I would like to follow on from an article I wrote previously entitled “How Firm Do You Have To Be?” (June 2013 edition) to look at the issue of carrying a whip. I give so many lessons in which the riders tell me they can’t carry a whip because the horse doesn’t like it or it gets too silly. I often find that when I hear this, I am dealing with a combination where the horse is in charge! Let me explain.
As previously, I am not condoning excessive use of the whip or brutality towards the horse in any way but I do believe there should only be one leader. This is part of the horse’s herding instinct. In fact a rider doesn’t even need to use the whip but they should be able to at least carry one to use if needed to reinforce a leg aid. Carrying a whip should be no different to having the end of your reins hanging down onto the horse’s shoulder or waving your arm to one side – as a fight or flight animal, the horse will become conditioned to these potential threats.
I find it is the most intelligent or cunning horses that play up when the rider carries a whip as having had it used before, the horse knows that the whip can mean a threat to his dominance in the partnership. The horse soon learns that if he gives a little buck or a spin, some rider will become intimidated, put down the whip and the status of the relationship will continue with the horse responding to the rider’s request only to the point the horse is happy to comply. Beyond that limit, many horses (often ponies) dig in the toes and flatly refuse to play the game.
With a more confident rider on board, the same horse often knows when it has met its match and doesn’t put a foot out of place – in other words, the rider has taken leadership while the horse has submitted. With the inexperienced rider attempting to carry a whip, neither party is sure who is actually the leader. This can be dangerous!
Now I’m not suggesting that all inexperienced riders should just pick up the whip and carry it until the horse settles. Some horses can pose a threat to the rider’s confidence and safety when they play up, so for a start, get some professional help. Then try carrying an inconspicuous 10-15 cm stick off a tree before progressing to a short whip.
Once again, you don’t have to use a whip but you should be able to carry it.