Whip, bat, stick or crop: whatever you want to call it, that hand-held equestrian aid has been a source of controversy for centuries. While many riders consider a whip to be a simple aid, others see it as a tool of abuse with the potential to frighten a horse into adhering to human demands.
The researchers who performed the Thoroughbred study concluded that whips may not be a necessary tool for jockeys, as some in the racing world had previously argued. But what about the sport of show jumping, where not only is speed a factor, but the possibility of a refusal is ever-present?
Researchers in the United Kingdom surveyed show jumpers to determine trends in whip usage and presented their findings at the 2013 International Society for Equitation Science conference. While their study did not examine whether horses experience pain or distress when ridden with a whip, it did uncover some trends about what types of riders are more likely to carry or use a whip, and how that affected their results.
The researchers observed 229 non-elite riders and 229 elite riders at recognized show jumping competitions in the U.K. Non-elite riders were more likely to carry a whip with 69% opting to have one compared with 62% of elites. Overall, 20.7% of riders who carried a whip actually used it, and non-elite riders were twice as likely to use it than their elite counterparts.
Did whips provide any benefit for the riders who used them? The numbers suggest not. Riders who didn’t use a whip were more likely to have a clear round; riders who used a whip were 1.3 times more likely to have faults. The group that was most likely to have a clear round was the elite riders who carried a whip but never used it.
The researchers concede that while whip use appeared to correlate with more faults in a round, there are many variables at play. Riders may only opt to carry a whip when riding a horse that requires “encouragement” and is already more likely to finish with faults. Furthermore, elite riders may be less likely to have or use a whip because they are more likely to be mounted on very athletic horses that don’t require supplemental aids.
British show jumping rules prohibit misuse or excessive use of the whip and specify that the whip should not be used more than three times after entering the arena. The researchers observed 38 instances where the whip was used excessively or inappropriately, but no riders were ever reprimanded for the rule violation.
With increasing scrutiny of all equestrian sports, show organizers and equestrian groups are aware of the need to protect horse welfare and present a positive image to the public. Creating and enforcing meaningful whip usage rules could be an important part of this continuing effort.