Ban of whips debate: poked a Bear and got inspired

I was scrolling through Facebook the other evening when I came across a Horse and Hound post about Gemma Tattersall receiving a yellow card at an event. I had seen Gemma jump at Hickstead and was impressed with her partnership with her horse so was disappointed to read this. Scrolling through the comments, (mostly about Horse and Hound restricting viewing to their VIP readers!) I saw a lady had written that we are heading towards a ban on whips in all disciplines, as is being suggested in racing, and this would “endanger the lives of horses and riders”.

Now, this intrigued me, why would not having a whip endanger life? I ride without one regularly and have never felt endangered. So, I asked. Yes, I poked the Bear!

Ignoring the tirade of put downs and mocking I received – “anyone who has ridden a moderately technical cross country course will know that”, “only someone who has never trained a horse could ask that”, “I’m not a bunny brusher but….” (not sure what a bunny brusher is but guessing it means someone soft?), “people from the showing world shouldn’t start on about horse abuse #equineobesity”……… you have to love the keyboard warriors out there.

Cross country
A technical fence needing accuracy

The only intelligent response was “correcting a horse’s course/angle of its body/getting it’s attention and focus on the right part of a fence could mean the difference between clearing a fence and a catastrophic fall.” So, we use a stick on a shoulder to straighten them? But then I must ask:

  • Does that have to be done with a whip? Or could an alternative solution be found?
  • Does the horse have to have a degree of fear for the stick for this to be effective?
  • How often is a whip used for an alternative reason – to punish, propel, out of temper?
  • If courses are being designed to require a whip to be needed for safety of horse and rider, should we not be changing the designs?

Someone mentioned Murphy Himself and Ian Stark as an example of a whip free combination who completed Badminton and the Olympics but this was obviously written off in the discussion as a “freak of nature”, “one off”….

Then my favourite K.W. (Keyboard warrior) finally said the answer that a lot, I am saddened to suspect, were thinking:

“Listen up all you Novice wanna be’s with a couple of blue ribbons that think you’re a horse trainer: champions stay consistent champions because they have a healthy amount of fear and respect for the trainer.”

Another adding “because it hurts, that’s why it works.”

Joey carrying Haynes
Is this the lesson I should be teaching Joey?

Now, I have to separate fear and respect as they are vastly different – an abusive father has fear, a great father has respect and only one will need to use violence. I personally find it hard to respect anyone who uses fear as a means of control. But people still genuinely believe that fear/pain is neede to compete, in this case, cross country. And I would like to know if that is actually true?

Thankfully I wasn’t the only voice on the thread not believing this to be true but I was definitely a minority.

It’s strange where inspiration comes from though. I could have just put this incident behind me and done my own thing but I am truly inspired to do something. Don’t get mad, get scientific! The issue is I am not sure what/how, so I will open it up to the world and hope input from you wonderful folk will help to guide this fire that has been lit.

If I was to do a scientific study, where do I start?

  • Survey at a cross country event – I could categorise use of the whip as directional, propelling or punish and see what the percentages are?
  • Speak to top riders and consider their feelings about it?
  • Speak to course builders about the design of modern courses?
  • Look into research already done for racing and other equine welfare issues?
  • Do a Masters Degree research project on the subject? Maybe there is a University that could guide a study better?

Genuinely interested in thoughts – positive and negative. What can I do? How can I change the world?

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