Updated: Aug 29, 2019
How do I use my driving whip? And how do I hold it? I hear this question a lot! Because many of us started driving after riding we are often at a loss for how and when to properly use a driving whip. Dressage riders may be a bit more versed in the use of a whip as they are required to carry one when riding to use as an extension of their leg. In driving that is exactly what the whip is for. It’s to be used as you would use your leg when riding.
The whip is NOT to be used to make the horse go. You can use it lightly to encourage forward movement once in a while, but it’s primary use is to support the horse when turning, to help them stay straight in their bodies when traveling and to move shoulders as well as hips over. (When using lightly for forward movement do not whip the horse with it, instead tap lightly on the side of the horse’s rump, not on the top of their rump.)
Some people drive one handed, holding the reins in either their right or left hand, leaving the other hand free to manage the whip. I was never taught to drive this way, though I sometimes do when I am juggling my camera and my reins and my whip as I was doing today. I was taught to drive two-handed and to hold my whip in my right hand with my rein. I am very careful when applying my whip, so I don’t jerk or interfere with my horse’s mouth.
You can find more photos of how to hold the reins and the whip on page 72 of my book.
This leads me to the biggest no no… smacking the horse in the rump with both reins to encourage a horse to go forward. This is a HUGE NO NO!!! No self respecting driver would ever smack their horse in the rump with the reins to encourage forward movement. This is something mainly done in the movies and once in a while I will see it done in racing. (I recently saw a video of some people skijor racing. They were driving their own horses and wildly smacking their horses in the butts as they raced around the track. Of course this did not actually do anything to make their horses run faster, they were doing that all on their own. It was purely for show and because we has humans seem to think we have to smack, whip and kick our horses to run faster when actually they will run just fine if we sit nice and stay out their way…)
When you use a longer and longer rope (or rein) you gain leverage. I’ve never understood why people would want to work with their horses online with a short rope. All this does is cause them to step on you because they don’t have enough room and gives the horse all the leverage, allowing them to use their power against you, if they so choose. Keep this in mind when you are driving your horse. Our long driving lines give us a lot of leverage on their mouths. When you use the ends of your reins to smack your horse in the butt to get them to go forward that movement only gets bigger and bigger as it travels down the lines to the mouth. Try it. Hold the bit in your hand and have someone pretend to smack the butt of the horse. You can feel all that energy travel down the lines and SMACK the horse in the mouth. Nice. It’s simple, just don’t do that.
Your whip should be long enough to reach forward and touch the horse’s shoulder. You don’t need the entire length to be the whip stock, you can include your lash in that length. When you need your horse to move it’s shoulders over you can reach forward and lightly touch the horse on the shoulder. When you want the horse to move it’s hind end over you can lightly touch the horse on the side of the rump.
To support turning in the cart you can lay the whip along the side of the horse’s rump. Driving horses have to use their shoulders to push the shafts over when turning sharply. This means that they have to do a sideways movement to turn the cart.
As for forward movement, you train that when ground driving. Your horse should be responsive to “walk”, “trot”, and “canter” voice commands. These can be taught in the round pen or when doing your online work. They should also completely understand “whoa”. When I want my horse to stop moving I say “whao” when I want my horse to slow down I say “easy”. Whoa is always used to STOP. Do not mix it up with slowing down.
When I’m harnessing and hitching to the cart or when I want my horse to stand quietly in cart I will tell her to “stand”. Some horses need to be told they can stand quietly so they aren’t constantly reacting to your movements. Once I tell Sky to stand I can exit my cart, visit with the neighbors or just sit and take some photos while she stands quietly, sometimes taking a little nap if the visit takes more than 5 minutes. In this way she knows I don’t need her right now.
When turning I say “come around” when I want to turn around and go the other direction. I say “come over” when I need her to turn a little bit. She knows the difference between the two and will turn with just my voice, no need of reins, when she is calm and connected.
I hope this clears up the questions about what the whip is for! Driving horses is an art as is using the whip. Use it sparingly and you will have a very responsive driving horse!