoulder and Otis knows I means business and that scary jump has to be leapt. I carry one when hacking, again a useful extension of my arm, and may come in necessary with a scary object. Light tap and we mean business!
For my clients I often get them to carry them. Changing the whip over when changing the rein improves their balance and rein contact and leg aids – have you seen people change their whip, drop their reins, give a big wobble and stop? It doesn’t take long to improve coordination.
Again, with kids, holding the whip usually inspires the ponies to be more forward going and we have fewer impressions of windmills from the riders. I always explain that the whip backs up their legs, and if their pony ignores them they can give a little tap. I’d much rather see the odd tap than messy riders who can’t keep rising because they have to do huge kicks with the leg. Kids who get too whip-happy have the whip removed. The ultimate telling off.
Again, I think the whip here is an ally. But all too often clients don’t correlate hitting the pony with the whip to smacking them with their hand. In which case surely it goes back to the instructor who first gave them the whip to explain it’s importance and use. I also think that whips are one of the most reasonably priced piece if rider equipment and comes in such a variety of colours that it is attractive for parents to gift to their child.
I remember my four year old brother bought a seven year old me a red whip for Christmas one year. To prove how little I used it I still had it, fully functional, when I left home aged nineteen.
The Schooling Whip. Now this is the most misused whip, I would say, only because it is often given to novices instead of a short whip, and people don’t understand it’s strength. Because it’s still thin, but much longer than a short whip, it makes a sharper movement and cracks the horse more harshly. Personally, I carry a schooling whip when schooling my horses, but the moment it’s placed against their sides they move forwards. It’s the same reaction Carl Hester gets from Valegro and Uthopia, which makes me feel much better about my tactics.
All to often though, clients and riders are seen applying the same hand-off-rein-tap-behind-saddle technique to a schooling whip, ignorant to the extra forces involved and the fact it evolved to help make horses lighter to the leg aids and help ride and teach more complicated movements.
So to answer the initial question, are whips a friend or foe, I think they are to be treated with respect and understanding, just like the horses themselves. You shouldn’t rule them out as they can be a necessity or a safety net. New whip holders should be taught the correct basic principles for each whip and use it as an aid as opposed to a force. Perhaps the reason whips are so commonly used is due to poor training of the horse, or horses that have worked too hard or monotonously, and the fact they are widely available at a reasonable cost in every colour under the sun. They are the riding school clients ultimate accessory.