Three in every four riders in Britain regularly carry a whip in their day-to-day riding, survey findings suggest, with a majority saying it should never be used continuously out of aggression or frustration.
Whip use in equestrian sports is a highly debated topic.
Two presenters at the recent annual International Equitation Science Conference, Jane Williams and Kirstin Spencer, shared insights on whip use and its perception in riding sports.
Williams’ presentation centred on understanding whip use by riders in sporthorse disciplines; Spencer focused on an evaluation of whip use in British showjumping.
Previous research has focused mainly on whip usage in the racing industry; however, it is necessary to evaluate all disciplines in order to effectively address whip usage concerns and any welfare issues.
A British survey revealed 72% of respondents rode regularly with a whip when doing roadwork, hacking, schooling or lessons.
Nearly 70% of survey participants agreed that whips should only be used by experienced riders. Additionally, the great majority wanted to see tighter restrictions on whip use in competitions, including warmup.
Those surveyed were asked to share how they use whips. The majority said they are used to reinforce aids, for training, and should be used lightly and never continuously out of aggression or frustration.
“It is encouraging to see most riders believed the whip should be used as a training aid,” Williams said.
“However, when asked how and when to use it in this way, this was not always aligned to how horses learn, outlining a need for increased rider education”.
Another study evaluated streamed data recordings of British Showjumping affiliated competitions between August 2018 and January 2019. This study included 285 horses and riders competing at heights between 0.8m and 1.25m.
Statistical analyses were conducted to determine if and how whip usage related to performance.
The findings revealed that about 76% of riders carried a whip, of which 14% of those riders actually used their whip in competition.
Additionally, this study found that increased whip usage correlated with decreased performance (increased faults). These findings complement previous studies published in 2012 and 2013.
Spencer said: “Observations found whips often being used with poor timing which may reflect rider education issues such as misunderstanding a horse’s cognitive ability and how it learns.”
Potential issues were also recognised within British Showjumping regulations, she said. For example, significant use took place whilst riders held their reins and British Showjumping technically excludes this type of use.
Initial findings raised further questions as to the efficacy of using a whip to enhance horse performance in showjumping competitions, she said.
There appeared to be an appetite for change in whip use and training, they said.
This would require riders, trainers, coaches and others to understand how horses learn. Understanding how horses learn would lead to effective rider decision-making regarding when and how to use a whip if necessary.
The pair said more research was needed to better understand how whips were used across the industry and in competition. Investigating what is currently considered normal will provide insight on how to best establish and change regulations in order to protect the welfare of our equine partners and preserve equestrian sports, they said.