The dressage whip. What it is for and how to use it.

Dale Forbes:

Under “tools of the trade” I have given you my favorite dressage whip and where to get one.  It comes in various lengths and sometimes (most commonly in the past)  has a white handle.  It is the Fleck Schultheis model and is distinguished by its good balance, stiffness, and humane end–which, when the whip is near the end of life, will often fray.  Time for a new one–the flexibility in the contact part is important.


The other end looks like this once you have added the Peacock rubber band, which you must buy separately.IMG_0165

I am going to illustrate this post with a group of winter photos, mostly taken on the first day it got above 25 degrees in three weeks here in Spokane.  Yes, it snows here, sometimes quite a lot:


This is a photo from four years ago with record snows when the Sport Horse arena collapsed.  Fortunately no one was in it at the time, and the very gutsy owner declared, “It’s just money,” made plans to rebuild, and went back to her job, where she works for every penny she gets.  (Round of applause from the local crowd.)


Here is the new and improved version, on a balmy day of January after they had given us a path from the manure spreader to assist in not breaking our necks on the ice floe.  Not all barns are that considerate!

But, back to the whips and the former by way of apology that our horses do not look so beautifully turned out just now.  And we are all dressed like snow people–the layered look, if you will.  But June will come.  We are hoping, anyway.

The purpose of your dressage whip is to quicken the hind leg–specifically to ask the horse to slightly abbreviate the backward swing of the leg and bring it up faster.  While it can be used as a quick reprimand in a tight situation, it is NOT meant to make the horse go faster, or “get in front of your leg.”  That is a more common use for a jumping whip, which is mostly held differently.  The purpose of the “tic with the whip” is to work on the timing of the legs.

(After note–re timing of the leg: it is obviously important to work on your timing which is precise, though not complex, and can be managed by the feel of your whip over the thigh.  If this is not clear, you might need to write and ask me on this one.)

But anyway, you are best to hold the whip in a way that you can use it lightly at a moment’s notice–over your thigh and slightly braced between your forefingers, the heel of your hand, and that same thigh.


Above, I am holding the reins in one hand and my iPhone in the other, riding the darling four-year-old Hannoverian Rosie (from Rotspon) who is accommodating the snow coming off the roof (THUMP!) with only minor leaping. You will see (if you look closely) that the whip runs through my hand, with at least a couple of inches of handle showing at the top (balance issue) on the upper side of the rein, with my wrist slightly turned to point the tail of it over my thigh, below.  I am wearing full chaps since, as mentioned before, it is frigging COLD up here.


Also below I have momentarily removed my glove so you can see the purpose and placement of the Peacock rubber band inside the palm of my hand (which would normally be closed around the rein/whip combination).  You will also see that my rein–a simple snaffle with this four-year-old–has been run between my pinkie finger and my ring finger.  This is not a must, but for me it makes it easier to support the whip upward with the small finger unrelated to the feel of the rein, which is obviously coming in the other direction.


Above all else, according to Rudolf, TAKE YOUR THUMB FROM THE WHIP!  If I had a nickle for every time he said that to me in the first season I was there, I would be able to go to lunch.  Yet another reason to feel dumb in the hands of a great trainer, but a good example of how much persistence it takes to weed out a bad habit once firmly established.

The thumb is for stabilizing the reins so they do not run through your hand all the time, not for balancing the whip.

So now, you might logically ask, with your hands in front of you and the whip over your thigh pointing a bit out as it must to come over the thigh, how do you actually USE the darned thing?

I was at first unwilling to hold the reins in one hand, the Iphone in the other, listening to the snow come off the roof and tap, tap, tap little Rosie to demonstrate this.  Instead we galloped around for a bit until she was happy and more relaxed, and then I went and picked up a draw rein in case of real snow crashes and gave it a try.

If you have a fast connection you may be able to look at this.  Apologies for the quality–this was not easy to organize.  The annoying little noise is the semi-half-humm I usually do when I am riding–particularly when there is snow falling off the roof.  What I am attempting to demonstrate–without actually hitting the poor creature–is the rotation of the hand and slight outward movement that brings the whip around your thigh.  Some folks describe this as like opening a door handle.  Indeed it is, as long as the whip is carried on your right side.  You should know how to do both, but you’ll probably always be better at one.

This obviously takes practice.

Getting tape of it while mounted obviously does as well . . .

If you want to note the slightly forward press of the hand in almost all situations, that is up to you, but it also came from a much-repeated “FORWARD THE HAND” comment from You Know Who. . .

And here is the view of Miss Rosie walking out after her big photo op.  Next time she wants a hair dresser–but she IS a bit of a Sorority girl at heart.


(Anyone in AZ looking for a beautiful gray mare, she asks?)

She wanted me to post a summer shot so you don’t get the wrong idea. . .


(Photo by her good friend Melynnda Thiessen)

One thought on “The dressage whip. What it is for and how to use it.

  1. OMG! Rosie girl is GOR. G. US! Is she really that gray now? Wowsers! I can’t think of how to improve that neck…glad you’re enjoying her!

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