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Whipping up controversy

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what's in our latest digital issue, click here.

Whip artwork

 The use of whips has an age old association with horse training. Thanks to science, our understanding of whip use has now grown.


Whipping up controversy

By Dr Kerry Mack 

The welfare of the horse is of paramount concern to almost everyone involved with horses, but with activists focusing on the use of the whip, does it make any difference and where does the science stand?

As we learn more from science about the sensory and emotional capacity of horses, it is apparent that horses are sentient beings, and are very sensitive to their environment. Your horse will notice something as seemingly minor as the change in the location of a bucket in the arena, for example.

Even a horse relaxing in the paddock in the sunshine will feel a tiny fly land on his skin and flinch to remove it. Horses can find even a fly annoying and unpleasant enough to rouse them from their reverie to run around the paddock to escape. This sensitivity makes it possible for most equestrian traditions, from classical dressage to western and endurance, to emphasise the importance of correct use of the aids and using the lightest aids possible to get the horse to perform his task. 

A correctly trained horse will respond to a light touch, but in training we sometimes do need to use a strong aid, partly to encourage the horse to respond to the first, light, aid. A sharp kick, a spur or a tap with the crop can help the horse understand and choose the response we want. He will pay attention and respond to the light aid if he knows that a stronger more unpleasant aid will back it up if he ignores the first aid. We will often use a whip to give that stronger aid...


Read the full article here in the December 2020 issue of Equestrian Life!



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