Do you hate carrying a whip? What if you could do your horse a favor by carrying one?
Many dressage riders carry a whip. Most instructors tell you to use it to enforce your aids. Used in this way, it is a threat to your horse. If he doesn’t trot when you close your legs on his sides, you will smack the whip on him. He doesn’t like this, so he complies.
I use a whip as a favor to my horse. It helps my horse understand what I’m trying to communicate to him with my body. I know that I’m not near as fluent in body communication as my horse is, and I know that I’m often unaware of all the shifts, twinges, and subtle movements my body makes. A meaningful touch of the whip can clear things up.
He can translate my confusing body language into “Ohhhh, she meant trot” or “Ohhh, she meant move my hindquarters to the right.”
Carrying a whip is like having a translation app on your phone. It helps the horse understand.
I suspect even the best rider in the world needs a translation app once in awhile.
Humans don’t track body language as closely as horses do. I often need to point out to my students whether they are leaning forward or back, holding the reins tightly or loosely, and whether their shoulder and knee joints are loose or relaxed.
Your horse knows these things, and more. To him, there’s a lot going on!
When you ride, do you know…..
Whether you’re leaning back, forward, or sitting straight up and down?
How tense your shoulders are?
How often you squeeze your legs against your horse’s sides?
How tightly your fingers hold the reins?
How open or closed your fingers are on the reins?
Whether you are sitting in the middle of your horse or slightly to one side?
Whether you are smiling, frowning, or have a neutral face?
Whether you head is tilted or straight?
Your horse knows!
How to Do your horse a favor and help him with your whip:
- Aim the tap of your whip to a specific place on your horse’s side. If you want his hindquarters to move to the side, touch the whip on his hindquarters. If you want him to understand to move faster from a touch of your legs on his sides, aim to touch by one of your legs.
- Be skillful in the degree of touch you intend to use. Unmounted, away from your horse, you can practice how soft or hard you use your whip by touching it on a wall. See what you need to do with your wrist, arm, and your way of thinking to deliver a light touch.
- Focus on what you want your horse to do before you engage your whip. If this intention stays in your mind, it is easier for your horse to figure out. He’s an expert at nuances. (As an example, make sure the voice in your mind is saying “trot” instead of “he’s not trotting.”)