Whipped Into Shape

Ok let’s be clear. Whipping is for cream or eggs, not for horses.

We all love whipped cream.  We all hate seeing horses whipped.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am guilty. Guilty of using the whip wrongly or too strongly, not guilty of beating or abuse. Sometimes when a 1200 pound animal walks on you for the 20th time, you resort to punishment. It’s wrong. No, not the part where you save your life from being trampled but the part where you lost your patience.

See, when your 1200 pound teddy bear walks on you, there’s a bigger problem at hand. Lack of training. And we know from studying punishment that horses don’t learn well that way. So you have to go back and address the lack of training, not resort to punishment.

So back to the whip. How can you use it without punishing? I like to think of it as an aid. What do aids do? They cue the horse to perform a specific movement. So think of the whip like a type of language. You have to teach the horse what that language is. You also have to realize that if you were talking to another person and they didn’t understand your language, you’d look pretty stupid if you started yelling at them. They obviously speech Chinese while you are speaking English. They don’t have a clue what you are talking about so they tune you out. Bingo. This is your horse.

How do you yell with a whip? You stop using it as an aid and start using it as a whip. Meaning you hit and hit hard. All this does is teach your horse to fear the whip and fear you. When was the last time you learned something meaningful when you were scared? Well, except to avoid that situation again at all cost.

There’s a couple things I like to think about when I use any aid but especially the whip.

  1. have good control.  basically know your aid.  if you’re flailing around, your horse is going to think you are crazy.
  2. plan the lesson.  know what you want to accomplish and how the whip is going to help you.
  3. keep the horse comfortable with the whip (around him, touching him)
  4. map out in your mind what part of the body you want to access with the whip and what response you are looking for.  for instance, are you looking for more forward movement or a yielding of a body part?
  5. decide what you cue or whip aid is going to be.  will a light tap on the shoulder mean move your shoulder over?  will a light tap behind your leg mean more forward?
  6. begin with gentle, light tapping of the area until you get a correct response or an approximation of a response.
  7. IMMEDIATELY stop tapping when your horse responds correctly
  8. wait 10-30 seconds or more before resuming training.  give your horse time to digest what just happened.
  9. repeat and add rewards when the horse is correct.

How much pressure is too much?

The only way to get horses to respond to light pressure is to teach them.  How do you teach them?  By ALWAYS starting with light pressure first!  If the horse does not respond, then I would increase the duration.  Repeat and get the horse acknowledging the light pressure, then reward.  Never end with a correction.  Always repeat to get the light response.

Increasing the pressure of the whip or hitting harder to “get our point across” just puts us on the slippery slope to punishment.  Since we humans are in a love affair with dishing out punishment to those who wrong us, let’s not go there.  As usual, first look at yourself and find out how you can be clearer, what it is you want your horse to do and then find a gentle way to teach it.

Special Side Note: if the horse kicks out at the whip, ignore it and keep your gentle, light tapping duration going.  I know, I know, you want to reprimand.  That was pretty nasty what your horse just did.   But don’t.  In the end, he will learn more and faster without the reprimand.