What’s the proper way to hold a dres­sage whip?

Practical Horseman - - Here's How -

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.

JARALYN GIB­SON

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.

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