Whip Use in Elite, Non-Elite Show Jumpers

Photo: Photos.com

In recent years, whip use in horses has stirred up great debate. When it comes to forehand vs. backhand whip strikes or whip use's impact on a race's outcome, researchers are starting to put science behind the arguments.

Scientists had not, however, investigated whip use in show jumping. So Catherine Watkins, from Hartpury College in Gloucester, UK, aimed to determine whether a correlation exists between whip use and a jumper's performance and whether this differs among competition levels. She presented her findings at the 9th Annual International Society for Equitation Science Conference, held July 18-20 at the University of Delaware, in Newark.

In Watkins' study, she and a colleague observed whip carriage and use among 229 non-elite (jumping .9-1.15 meter fences) and 229 elite (jumping 1.2 meters and higher) British show jumpers during 458 rounds of competition. The team specifically evaluated whip use in the few strides immediately before and after each fence and found that:

  • 65.5% of all riders carried a whip;
  • More non-elite riders than elite riders carried a whip;
  • 20.7% of all riders used their whip in competition;
  • Non-elite riders were more likely to use the whip and also more likely to remove their hand from the rein to do so than elite riders;
  • Riders from both levels were more likely to jump clear if they did not use the whip;
  • Elite riders were less likely to use the whip, but when they did they incurred more faults than those who did not use the whip; and
  • Carrying a whip but not using it resulted in the most clear rounds among all riders.

So while non-elite riders practiced more whip use, elite riders logged more faults with whip use. Watkins theorized that this might be because elite riders are more likely to use the whip only when they want to correct a horse's abnormal behavior, whereas non-elite riders likely use the whip due to lack of confidence.

"This research shows that increased use of the whip does not mean an increased chance of completing a successful clear round," Watkins said.

She also noted the significance of higher whip-use prevalence in lower level competitors. For example, she said, Pony Club district commissioners heavily police their young members' spur use but not whip use, "resulting in children learning to ride with a whip at a young age, despite the instructors being unlikely to have had guidance for the correct use.

"Education and training of riders is paramount to ensure non-elite riders do not overuse the whip and potentially implicate their horse's welfare," she concluded.

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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