I nearly always carry a whip when I ride. It’s habit more than anything else and I find it a helpful tool.
But the use of a whip is always a hot topic, especially when it comes to public perception of equestrian sport. This week I also saw a really interesting post on Facebook highlighting some recent research about whip use in competition.
The first study this post mentioned was looking at whip use at British Show Jumping competitions from 80cm to 1.25m. The most interesting finding she found was that people who used the whip received more faults than those who didn’t. She also found that no riders who used excessive force (elbow and arm raised above shoulder level) completed their round.
Now while the post interpreted this as maybe the riders don’t understand that using the whip might distress the horse and cause them not to perform as well. I think that it might not be as simple as that. When I look at my own whip use, I use the whip when what I am doing isn’t enough. Which might suggest that the horse is already performing worse than they should be and actually they would receive faults even if they didn’t use the whip. As for excessive use of the whip, if you get to the point where you need to use the whip that much, you probably weren’t going to complete the round anyway. So while this research is interesting, I think it is too hard to say whether it’s a case of the whip actually makes the horse perform worse, or if the whip just doesn’t make a horse perform better.
The second study mentioned in the post was a survey which looked at rider’s whip use and perception. Interestingly, 60% regularly rode with whips and only 30% believed whips caused pain.
Despite this, most respondents supported stricter whip regulations in competition. I think it’s interesting that only 30% said that whips cause pain and I think this is in part due to it depends how it is used. Any whip can be painful, but I personally think that a tap here and there backing up your
leg isn’t painful. I personally would rather see a horse get a tap on the bum with a schooling whip than a boot in the ribs!
My whip use
I have a short whip while out hacking which I press against Scottie’s shoulder to help keep him over when there is something spooky or for a slap on the shoulder if he needs some encouragement to go past something. I carry a long whip while schooling as Scottie can be lazy off the leg and sometimes, he needs a quick tickle on the bum to give a bit more oomph. And when I jump I carry a short jump to give him a quick tap on the shoulder if he needs a bit more encouragement over a jump he doesn’t like the look of. I don’t think any of these situations are a welfare issue for Scottie and I never need to give him any more than a tap.
I am also completely for stricter whip rules in competition. As while I think the whip is a very useful tool, I do see it over used and misused. You might have seen on my instagram that I went to a sport jumping even last week. This involved lots of riders taking incredibly tight turns into fences and several getting refusals. Now to me, this is a big ask for a horse to jump a fence he has only seen for a few strides. But I think it is acceptable to give them a fewtaps on the shoulder on the approach to try and get them to commit.
However, I was disappointed to see the riders give the horse a few big smacks after they refused/ran out. In my opinion the horse hadn’t been naught and had simply not had enough time to read the fence and decided he couldn’t do it. So I think giving them a smack after this isn’t okay. But at the same time, if you give your horse a good set up and line into a fence and they stop/run out, then it might be okay to give them a smack, depending on their experience. So I think changing whip rules especially in competitions involving jumping could be complicated, but it does need to be looked at.
Where do you stand on whips? How often do you use one?