The image of jockeys swinging their arms and continuously whipping horses is familiar to most of us. What is less known is the extensive use of whips in other horse disciplines. Go to any country show or horse event and you will observe that many riders have bits, whips and spurs. These are the three main ways humans inflict direct pain onto horses. I have written many other articles about the pain caused by bits, and I think spurs are self-explanatory, so in this article I am going to explore the use of whips further.
People who ride with whips say they only use it as a back-up to the leg aid or they just wave it around and do not actually hit the horse. I ask if you are not using it then why carry it? The reason people ride with them is because the horse DOES respond to a movement of the whip. So why is this? Unfortunately for several years I was apprenticed to various horse breakers/starters. I was privy to what they did with the horses when the owners were not present, and it was a whole different story to the beautiful picture that the owners saw when they visited. If the horse did anything wrong, whack with the whip, hard. If the horse did not move forward, whack, if the horse misbehaved, whack. Then when the owners came to see how their horse was progressing the horse behaved impeccably, only the slightest twitch of the whip and they would submit to the rider’s requests.
The reason the horse submits to the rider when the whip moves is because they have become programmed to expect the whack. After a while, all it takes is a small movement and the horse responds. This sounds like it works well, except for two huge problems. One, the horse is being abused during the training process. Two, for the rest of their life, every time someone rides with a whip they will expect to be hit, and every time the rider moves the whip they are regressing back to the time when they were whacked. This is no longer an equal partnership, for the horse has been firmly placed in the victim role. If the horse has not been severely hit with a whip in the past, just moving a whip will not engender a response, think about this.
Another problem with humans riding with whips is that they are human. Most humans are not Buddhas. Most of us are still struggling with emotional control, especially in difficult situations or where our egos are in involved. Anyone who has been involved with the show circuit for a while will have seen the competitor who leaves the ring a loser and starts whipping their horse when they get back to the stables for performing badly and losing. Or the rider with a low level of riding skill resorting to hitting the horse with the whip out of frustration because they will not respond. Unfortunately, these and many other situations occur where humans ‘lose it’ and the horse pays.
Also, when riding with a whip it delays the development of riding skills. Some horses have more whoa than go, this is their natural temperament. Learning how to motivate and ride this type of horse forward is a great riding skill and one that needs to be learnt to become an all-round horse person. Using a whip stops the development of this skill set. I recall teaching a group of students one day and one complained that her horse was lazy and would not do anything. I asked if I could ride her horse. I mounted and had no problems asking the horse to move forward at all, the issue was not with the horse but the rider. We tend to always blame the horse for whatever is happening, not look at ourselves. Then if it is the horses’ fault, we can justify using harsher and harsher methods of persuasion to get the horse to perform.
One situation where it may be appropriate to ride with a whip is if the rider has a disability and cannot use leg aids, so uses the whip as a leg. Even then, there are other methods for asking the horse to go forward, such as voice commands, which could be tried. So maybe it is time to throw those whips in the bin and learn some great new skills, good luck!
Written by Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc
Happy Horses Bitless
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