Thursday, November 21, 2019

Whip Use in Equestrian Sports

© Arthur Van Diest The use of the whip in equestrian sports has come under increased scrutiny and public criticism. Research, so far, has centred on the racing industry and has failed to identify improved performance when the whip is used.

Studies reported at the 15th Annual International Equitation Science Conference looked at the use of the whip in other disciplines.

Jane Williams presented the results of a study that looked at how horse-riders use whips. Over 3,000 riders took part in a survey, which revealed that 72% of respondents regularly rode with a whip when doing roadwork, hacking, schooling and 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 usage in competitions, including during warmup. 

Those surveyed were asked to share how they use whips.  Most responded that they are used to reinforce aids, for training, and should be used lightly and never continuously out of aggression or frustration.

Dr Williams said  “It is encouraging to see most riders believed the whip should be used as a training aid, however when asked how and when to use it in this way, this was not always aligned to how horse’s learn, outlining a need for increased rider education.”

Another study, by Kirstin Spencer and colleagues, evaluated recordings of British Show jumping (BS) 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 approximately 76% of riders carried a whip, and 14% of those riders actually used their whip in competition.  Additionally, this study found that increased whip usage correlated with decreased performance. Riders using the whip were found to accumulate more faults than those who did not.

Ms 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 BS regulations, for example, significant use took place whilst riders held their reins and BS technically excludes this type of use.  Initial findings raised further questions as to the efficacy of using a whip to enhance horse performance in BS competition.”

Further research into how whips are used across the industry and in competition will provide insight on how to best establish and change regulations in order to promote horse welfare and preserve equestrian sports.

For more details, see:

Understanding whip use in riders in sports horse disciplines
J. Williams, L. Greening, D. Marlin, H. Randle.
Proc 15th ISES Conference, (2019) p43

Evaluation of whip use in British Showjumping
K. Spencer, R. Verwijs, J. Williams.
Proc 15th ISES Conference, (2019) P44

You can download the Proceedings of the 15th International Society for Equitation Science Conference at:

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