What’s the proper way to hold a dressage whip?
QHow do I hold a dressage whip without risking hitting my horse accidentally, but also without it interfering with how I hold the rein in that hand? Does it matter what hand I carry it in? I’m not very good at switching it from one hand to another, so I would rather just keep it in one hand, especially during a test at a show.
AThe key is to hold the whip so that the handle is between your thumb and forefinger at the top, runs down through your fist and out below your pinky finger. About 2 or 3 inches of the whip handle should be visible above your hand. Meanwhile, your rein in that hand should still be in its normal place, entering between your ring finger (your third finger) and pinky finger, then passing up through your fist alongside the whip to the top of your hand, where your thumb presses it down against your forefinger.
If you keep your hands in the correct position so there is a straight line from the bit to the reins through your hands to your elbow, the whip will naturally settle against your upper thigh. This will keep it stable and positioned about 6 to 8 inches off the horse when you aren’t using it. Then, with an outward flick of your wrist, you can gently tickle his flank or hindquarter as needed.
I tend to carry my whip on the side
of the horse that is most likely to need an artificial aid to help me train him. For example, if he tends to be a touch duller off the left leg, I carry the whip on the left to use it to clarify my lower-leg aids if needed, whether it’s for impulsion or better balance and bending.
If I don’t have a preferred side, I like the whip to stay on the inside of the horse’s bend (for example, on the left side when I’m tracking left). Changing the whip from side to side can be tricky, even for professionals. Personally, I am all thumbs if I try to do that slick “flip it over the withers from one hand to the other” trick. I have decided I am OK with failure when it comes to that skill—more power to those that have it. I am impressed!
Instead, I switch the whip only during walk breaks when I’m changing directions, so it stays on the inside of the school. With some horses, I use the whip so rarely it doesn’t much matter which side it is on. In those cases, I just keep it in one hand for the entire ride.
To switch your whip the way I do it, take your time. Bring your horse back to the walk and put both reins in the hand not currently holding the whip. Next, slowly raise the whip above your horse’s withers and slide it down into the other hand without touching the horse or doing it so quickly that it makes a scary sound. Then return the rein back to
your empty hand.
Be careful not to use the whip immediately on the new side. Too often you see someone switch the whip out of frustration and immediately use it at DEFCON 2. This teaches the horse that switching the whip means a tough whack is coming. So while the rider is trying to move the whip—often briefly losing some rein contact in the process— the horse starts an exciting little bolt with his head in the clouds.
At shows I put my whip on one side and keep it there for the entire test. I never salute with the hand that the whip is in. I typically salute with my right hand. So if I decide to carry the whip in that hand, I either reach the fingers of my left hand over the withers to hold the top of the whip while I salute or, if my horse might get antsy from that added change in contact, I just salute with my left hand. U.S. Equestrian Federation rule DR 122.2 doesn’t specify which hand you must salute with, so use whichever is easiest for you.
As with all dressage advice, what you decide to do should depend on the nature of your horse and what you are trying to accomplish. Find what works for you and stick with it!
Grand Prix rider Jaralyn Gibson has taught and trained dressage riders and horses since 1993. She is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist, a gold bar recipient for musical freestyles, a graduate with distinction of the USDF L Program for judges and is currently awaiting the results of the U.S. Equestrian Federation ‘r’ judge license examination. She and her clients have qualified for and competed in numerous regional championships and national finals. Jaralyn continues to expand her classical education by working with top German trainer Conrad Schumacher, former USEF Young Dressage Horse Coach Scott Hassler and FEI three-star judge and competitor William Warren. Her training and sales business is based at Shepherds Run Farm in Loxahatchee, Florida, in the winter and Poolesville, Maryland, the rest of the year.
If you keep your hands in the correct position, so there is a straight line from the bit to the reins, the whip will naturally rest against your upper thigh.