Carl Hester: Don’t become reliant on the whip *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s dressage columnist discusses using a whip correctly and sticking to the Covid rules

    A very good American friend suggested that I address the value of a properly used whip in this day and age, when some feel we can’t even carry one round the edge of an arena as it’s considered ugly for the public.

    Firstly, a whip is not for keeping the horse going – it’s an auxiliary aid. It has been very evident at regionals and other championships that there are riders who are so reliant on carrying a whip that when the horse enters the arena it goes flump, after which the rider scrambles to ring the vet thinking the horse has a virus.

    The first rule is to make sure you don’t use a whip all the time so you don’t come to rely on it. Used correctly, however, the whip is a very useful tool indeed.

    Over the years I’ve had help from and ridden with trainers from the Spanish Riding School, which has taken my understanding of whip use in a totally new direction. In hand and while on board, the priorities for whip use are point of contact and timing. It’s a touch, with accuracy. Timing is everything and can take years to perfect. If the horse is not in rhythm, use of the whip can cause tension, even irregularity.

    Florian Bacher, who comes over from Austria to help us, spent 18 years at the Spanish Riding School from the age of 15. He’s an expert through training and experience which is why he brings so much to our work, as has David Pincus.

    But when it comes to groundwork, “having a go” is inadvisable. Being on the ground makes you much more vulnerable, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing, and can result in accidents, such as the horrendous one recently involving a person on the ground being double-barrelled in the face. It could have proved fatal.

    A new way of learning

    The recent Rotterdam Hickstead Grand Prix Challenge was a huge success, and it was fantastic to see the comments online from so many spectators, both amateur and professional, who learned a lot. With Covid-19 having changed so much in so many areas of our lives it’s clear this is a concept that needs to be carried on. Congratulations to all involved.

    It was a first attempt at grand prix for some, while other combinations were more seasoned, but one thing that stood out in the judges’ commentary was the importance of not just pointing out when something went wrong, but explaining how and why it went wrong, for example because the horse was crooked or on the forehand. Judges Stephen Clarke and Mariette Sanders-van Gansewinkel did a fabulous job.

    One rider suggested to me that she should have “had a go” and taken part – her horse doesn’t piaffe but she felt a lot of horses taking part in the challenge also didn’t. But this is not the level at which to “have a go”. Yes, not every horse piaffed well, but it was not that they couldn’t, just that they didn’t on the day, perhaps due to competition nerves in either horse or rider.

    The recent grand prix I helped organise at Hartpury saw our newest five-star international judges Peter Storr and Isobel Wessels give riders verbal face-to-face feedback – socially distanced of course – which was also really well received for the added educational value.

    No exceptions

    Aren’t we lucky that competition has started up again? Entries for shows are huge, with waiting lists, which shows how keen people are to get back in the ring. But recently, a rider turned up at a show not with the “one additional person permitted to accompany each horse and rider combination” but with a whole entourage.

    Some people seem keen on policing others but not abiding by the rules themselves. But everyone’s had the memo: competition is essentially “behind closed doors” and the key to ensuring we can continue to compete is adherence to the guidance and protocols British Dressage and all the agencies involved have put in place.

    Every single one of us has a part to play in making sure we operate in a safe, Covid-secure environment. There are no exceptions.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 30 July 2020