In dressage the whip is a long thin stick with a easy to grip handle. Usually it is used to motivate the horse by tapping the horse on the flank or the croup(top of the hindqarters). But my Florida coach Luis Reteguiz Denizard (known as “Lou” to his friends) often has ‘outside of the box’ training solutions. He uses two whips to give the rider a mental image to work with. I will show you some photos of Lou and explain how the whips image works. Oh…you will notice he is sitting on a mounting block. Well last year he showed his students how to ride the mounting block.( I’ll put a link below!) This year he is on the mounting block to give you a clearer demonstration of how to use the whip imagery.
While riding you imagine you have two whips, one in each hand, and those whips are evenly spaced and both pointing straight out in front of you. Keep in mind that you are moving forward on the horse at walk, trot or canter.
Then as you are riding you must remember to check where you whips are. Have they fallen down? Yes? Bring those whips back to being level. And don’t do this by raising your arms or hands. Just think about them being level and keep your hands and arms in the correct position for level whips.
Are your whips pointing to the sky? Yes? Bring them back to level! Don’t twist your wrists downward. Just think about getting the whips level again with your hands and arms in the correct position.
Why does this work? What does it do? On a moving animal where things are changing all the time, you are always making small corrections, asking for more bend, more impulsion, more collection etc. etc.. It is easy to forget about what you are doing with your hands and arms. Are your hands still maintaining a nice light contact with the reins and the horse’s mouth? Have you crossed one hand over the center of the horse to get more bend? Is one hand up higher than the other? Have you taken a vice-grip on the reins because your horse is pulling? Think about your whips and you will know what you need to do to make corrections. I have found that the mental image of the whips is enough for these faults to correct themselves. Trust me! It works.
Now…..the horse is not as static as the mounting block and there is a crucial moment when the horse is in the most downward moment of his movement . This comes in the canter as the front legs land on the ground, and in the trot when each front leg touches the ground. At these moments the horse’s head, neck, shoulder are the most downward leaning. In dressage we are aiming to have the horse take as his weight, as is appropriate for his level of training, onto the hindquarters. If the horse takes advantage of that ‘downward’ moment he will end up “on the forehand”. AWK! That may be good for some other equestrian disciplines but for dressage it is anathema! That moment in the canter and trot is when you must remember where your whips are. In this sequence of photos Lou moves the mounting block so it is tipped forward to mimic the downward moment of the horse’s gait. If your whips are pointing down at the moment the horse is ‘down’. Whoops! Trouble!
If you have your whips pointing to the sky to try to avoid the downward moment …..trouble. Lou’s position is still good but for us lesser riders we would most likely be tilted too bar back, or have raised out hands or lost our seat…….
If you can keep your whips straight and looking forward, even in the downward moment, then your horse will still be maintaining his balance , not on the forehand and ready for whatever you are going to ask him to do.
I can tell you it is an image that is really working well for me. My horse, Biasini, likes to pull and sometimes can be rather rude with his pulling. But if I think about my whips it keeps me aware of when he gives me the first tiny hint that he is about to pull and I can act on that and keep him light in my hands.
Try it and see if it works for you. And if you did not see the Beginners Guide to Riding the Mounting Block last year do take a look at it and try that with real whips in your hands and then transfer the ‘image ‘and the ‘feel’ to riding your horse. Let me know how it goes for you!