Jennifer specializes in articles about horse training, care, and purchasing.
Proper Use of a Whip on Horses
The whip, correctly used, is a signal to the horse, not a means of punishment. This does not mean a crop or whip is never used for correction or discipline, but it does mean that a good horseman never actually beats the horse.
The crop or whip is generally used only once, and its most common use is to emphasize a forward command. A driver may say "walk on" and then, if the horse does not respond, lightly touch its rump with the whip.
When riding, I might tap a horse behind my leg with a crop if it is completely not responding to the leg. I don't always carry a crop, but I do carry one if I am riding a lazy, dominant or extremely green horse.
Horses speak to each other with body language. Tapping a horse with a crop is closer, in their mind, to "shouting" than to "spanking." There are quite a few different kinds of crops and whips, each intended for a different purpose. Here are a few of them.
The most common whip used when riding is a crop. Riding crops vary somewhat in length, but they are generally between 24 and 30 inches long. They have a fiberglass or cane rod covered in fabric or leather—leather crops are generally more expensive.
They can come in every imaginable color, including a few you would rather not imagine. The rod is fairly flexible.
The crop has a handle at one end, usually formed by wrapping extra layers of fabric or leather over the rod. At the top is a pommel, which may be covered in leather or fabric, or may be metal.
The "business" end has either a loop of fabric or leather or two short flaps. Crops normally have a wrist strap, although actually putting your wrist through it is generally considered dangerous. Some people prefer to remove the strap.
Crops tend to break eventually, and a broken crop should not be used.
The crop is used just behind the leg as a reinforcement tool to encourage forward. When not in use it is generally held in the inside hand (when going on a circle) or, if trail riding, the rider's dominant hand.
The Show Cane
A show cane is never, under any circumstances, used to hit the horse. Like the dummy spurs some dressage riders use, it is purely decorative.
Show canes can be plain or leather-covered, with the latter often being very expensive. It is not unknown for them to be decorated with antlers, horse heads, and other fancy tips.
They may or may not have flappers at the end. A show cane is held, generally, in the rider's inside hand, resting against the horse's shoulder.
Again, show canes are not used on the horse. They are rigid, and some are even steel-reinforced to make them last longer, and thus would be a tool of abuse if you actually hit a horse with one.
They are used purely to look good and most often seen in hunter classes, used by riders riding finished horses or ponies.
The Hunting Whip
The hunting whip or English hunting whip is rarely seen outside of the hunt field. It consists of a cane similar to a show cane (and like a show cane is not for use on the horse), with either a 5' or 7' lash attached.
The purpose of the hunting whip is to keep the hounds from getting under the horse's feet. It is designed so that the rider can flick the long lash at a dog without taking his or her hands off the reins.
The lash itself is normally attached in a breakaway manner, so that if the horse steps on it, it comes free, and when the field is "in flight," is normally coiled up into the rider's hand.
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The Dressage Whip
A dressage whip is similar to a crop, but longer, generally 45", and with a short lash. It is designed so the rider can tap the horse behind the leg without taking his or her hands off the reins.
The purpose of a dressage whip is to assist in training exercises in which the horse's front and hind end move independently.
A dressage whip is never used to correct a horse, but solely to make clear initial signals when teaching such movements as turn on the forehand.
Eventually, the intent is always to remove the whip from the equation. Whips of any kind are prohibited in the dressage arena.
The dressage whip is also used by all sidesaddle riders, carried on the right side. It is used to replace the aids normally given by the right leg when riding astride.
The Lunge Whip
The lunge whip is used solely when lunging or doing liberty work with a horse. It is a signal and a means of controlling the horse's hindquarters and speed.
The whip is pointed towards the front of the horse to ask for slow and towards the back to ask for an increase in speed.
A lunge whip should seldom be used to touch the horse. Lunge whips vary in length, anywhere from 45 inches to seven and a half feet and it is even possible to buy adjustable ones. (The very short ones are intended for working with ponies).
The whip also has a long lash, usually a little shorter than the rod. The length should be appropriate to the size of the horse and the area in which you are working.
The Driving Whip
As a carriage driver does not have legs and seat, the driving or carriage whip is used along with the voice to provide a forward signal.
Carriage whips are generally about 60–70 inches long, with shorter ones available for driving ponies or minis. The length of the whip required depends on the turnout—size and number of horses and type of cart or carriage used.
The whip is used to very lightly signal the horse forward and is normally held in the driver's right hand. Most carriages have a socket in which the whip is placed when not in use.
The Jumping Bat
A jumping bat is a very short crop, often less than two feet long, and with a larger flapper than normal crops. Otherwise, the jumping bat is identical to a riding crop except in its use.
The jumping bat is seen solely in the jumping ring or when training jumpers. It is used as a signal to teach, remind or encourage the horse to properly "tuck" its front end.
Some people do not believe jumping bats are particularly effective. Because they are so short, they are only ever used on the horse's shoulder, which can cause some horses to slow down.
With the exception of the driving whip and lunge whip, all the whips mentioned before are used by English riders.
Western riders are less inclined to carry crops, as in the traditional use of their discipline one hand was needed free to handle a rope. Instead, a western rider normally uses spurs to reinforce forward aids.
However, before the 1900s, most cowboys carried a kind of whip called a quirt. The quirt has a loop that goes over the wrist (thus keeping the hand free), then a short handle covered in leather and finally a ten-inch or so lash.
Quirts are not seen as much today, but are still in use in some places. Some quirts have two tails. These are generally called horse quirts or dog quirts. The quirt hangs over the rider's wrist or the saddle horn when not in use.
Some quirts have no handle, but only a thicker braided lash, and are used by wrapping the hand around the lash. The lash may or may not be forked or split. Sometimes a longer style, up to four feet, is seen.
A "romal" is a quirt attached to the end of the reins, which is not used on the horse, but rather to encourage recalcitrant cattle. This is generally seen only in the vaquero tradition.
Again, quirts are not used as much in modern western riding. In fact, the only time I've personally seen them used is when working with mules.
The use of the whip in horse racing is controversial. Jockeys, determined to win, are cited for misuse or abuse of the whip regularly. The kind of whip that can be used and how many times the horse can be hit with it are regulated by the various racing bodies.
A racing whip is short with a short handle and a very long flapper, and jockeys often lift their hand very high to use it. However, the whip is not always used (or needed) and the better jockeys often only 'show' the horse the whip as a signal that the finish line is coming up and it's time to try and find an extra gear.
In racing, a horse is often praised for winning under a 'hand ride,' meaning that the jockey did not need to use the whip.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 jenniferrpovey
Melissa Bishop on December 19, 2019:
These restrictions have "reduced horse fatalities by less that 20%"
Race horse fatalities could be GREATLY reduced if they stopped racing 2 year old babies who's bones and tendons are not mature. Wait until 4 or 5 years old when they have finished growing. Of course, that would not be financially feasible. Its all about money.
Emma Flores from Maryland on November 03, 2018:
Yah,I agree with miss Emily.
Emily McLaughlin on July 28, 2018:
The quirt is actually commonly seen in barrel racing. Many barrel racers carry either the over and under, or the quirt.