Whips Should Match The Job At Hand

Crops, bats, and whips are artificial riding aids. Beginners should use caution with any of these, because they may be used to punish horses rather than guide them. It’s all too common to see a child repeatedly slapping a pony with a crop when both pony and child need to focus less on correcting and more on training.

A whip should be used to cover space otherwise unreachable as an extension of your hand when longeing and an extension of your leg when you’re in the saddle and used with firm, but gentle, pressure.

Hunters And Jumpers

A crop is mainly used in the hunter-jumper disciplines. It’s a short stick with a narrow leather loop, called a popper, on the end. Crops typically come in lengths around two feet, except those made especially for children, which are usually closer to 16 inches.

Crops also usually have a wrist strap, which you should never use, because it could get caught on something. Also, if you need to drop your crop because it’s spooking your horse, you can’t if it is fastened to your wrist.

We like the basic, widely available crops which are typically nylon-covered and for sale usually around $5-7 propped in a bunch in a feed bucket at your local tack store. Get a neon one so you always know which is yours. (It’s hard to find a place to write your name on a crop.) Crops get lost easily. We don’t really see the point in the fancy ones unless you’re giving a present or want to spoil yourself for show day.

Features you might pay more for are leather wrapping and non-slip rubber handles. Companies that make these high-end crops and bats are Edward Goddard, Pessoa and Fleck. (Besides Pessoa, these companies also make budget models.)

Goddard, sold through State Line Tack, offers a Ridge Grip crop that has an elegant look because of its nickel end and retails for $19.95. It’s a nice step up from the neon plastic for the show ring but does not cost too much.

A bat is a close relative of the crop. It’s also used in the hunter-jumper ring but has a wider leather popper at the end. Bats also come in two lengths a shorter one around 19 inches and a longer one around 24 to 26 inches. Riders in jumper classes typically carry the longer length.

For children, we like Roma’s ”Hand” bat with its hand-shaped popper, because it reminds young riders what the point of the aid is. It’s 14 inches long and retails for $8.90 from Dover Saddlery.

Equi-Star makes one with a horse head popper, equally cute, and listed at English Riding Supply with an MSRP of $9.95. (There is no online ordering at English Riding Supply, but there are links to local dealers.)

Bats can become luxury appointments. The Pessoa bat is leather covered and has a silver grip, silver buttons, and a suggested retail price of $395. Our pick here on planet Earth is the Fleck Everyday Bat. It has the Fleck details, like a golf-grip handle, but is in nylon, which keeps the price down to around $28.

To use either a crop or a bat, put both reins in one hand, and then reach back and tap your horse behind your leg. Don’t use a crop without taking your hand off the reins, because you could jerk your horse’s mouth, and always carry your crop pointing down. Keep it to the inside when you’re on the rail, because it keeps your horse pushed out to the rail. However, you may end up switching it to your outside if you’re trying to get your horse to pick up the correct lead, for example.

Dressage Riders

Dressage riders use whips, which are longer than crops and bats, and the poppers are nylon strings instead of leather flaps. USEF rules state that whips can be no longer than 43.3 inches, and most of them are right around there, although longer ones are available for schooling. The cap at the end is often made of some kind of metal, although some whips have rubber ones.

We like Dover Saddlery’s ETD Dressage Whip for $16.70.

County’s Woven Flax Whip, which retails for around $24.95, has an attractive silver cap on its mushroom handle, giving it a refined look, but does not cost too much.

For around the barn, pick up one of Dover’s Econo Whips. At $6.90, the price is right, especially considering the rate at which these get lost. Try putting colored tape around the handle to tell it apart from everyone else’s if you choose a black whip. You can also use your own small return-address label.

You can use a dressage whip without taking your hand off the reins, since it is over three feet long. It gets carried angled across the thigh. To use it, you turn your wrist and tap the whip against the horse’s barrel, but again, don’t jerk on his mouth. Whips sting more than crops, so be careful.

With a whip this long, the usual place to grip it at the bottom of the handle joins the shaft to equalize the balance.

Saddle Seat

Saddle-seat competitors may carry a whip like their dressage cohorts. There is a cosmetic difference saddle-seat riders use whips with white handles, not commonly found in the dressage ring. A show whip in black stock with white handle in 36 inches and 39 inches lengths is available for $19.95 from Showstopper Tack, a store for saddle-seat riders.

At Hartmeyer, another saddle-seat store, kids’ show whips in a 31-inch length are $18.95, the same price as the adults’ 36-inch one. (There is luxury in saddle seat riding, as well. Hartmeyer’s whip crowns are made of silver and inset with semi-precious stones, retailing for $200.)

Barrel Racing

Many Western riders don’t use whips, despite the image of the cowboy and his bullwhip. But barrel racers do. Carolyn Richens owns The Tack Stop in Pittsfield, Maine, a store that caters to barrel racers. Hand quirts attach to the wrist and then extend down with a small braided lariat. The basic ones at her store, which are made of a stiff rope and come in the bright colors we like for everyday use, retail for $24.99.

An over and under whip attaches to the saddle horn and extends down about 56 inches. It’s usually made of a flexible heavy leather braid with leather popper, and a rawhide model is available from The Tack Stop for $49.99. State Line Tack sells an economy over and under whip, made of rope, for $6.99.

A hand whip, stiff like an English crop, is sometimes used on the inside of a turn to encourage the horse to move away from the barrel. Richens sells one for $24.99, which has the added feature of a Velcro holster. The rider sticks her crop to the holster, and she then can grab it with a moment’s notice.

A doggin’ bat (sometimes called a pig slapper) is wide and flat, and also comes with a leather loop. Doggin’ bats are available at State Line Tack for $7.99. Their model is leather covered and has a spring steel insert for maximum ”slapping” without pain.

To ask a horse for more power, a barrel racer grabs the whip by the horn and whips the horse with a back and forth motion to hit both sides of the horse’s back end. Richens says that many riders just lift their hand with the whip, and the horse senses this and runs without ever b eing touched. Dropping a whip or bat can incur a two-second penalty.


Celine Rickards owns Carriage Driving Essentials in Mariposa, Calif. She says that the aristocrat of show whipsfor driving competitions is the holly whip with a braided leather lash (one is made by Fleck and retails for $395) and possibly an engraved antique silver ferrule at the joint and on the butt end cap.

Historically, the holly whips contained a whale bone that comprised the ”bow” of the drop lash. Bamboo whips are quite popular for show as they are reasonably priced and look like holly from afar. Fancier whips have silver ferrules and braided soft white leather lashes.

For driving, the end of the whip lash should be able to reach the front horse’s shoulder to be effective. Many experienced drivers use a very practical and inexpensive whip, usually fiberglass wrapped in plastic, for their everyday driving. Rickards sells these for $27.95. The drop lash length may vary by personal preference, but usually are between 18 and 30 inches long.


No matter the sport, all riders and drivers may find themselves in need of a longe whip when it’s time to put a horse on the longe line for training. Longe whips are often five feet in length with a six-foot lash. Deluxe models have leather wrapping.

But we like a basic whip, such as the Spiral Longe Whip, which retails for $19.95 from Dover and, like the nylon crops, is probably available at your local tack or feed store. These also come in an economy model with loud colors so you can find yours among all the black ones at the barn at $10, available at most tack stores.

The one time you may want to splurge on a longe whip is if space is tight. Then consider the Telewhip, a widely available fiberglass whip ($64.90 from Dover). The ”tele” is because the whip telescopes, with the shaft retracting into the handle.

On a budget, you can get a two-piece longe whip for closer to $12, but these are notoriously unreliable it’s so easy to lose one half, and if you make too strong a motion, the top half can come out. It’s best to stick with a economy model that is one piece, although you’re still at about $12.

The longe whip should act as an extension of your arm, making any gesture more emphatic. If you need plenty of underlining, the lash should be cast outward. Avoid snapping or popping the whip, especially if you know there are other horses in the arena or nearby.

To find products mentioned in this article, you may contact your local tack store or catalog outlet or:

www.doversaddlery.com 800-406-8204;
www.hartmeyer.com 800-225-5519;
www.nrsworld.com 800-467-6746;
www.showstoppertack.com 800-285-0645;
www.statelinetack.com 888-839-9640;
www.tackstop.com 800-298-8884;
www.englishridingsupply.com 866-569-1600.

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