Opinions differ widely on the question "Whip when riding: Yes or no?!, opinions differ widely. While some horse owners say that a whip is a real no-go, others see it as an extended arm for finer aids.
The riding crop often has a bad reputation. "I don't need a whip, my horse is afraid of it,!"is what you hear on many farms. Where the bad reputation comes from and why we from #teamsportsfreund think that the bad reputation is completely unjustified, we reveal in our article.
Where does the bad reputation of the riding crop come from?
The whip is a further development of the whip. In German usage, the whip was called Geißel for a long time before the word Peitsche became established. In Bavaria, the whip is still called Goaßl.
The word Peitsche comes from the West Slavic language: In Poland, whip is called bicz (read: bitsch), which in turn is based on the Uroslavic word biti (for beating) and probably comes from the Indo-European word root *bhau (to beat).
From the origin of the word alone, the Peitsche - and thus also the whip - has a negative connotation.
Fear prevents effective horse training
We all know: There are enough horses that have had to make exactly these experiences with whip and crop. The fear of these horses is therefore absolutely justified.
If a horse is subjected to pain or strong psychological pressure with a whip or crop, this is a stressful situation. As a flight animal, the flight reflex automatically kicks in during fear and stress situations - we write about this in detail in our article Sportsfreundliches Pferdetraining: mehr Verständnis, weniger Stress. If the horse cannot flee at that moment because it is held on the lunge line or by the rider with the reins, depending on the type of horse, it will most likely either fall into a stall, which is also commonly called learned helplessness, or try to get rid of the attacker - be it by bucking, kicking, biting or direct attack. Either way, effective training is not possible in this case.
We're from #teamsportsfreund reject horse training that is based on pressure, coercion and pain. However, from our point of view, this form of training has nothing to do with the crop itself. We find that the whip - used correctly - can actually benefit the horse more than it harms it.
If we detach the whip from the idea that it is there to hit and inflict pain, it is basically nothing more than a more or less long stick. At first, a horse encounters this stick neutrally.
If we take this stick in our hand, it extends our arm. It enlarges our body, so to speak.
This means the other way round: It is not the whip that creates negative emotions such as fear and stress in the horse, but we humans who use the whip.
If we create too much pressure with our appearance, we intimidate our horse. Our dominant behaviour is independent of whether we have a crop in our hand or not. However, the whip serves as an amplifier of our behaviour. It increases our physical presence, so to speak.
So if our horse is afraid when he sees us with the whip, we should always work on ourselves as well and lower our whole demeanour a little. But not only a dominant appearance can intimidate our horse. Too much caution can also unsettle our horse. If we humans assume that our horse is afraid of the whip, we also behave differently when we hold it in our hands. We are more cautious and perhaps also a little insecure. But our horse does not know why we are unsure. However, it perceives that our insecurity is related to the strange thing in our hand. The consequence is: our horse reacts to the crop with discomfort or even fear.
The whip in ground work: finer aids and clearer communication
Artificial arm extension is pretty great with proper body language. It allows us to give much more precise and subtle aids. Linda Tellington-Jones even calls the crop a magic wand (wand) because of its "calming and communicative effect". In her book Tellington Training for Horses (Kosmos-Verlag) she writes about the whip: "It is just another means of making your wishes clear to the horse. You can also use it to calm and soothe the horse and almost instantly get it to concentrate."
The crop also plays an important role in Academic Horsemanship, where a distinction is made between the so-called primary aids and the secondary aids. "In ground work, the position of the human body describes the primary aid, the secondary aids can consist of hand and crop!"writes Anja Hass in her essay Das junge Pferd erlernt die Sekundär-Hilfen (The Young Horse Learns the Secondary Aids), published in Band 2 der Reihe Akademische Reitkunst (Müller-Rüschlikon-Verlag) . She goes on to write: "Thus, for learning the shoulder herring, on the one hand the secondary aid is given with the whip in the position of the inner thigh, and on the other hand the position of the human body is changed with a slight turning movement from the hip. The secondary aids help the horse to interpret and understand the primary aids correctly."
A whip helps us to remain clear in our body language during ground work. If we want our horse to step sideways with its hind leg, we do not have to contort ourselves to reach the respective hind leg. Instead, we can simply extend our arm and touch the leg with the crop. Often, even a whip is enough. The crop offers our horse not only a tactile stimulus when it touches the body, but also a visual stimulus. He can therefore react to the whip before it touches his body.
Also, the crop as a visual signal in front of the horse's body can be a much more subtle signal to stop than a jerk on the rope that says: "Now stop a minute" a pull on the rope will always be more unpleasant for the horse than a stick that can be seen in front of the face or that touches the horse's chest - because a touch with the crop does not hurt.
When lunging, it is also not only the whip that puts pressure. If we just stand in the middle and move the whip, it will certainly not make our horse run faster or use its hindquarters more actively. In order to achieve this, we have to put more energy into it ourselves and use our body accordingly. In that case, the whip only reinforces our body language.
Improve awareness of one's own body
However, the crop is not only an extended arm and helps us humans to communicate more precisely with our bodies. In certain situations, the crop can even help the horse to use its body more consciously.
Via the sensory nerve cells in the skin, the horse perceives touch, among other things. If we gently stroke our horse's body with the whip or touch it in a certain place, we can help it to perceive its body and its body boundaries better and to use them more consciously. This is especially helpful when our horse "forgets" its hindquarters and does not place them under the centre of gravity.
The whip can provide more looseness
What is true for ground work is of course also true for riding. When we sit in the saddle, the whip can help us to give finer and more precise aids.
When we want our horse to go faster or to put his hindquarters more under the centre of gravity, we usually use our thighs. If our horse reacts to an impulse of the thigh, that's great. However, it often happens that we start pushing or tapping with our thighs because our horse does not react adequately.
If we press or tap with our thighs, we make ourselves tight in the pelvis. This makes our whole body tight and tense. We can no longer follow our horse's movements in a dynamic and relaxed way or give fine and precise aids. Our tight pelvis in turn restricts our horse's pelvic mobility and through our driving help we prevent our horse from running loosely and placing his hind leg under the centre of gravity.
A light touch with the whip is a much finer driving aid in this case. If we touch our horse at the moment of the downfall, we can achieve that the hind leg swings further forward. By touching the crop, we stimulate the muscles to contract a little more.
The whip can also help us to sensitise our horse to the thigh aid: If the horse does not react as desired to our leg aid, we can reinforce it by tapping it with the whip. Our horse will learn over time what we are asking for with the leg aid and will show this reaction even without the use of the crop. He becomes more attentive.
More balance thanks to whip impulses
We can use the whip not only to drive the horse forward, but also to help our horse achieve more balance. A crooked horse often falls on one shoulder. Here we can ensure that our horse raises his shoulder a little and gets more into balance by tapping the shoulder lightly. In this way, the whip can help us to straighten our horse wonderfully.
If the whip is already used in a relaxed manner during ground work, it can support our seat aids when riding. For example, if we want to ride a leg turn, but our horse only knows this exercise from the ground, we can use the whip to transfer the help from the ground to the saddle, e.g. by touching our horse at the appropriate place and thus making him understand our seat help for the leg turn.
Don't be afraid of the Whip
In order to take away a young horse's fear of the crop right from the beginning, it is helpful to integrate it into the training in a completely relaxed way. Relaxed means: We should not teach our horse that the whip is something special and should get more attention.
Already during grooming the horse can be stroked carefully and with long, relaxing movements with the crop. Stroking with the crop should be repeated constantly - also during training. Here it has the additional positive effect of making our horse more aware of its body limits and helping it, for example, to use its hindquarters better.
Horses that have had bad experiences with the crop in their lives will also benefit from this approach. If the fear of the whiü is too great, training with positive reinforcement (clicker training) could help to take away the fear. We have written a small series about the learning behaviour of horses.
To sum up:
… reinforces our body language.
... helps us to communicate more finely with our horse.
... can improve the horse's perception of its own body.
... helps us to achieve a relaxed seat.
... makes our horse more attentive to our aids.
... prevents dulling towards the thigh aid.
... supports us in straightening our horse.