Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Should whips be banned?

I plagiarized the title from the survey since this was the catalyst for this duo of posts. My answer to the question is no, whips are fine; it is the people who abuse horses with whips/bats/crops, or anything else for that matter, that should be banned.

My standpoint is (as many of the other people in that other group concurred with) that 99% of the equipment that is available to use on horses has some value in training/riding. Depending on what piece of equipment we are talking about, that value ranges from carrying/using the equipment/tool/aid all the time right down to almost never or as a "last resort". I don't do "last resorts".

Let's stick with just the whip- type tool, because a post about all training aids would probably crash the world wide web....just as Al Gore invented the internet, I would single-handedly be responsible for frying it.....LOL

So. My standpoint is that I carry a dressage whip (32-36" because longer is not allowed in the competition arena) on most of the horses I ride. The only time I don't carry one is on a horse that is over-reactive to the whip, and then it is just until I can show the horse (from the ground) that I will not hurt it with the whip (some call it de-sensitizing, but I think horses should be sensitive to the whip, so it is a question of semantics).

The reason I carry a whip is that I communicate with the horse, not through a spoken dialogue, but through a physical one. I communicate with every part of the horse's body by touching, pressing, brushing, tickling, etc. I teach the horse, not to move because he already knows how to do that, but to move in the way that I want--to create the coreography for the dance, as it were....because, think about it; every time we ride, we (the horse and the rider) move together in balance and harmony. The rider is the lead partner, and the horse "follows" in the definition of dance. In otherwords, the horse is submissive and supple to the riders aids, allowing the guidance to "come through" its body and be expressed as it moves over the ground.

Our primary aids (seat, leg, hand) direct this to a certain extent, but when we want to ask for more than the horse understands to give, we have we apply the leg harder? Do we kick? Do we yank on the reins and hope that the horse understands that we want him to step more under with the hind leg, not just go faster or quicker? Or do we touch the horse with the whip a little closer to the hind leg and encourage that quicker, more engaged step from behind without having to be abusive on the reins by kicking the bejeebies out of him and yanking on the reins to prevent him from going faster over the ground? The correctly-applied whip aid helps the horse to understand the degree of "try" that we want.

Now, there are plenty of people who do not use the whip correctly. This group includes the people who abuse the horse with the whip, as well as people who are learning to use the whip correctly. It takes time to learn how, when, how much, and most important--when to cease using the whip. I mean, come on...if we take this to an extreme, we can call tickling or brushing the horse with the whip inavertently or for too long, abuse....because after all, this may annoy the horse, and may even lead to an adverse reaction from the horse, such as ears pinned, scooting forward, kicking out at the whip, or giving you a buck (I am being facetious).

So what is the definition of abuse? To me, if you even touch a horse with a whip when you are angry, frustrated, confused or scared, that is abuse. If you don't know WHY you used the whip (no matter how soft), you are abusing the horse. If you use the whip more than twice without allowing the horse the chance to respond, no matter how soft, you are abusing the horse.
It comes down to, what is the intent of the person using the whip that is the issue.

If you know the reason, are not emotional, try to use the correct timing/intensity/placement, and fail in that moment, you are not abusing the horse. You are human, after all, and you just need more practice. And the horse will forgive you. If you do use the whip in all its infinite ways to communicate with the horse on a higher level, you are not only not abusing the horse, you are creating a powerful and lasting partnership with a creature by communicating with it on ITS terms rather than anthropomorphizing the horse. You are respecting it for being a horse.

And one more thing while I am at it. I do not know ANY valid reason to "hit" or "whip" a horse. Anything beyond a tap is counter-productive and just shows that you do not know how to properly use a whip...which falls into the abuse category.

And that supports my original reply to the question, should whips be banned....

Whips should not be banned, people should. ;-)


  1. Nice post - I agree that whips/spurs can be used - sensitively - to communicate softly with the horse. I choose to communicate with my horse without using either whips or spurs, but's that just the way I choose to do it. That said, heels (without spurs) and hands (on the reins) can be used to abuse a horse just as much as whips or spurs.

  2. I just started reading your blog and I must say I love it! Your honesty and directness are quite refreshing.
    What a great series of posts! I love how you broke everything down and explained it so even a non-horseperson could understand it. In my riding career, I have often found that the objections to our training aids stem from ignorance on the part of the objector. I firmly believe that the antidote to ignorance is education. Kudos to you for explaining the ins (and outs) of a much maligned training aid.

  3. Kate and Shannon, Thank you so much for following the blog, and for your kind comments. I am so grateful that people are reading my blog, and both your observations and additional comments are welcomed! I will be out of town (and offline) for the next 6 days judging a dressage show and giving a clinic, but I will be back soon. Again, thanks to you and all of the people following the blog! TTFN!

  4. Excellent post. I did not start carrying a whip when I rode until I started leasing the horse I am leasing now. Before that point I was always able to get my desired response with just leg aids. This horse was so green and he did not respect my aids and a squeeze, tap, kick sequence didn't help to sensitize him at all. I started carrying a whip and it only took one ride with a tap here and a tap there to get my point across. Now I can see what a valuable tool they are in training, even though I have probably only used it a dozen times since Jan. Before I rode with one every day I thought that they were for people who couldn't sensitize a horse. Now I know that when used appropriately they can make things much clearer.

    As for your definition of abuse...I think it really hits the nail on the head. Thank you for taking the time to write such a well written post.

  5. yes they should be banned ive seen someone smack a horse across the face with one people think becouse they have a whip a horse is a toy but its not so BAN THEM

  6. Hi maria,

    Thank you for your comment. I understand your position about this, but don't you think that when this happens, (and I know that it does, unfortunately), that it should be the PERSON that is banned for abusing their horse, and not the whip, which should be used as an AID, not a weapon?

  7. It depends how the whip is used. If it is used how the jockeys use them then yes they should as that is just cruel, on the other hand, if they are being used as genuine people then no. If a horse is pushing its luck, one little tap with the whip will make the horse come back to behaving itself. it does not to be constantly hit, nor hit hard.