Monday, August 3, 2009


A discussion came up the other day about the use of whips. I was going to give the whole background story, but it was long a boring, so I deleted it. Suffice it to say, that in a subgroup of a networking site that I am a member of, someone posted a "survey" about the use of whips that I thought took a rather slanted position (as most surveys do) to lead the answers to favor a certain outcome (that whips and their use should be banned). Now, in fairness, not everyone read this into the survey, and the author of the survey denied any preconceived ideas, or alterior motives in the survey.

I still take exception to the survey as it is presented (and true to my nature, was not at all bashful about sharing my viewpoint about the survey itself, and told everyone that read the discussion that I would not participate, and why). There was varied response to my position, and that is fine. I presented a viewpoint, and they could take from it what they would.

I also stated in the discussion that I would be more than happy to share my views in the comment section of the discussion board where the questions were open-ended and required essay type answers, not multiple choice.

The author of the survey was not really interested in this type of forum to get her questions answered, I guess, since she has not posted any directed at me since I made my position on the survey clear.

But I do want to discuss whips--the different types, uses, and abuses, because there is much to discuss. Her bottom line (and the title of the survey) was "should whips be banned?"
In the survey, if you had answered the questions in the affirmative, then it was an absolute. No whips, anywhere, anytime. If you had answered in the negative, he answer-choices would lead the reader of the survey to believe that you condone what most of us would consider abuse.

What kind of survey is that??

Okay--off the survey now, and onto the whip...I will tackle this in two posts, since it is a subject that has many layers. I gave the background, and now I will quantify whips as I see it.

Others may have different opinions, and I really do want to hear how others view whips, so please feel free to add or argue whatever points you want.

The categories of whips and their description as I see it.....

1. The Bat--a short stick (10-16" end-to-end), most of the time with a wrist-loop at the handle end and a wide leather, folded-over flap that is oval or round at the terminal end for "popping" a horse on the shoulder....should be used only on the shoulder, since the rider would have to twist around in the saddle, and take one hand away from the rein and stretch into an uncomfortable position in order to "pop" the horse on the rump or even behind the leg. It would be extremely difficult to physically cause harm to the horse if used even remotely close to the way it was intended. Typically, you see this in hunter-type or jumping-type uses, in which the reluctant horse is popped on the shoulder and the noise gives him encouragement (excites him a bit) just before take-off over the jump. I have also seen this used to correct a young horse that tended to fall over the inside (or outside) shoulder....

2. The Crop--a bit longer than the bat (18-30"), still has a folded over leather flap at the terminal end, but it is thinner, and may be a bit longer from the stick to the fold. This is made to be used much in the same way as the bat, but may be used on a larger horse, and can also be used on the rump since it is longer, and would not put the rider out of position as much as the shorter bat (although the rider still has to take the whip hand off the rein in order to apply the crop behind the saddle). Again, the noise of the popper is the catalyst for the response from the horse in a well-timed and placed pop, not the strength of the pop. I have seen a crop that was dressage-whip length, but had the wide leather popper at the end, and can see a benefit of that in certain applications.

3. The dressage whip--this is a longer (30-48"), thinner, and more or less flexible shaft, very seldom includes a wrist loop (in fact, I have never seen a dressage whip with a wrist-loop), and at the terminal end is a lash (2-3") that may be made of leather or a woven or braided material. This is used to tickle, tap, brush, stroke, or vibrate behind the rider's leg (99% of the time) to encourage the horse to step forward with his hind legs, step more lively (in the higher collection), step over (in the lateral work), or lift its back or bring the hind legs more under by engaging the stomach muscles. This whip is and should be, in my opinion, part of our normal, everyday conversation with our horses......when applied correctly.

4. The in-hand whip--this is longer (48-60"), a bit stiffer generally than the dressage whip, and may carry a lash that is the same or a bit longer (up to 6") than the dressage whip, and is used in the same way, for the same purpose as the dressage whip.....only, from the ground and close to the horse.

5. The Longe whip--the shaft is generally 60" or so, and the lash is 60-80" in addition to the shaft, and is specifically for work on the single longe on the 10-20meter circle. In the educated riders hands, it is mostly used as a signal for the horse (walk/trot/canter, etc.) and does not touch the horse, but uses the noise of the lash end when popped in the air behind or on the side to encourage the horse forward. In more educated and skilled hands, the whip position is also part of the communication, and in the most educated and skilled hands, in addition to the position of the whip, the horse can be touched, flicked, or brushed with the whip on different parts of the body to indicate a higher level of communication. This level of longeing the horse is a wonder and a joy to behold. I fear that this level is becoming very scarce, as is true "in-hand" work. But that is a discussion for a different time.

There are other crops/whips that I know of that I did not mention here because their application is more specialized than the scope of our conversation, and I am sure there are whips out there that I do not know about. But for the sake of not boring you to death, I thought I would limit our conversation to the ones we typically use in the realm of "sporthorses". If I have missed one of the major ones, please let me know.

Next blog will give you my views on use/abuse issues with whips...and maybe other training aids and "aids" if I can't contain myself. ;-) Also, notice my spelling of Longe and Longeing, as we will most assuredly get into this at some point. That will most assuredly be a rant.....LOL


  1. I never use bats or whips - even lunge whips - any more because I no longer need them - same reason I no longer use spurs. I'm able to effectively, and subtly, communicate with my horses without them. I have used a bat as a "secondary" cue - I swat my leg or boot with it to get the horse's attention if it isn't responding to my primary cue. That said, some people are able to use spurs and whips very delicately and precisely to communicate cues - there's nothing wrong with that, although I don't think it's really necessary and is just a matter of conventional riding in certain disciplines, which is OK with me if done properly.

    One thing I'm adamant about - whips and spurs should never, never, never (repeat infinitely) be used to punish a horse - if you use what is supposed to be an aid as a punishment device (same thing with using the bit to punish a horse - this is even worse IMO), how in the world do you expect to ever train your horse to accept, and even more importantly, willing accept your aids if at one moment it's an aid and the next moment it may be transformed into a punishment/torture device?

    [off the soapbox, handed over to someone else to take a turn]

  2. I have no issue with whips, bats, or spurs when used in an intelligently humane way. Again, they are devices to enhance communication and in thoughtful, compassionate hands are not used for abuse. Ideally, they are used at different times in the training process and then are retired when communication between horse and rider are refined.

    It's unfortunate that anyone can acquire these items even without proper instruction in their use. As with many things, there are shades of gray between the black and white. I also take exception to a "survey" that paints an issue without a gray area.

    I look forward to the continuation of your topic.

  3. Kate and Solitairemare--I agree with your comments, and my second post will get into the "application" issue, which I believe is the real point of discussion, not the whip/crop/bat itself. Thanks for your comments, as I will incorporate those into my next to do lessons and chores now. I hope to post the second part tonight.

  4. I definitely agree with all that was said here. At the same time, Kate said she strongly disagrees with the use of these as a punishment. I would like to point out that there is a _fine line_ (i dont know if those italics will turn out) between- persay a horse not understanding a kick and refusing one. Often in these situations a rider will choose to use the same method in both situations- which i believe is humane.

  5. Thanks for the comment, anonymous. It is good to know that people are still coming back and reading (and commenting) on the older posts.
    I am not sure I know what you mean about understanding vs. refusing, and that the same method is humane in each situation--do you mean that using a whip to back up the leg (kick?)is okay whether it is because a horse doesn't understand the leg, or because of refusal to go forward even when they do understand that leg means forward? Maybe I am being dense here...could you elaborate? Thanks!