nquiring minds (mostly Zip’s) want to know: Do horses work better under the whip? The article linked below speaks specifically to whipping race horses while they’re running, and the answer is a categorical “No”. But does the same answer apply to other horse activities?
The Horse | Do Whips Encourage Racehorses to Run Faster?
This is a huge question that has rattled around the horse world for as long as I can remember. I started riding in 1963, so that’s a pretty good stretch. In Horse Person Years, that’s ten breeches style changes, three jacket color changes, and a move from “hunt seat” with long stirrups, booted toes pointed out in front, to “balanced seat” with the heels-down/toe angled and shorter stirrups. Who knows what will come next? As more riders cross over between English and Western, there’s bling appearing on “rat-catcher” collars and ironed-down simplicity in lieu of sparkle on the other side. Predicting change in the horse world is impossible. It took me years to learn to ride Western with my left arm hanging at my side, just in time for everyone to go to the "holding an invisible rein in your left hand" style. I quit when the hunt coats got so short my spandex-coated derriere was visible to onlookers. My dream of covering flaws with a Shadbelly went belly-up and ass-out when I couldn't quite proceed past Intro Level dressage. So be it. I'll be back when thigh-length jacket resurfaces.
|Name that style! 1963 was not a good year for Horsemen or horses.|
This was a blue-ribbon ride.
But the whip has remained a constant, and the line that is so easily crossed between training and abuse has never been more closely scrutinized. I learned to carry a crop from Day One, though back then that stick (clearly visible in my right hand in the newspaper photo above) was used on the horse’s shoulder, which never made much sense but seemed to get my recalcitrant school horse over the cross-rail. As time and horses rolled by, the short stick gave way to the dressage whip, and shoulder smacks were supplanted by taps on the hip or barrel behind the rider’s leg.
If the last open show I attended is any indication, the current practice of whippage has achieved free-for-all status. Whipping, bit-banging, stud-chain cranking, spurring, and generalized mayhem were in wild evidence all around.
|FFWD 40 years...Still rocking the obvious lack of style, |
but notice the distinct lack of whip.
For my own part, experience has taught me that whipping (in the sense of hard cracking of any part of the horse’s person by the rider with a stick of some sort) serves little purpose other than to piss off the horse. Maybe it’s just my horses. I broke a fiberglass crop over my first Appy gelding’s butt back in 1984. His response was to slam on the brakes and refuse to move again until I got off. Not quite the reaction I’d expected.
Zip, in his over-reactive way, did the same thing in response to just light tapping. I tapped Leo once about five years ago. He kicked at the crop, glared over his shoulder, and waited till he saw the stick hit the ground before he moved on. He does not suffer idiots. Like Leo, Zip watched for me to throw the dressage whip on the ground before he was willing to consider reconciliation, which took two months, by the way—time I could have spent riding in the woods, popping over cross-rails, running poles, and working on the only dressage test I’ve got memorized instead of playing up to Zip’s wounded pride. Burning daylight is never cost-effective.
|No whips on Fancy! We didn't win often, but |
I wouldn't have risked causing her to faint from shock.
Back in the Day, I had a friend who was a terrific barrel racer. She and her horse were brave and fast and looked very cute out there with the wind in their hair. She never saw that every time she used the “over-and-under” (which was pretty much every homeward-bound stride), the horse went slightly vertical instead of the preferred horizontal--wasted energy that sometimes cost a first-place finish.
The question To Whip or Not To Whip will probably be settled in the near future as more and more research is done using fancier methods and equipment. Zip has decided that watching me drop the whip is part of our routine now, so I'll carry it and throw it to make him happy. The rest of my riding friends have their own research results upon which to base their decisions. I suspect the dressage whip-as-cue will survive because it works. The rest...may the sound of a cracking stick die a long-deserved death! Zip has spoken.