Whipped Into Shape

Ok let’s be clear. Whipping is for cream or eggs, not for horses.

We all love whipped cream.  We all hate see­ing hors­es whipped.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am guilty. Guilty of using the whip wrong­ly or too strong­ly, not guilty of beat­ing or abuse. Some­times when a 1200 pound ani­mal walks on you for the 20th time, you resort to pun­ish­ment. It’s wrong. No, not the part where you save your life from being tram­pled but the part where you lost your patience.

See, when your 1200 pound ted­dy bear walks on you, there’s a big­ger prob­lem at hand. Lack of train­ing. And we know from study­ing pun­ish­ment that hors­es don’t learn well that way. So you have to go back and address the lack of train­ing, not resort to pun­ish­ment.

So back to the whip. How can you use it with­out pun­ish­ing? I like to think of it as an aid. What do aids do? They cue the horse to per­form a spe­cif­ic move­ment. So think of the whip like a type of lan­guage. You have to teach the horse what that lan­guage is. You also have to real­ize that if you were talk­ing to anoth­er per­son and they didn’t under­stand your lan­guage, you’d look pret­ty stu­pid if you start­ed yelling at them. They obvi­ous­ly speech Chi­nese while you are speak­ing Eng­lish. They don’t have a clue what you are talk­ing about so they tune you out. Bin­go. This is your horse.

How do you yell with a whip? You stop using it as an aid and start using it as a whip. Mean­ing you hit and hit hard. All this does is teach your horse to fear the whip and fear you. When was the last time you learned some­thing mean­ing­ful when you were scared? Well, except to avoid that sit­u­a­tion again at all cost.

There’s a cou­ple things I like to think about when I use any aid but espe­cial­ly the whip.

  1. have good con­trol.  basi­cal­ly know your aid.  if you’re flail­ing around, your horse is going to think you are crazy.
  2. plan the les­son.  know what you want to accom­plish and how the whip is going to help you.
  3. keep the horse com­fort­able with the whip (around him, touch­ing him)
  4. map out in your mind what part of the body you want to access with the whip and what response you are look­ing for.  for instance, are you look­ing for more for­ward move­ment or a yield­ing of a body part?
  5. decide what you cue or whip aid is going to be.  will a light tap on the shoul­der mean move your shoul­der over?  will a light tap behind your leg mean more for­ward?
  6. begin with gen­tle, light tap­ping of the area until you get a cor­rect response or an approx­i­ma­tion of a response.
  7. IMMEDIATELY stop tap­ping when your horse responds cor­rect­ly
  8. wait 10–30 sec­onds or more before resum­ing train­ing.  give your horse time to digest what just hap­pened.
  9. repeat and add rewards when the horse is cor­rect.

How much pressure is too much?

The only way to get hors­es to respond to light pres­sure is to teach them.  How do you teach them?  By ALWAYS start­ing with light pres­sure first!  If the horse does not respond, then I would increase the dura­tion.  Repeat and get the horse acknowl­edg­ing the light pres­sure, then reward.  Nev­er end with a cor­rec­tion.  Always repeat to get the light response.

Increas­ing the pres­sure of the whip or hit­ting hard­er to “get our point across” just puts us on the slip­pery slope to pun­ish­ment.  Since we humans are in a love affair with dish­ing out pun­ish­ment to those who wrong us, let’s not go there.  As usu­al, first look at your­self and find out how you can be clear­er, what it is you want your horse to do and then find a gen­tle way to teach it.

Spe­cial Side Note: if the horse kicks out at the whip, ignore it and keep your gen­tle, light tap­ping dura­tion going.  I know, I know, you want to rep­ri­mand.  That was pret­ty nasty what your horse just did.   But don’t.  In the end, he will learn more and faster with­out the rep­ri­mand.