This weekend, I spent some time at a judging conference where I learned aboout the upcoming rule changes, class additions, tack specifications and rule verbage to clarify current questionable wording. As is the nature of horse people, multiple viewpoints were expressed, for and against each topic. I enjoyed hearing the different viewpoints as things were brought up that I myself had not thought about.
In the horse industry, abuse is always a concern and one fairly big discussion that was held was about the use of crops and or whips. Ironically, one of my lesson students asked a very good question this evening that I have her permission to share with you. She asked if whips or crops hurt the horse?
While whips and crops can be used to hurt a horse, when used properly, they definitely do not hurt the horse. This includes over/under whips, lunge whips etc. They are all used as a tool, like a pencil to write with is a tool, to communicate with the horse. When used improperly, not only can the physically hurt the horse, they can teach the horse to do the wrong task, or to do a correct task improperly.
Working with horses, I have learned it is a lot easier to teach a horse the right way than to reteach one that has learned the wrong way. In that case you have to work around what the horse already knows, which is a challenge itself and can frustrate not only the rider but also the horse.
When I ride, train and instruct, my goal is to teach the horses and riders to communicate effectively. Sometimes aids, as whips, crops or spurs, are needed to clarify that communication between the horse and rider. When used properly these aids will enhance and encourage the horse to learn quicker. Reinforcing a leg que is a perfectly acceptable reason to use a crop or whip.
An important thing to remember when teaching a horse, especially when usuing a crop, that an instructor in college taught me, is that if you are not teaching you are not training. Your method is not working on that horse, because he does not understand. That means you are not doing your job and you need to find another way to communicate with him what you expect.
I am to the point riding, I seldom use a whip or crop, but I do not hesitate when that is what is needed to get the job done. A trainer once told me “Light as you can, hard as you have to.” That has stuck with me since. I give the lightest cue I can in order to get the result from the horse. Lightest is always best, respect between horse and rider is what leads to good communication and great performance.