Why use a Dressage Whip?

Posted on June 16, 2017 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, riding, training.

*article by Karl Mikolka

photo Amd Bronkhorst

photo Amd Bronkhorst

 

Why Riders Need Whips
I frequently encounter riders who refuse to carry a whip for two main reasons. The first is always that their horses are afraid of the whip. I tell these riders that their horses’ fear stems from lack of trust, confidence and obedience: the three pillars that a rider must erect to ensure success in training. 
The second excuse is that the horses do not need the whip. This might be correct: The horses might not need a whip, but the riders do. Riding with a whip in the proper length of three to four feet requires a very relaxed wrist and a good feel in the hand. Feeling exactly when the whip makes contact with the horse’s side and maintaining this contact while in motion is possible only when a rider has acquired a proper arm-elbow-shoulder alignment and is relaxed in the wrist. All of that, of course, will improve sensitivity in the hands and, in the long run, will benefit the horse tremendously.

The gateway to the circle of aids is a horse well tuned to the whip. This is a horse who…
• is in front of the whip. He moves forward without fear or hesitation to a soft touch of the whip.
• is responsive to invisible aids. He pays attention to the softest movement form the rider.
• is guided by the rider’s legs. He withholds nothing that is possible and exerts himself as directed by his rider’s legs.
The ultimate goal of this type of training is to create a horse who “drives himself,” a horse who goes forward merely because he respects the presence of the rider in the saddle. Of course, this response shall not even remotely resemble one in which a horse races in fear of his rider. Forward always indicates a dignified, positive reaction on the part of the horse.

Each horse reacts differently to the touches of the whip. Some twitch their skin, others swish their tails, a few kick out and some react not at all. None of these is correct. The only correct response is one in which the hind legs become more lively, stepping more forward and under and flex more visibly. This is a true forward response. It is never correct for a horse to react to the whip by trying to run from it or by throwing himself into the rider’s hands. 
The old masters used to advise: “Do as little as possible but as much as necessary to reach your goals.”
It will take constant alertness on the rider’s part to never allow the horse to forget his level of sensitivity. If the touch of the whip creates liveliness in the horse’s hind legs, resulting in free forward motion, then the first stage of the circle of the aids has been established. Only then can the rider proceed to the second stage: the use of the legs in order to bring the horse on the bit, to make the horse relaxed and to prepare the horse to accept the half halts, in other words, to close the circle of the aids.

When we say that the legs should mainly act as guiding rails, we must not forget that guiding a horse on something like a circle involves a certain degree of bend if the horse is to conform to the circle. The bending around the rider’s inner leg is the foundation for all two-track movements, which are best achieved when the inner leg of the rider guides the inner hind leg of the horse slightly in the direction of the rider’s outside heel when working on a circle, riding a turn or passing through a corner. This action, known as “enlarging,” will bring the inner hind leg of the horse better underneath the rider and closer to the center of gravity.

bending around garrocha pole

bending around garrocha pole

Without acceptance of the rider’s outside leg, no horse can be truly on the outside rein. It is indeed a wonderful experience to be able to control the entire horse with just a single rein and the seat, of which the outside leg is an extension. Every dressage horse must eventually reach this stage, and the best way to achieve it is through work on the circle. We see here again the interrelationship between the circle as a ring figure and the circle of aids. Forward on the whip, enlarging away from the inner-leg pressure into the outside rein and from there to and through the rider’s seat over the horse’s back and—with half halts—into the horse’s hind legs to complete the circle of aids.

If the use of the whip is misunderstood, so too — among a broad majority of riders—is the application of the legs. Nothing is more detrimental to the training of a horse than legs that constantly kick, push, squeeze or noodle. Not only do such legs kill all sensitivity in a horse’s sides but they also teach a horse to stiffen his belly muscles in order to block against these pushes or kicks. Such tightening in the torso renders all influence by the rider ineffectual.

Credit: Micki Dobson As you hold your hand slightly away from your normal rein position, twist your wrist to the left (in this case) to lift it up, then flex your wrist to bring the whip down, onto your thigh

Credit: Micki Dobson As you hold your hand slightly away from your normal rein position, twist your wrist to the left (in this case) to lift it up, then flex your wrist to bring the whip down, onto your thigh

Which One? How Long?

Whips come in all shapes and sizes. When choosing a whip, find one that fits your hand. Also, look for a length that is appropriate to your build and your horse’s size. If you are a tiny person on a big horse or a person with rather large thighs, you probably need a longer whip. If you are small and riding a small horse you should choose a smaller whip. A “good” whip also stings a bit and bounces well when you flex your wrist and use it against your thigh. So be sure to try several whips before buying. Another aspect to pay attention to is the button or knob at the end of the whip. The button should be large enough that you don’t have to grip it to keep from losing it. When allowed in [USEF] or USDF competitions, the whip cannot be longer than four feet. Editor’s note: Today your whip can be no longer than 47.2 inches (120 cm) including lash.

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This story was first published in the November 1996 issue of Dressage Today. Austrian-born Karl Mikolka was a chief rider with the Spanish Riding School and later coach to the Brazilian Olympic dressage team. He later moved to the United States and worked with the Tempel Lipizzan Stallions in Wadsworth, Illinois.


Which One? How Long?
Whips come in all shapes and sizes. When choosing a whip, find one that fits your hand. Also, look for a length that is appropriate to your build and your horse’s size. If you are a tiny person on a big horse or a person with rather large thighs, you probably need a longer whip. If you are small and riding a small horse you should choose a smaller whip. A “good” whip also stings a bit and bounces well when you flex your wrist and use it against your thigh. So be sure to try several whips before buying. Another aspect to pay attention to is the button or knob at the end of the whip. The button should be large enough that you don’t have to grip it to keep from losing it. When allowed in [USEF] or USDF competitions, the whip cannot be longer than four feet. Editor’s note: Today your whip can be no longer than 47.2 inches (120 cm) including lash.

*This story was first published in the November 1996 issue of Dressage Today. Austrian-born Karl Mikolka was a chief rider with the Spanish Riding School and later coach to the Brazilian Olympic dressage team.

equi-works

equi-works