I use longe whips when I work with horses in the round pen and the arena. I also will use dressage whips and buggy whips. Whips get a bad name because people abuse them, using them incorrectly and in anger. In truth, however, whips can be less restrictive or abusive than even a human hand. A dressage whip, for example, can be used to gently tap on a horse’s sides to ask him to walk into a trailer. A buggy whip can be gently tapped on the side of the horse’s hindquarters to ask him to turn. A longe whip can be used to ask the horse to move one way or another at a safe distance. In all of these example, the whip is an extension of the hand, allowing the human to safely ask the horse to move one way or the other safely.
How to use longe whips
Longe whips come in different lengths, and you should be sure to get one that is appropriate for the size of your round pen or arena. The purpose is to encourage the horse to move in a direction but still be at a safe distance. Horses have a tendency sometimes to buck or kick out, especially when they are at liberty, and it behooves you to be at least six feet away.
You can see some of my previous posts about round penning and free longeing in which I go more into detail about building respect in the round pen and showing how to use the longe whip correctly:
Incorrect uses of longe whips
There are a few things that I hate to see when people are using longe whips. First of all, do not constantly “snap” the whip; once or twice should be sufficient. If your horse is ignoring you when you are snapping the whip, the answer is not to keep snapping the whip repeatedly- obviously he is ignoring you because he doesn’t respect you.
In the video above, you can see poor Molly trying to get Quixote to trot. He’s ignoring her because he doesn’t respect her- she would do better putting the halter on him, making him walk forward, back up, stop, ask him to trot on the line, etc., and THEN ask him to move out at liberty, instead of just snapping the whip. It’s not that she’s a poor horsewoman- it’s that Quixote will not do anything unless he respects the person (this comes from his history of neglect and of being worked with by novice handlers). In order to work Quixote, he has to respect you- and that takes more than just waving a whip around.
Secondly, do not tie a plastic bag to the end of the whip in order to try to scare him into moving. Again, the goal is not for the horse to run because he’s afraid- he should run because you’re asking him to. I hate getting on a horse who has been chased by plastic bags on the end of a longe line because then the horse is afraid of plastic bags- which makes a ride dangerous if a plastic bag happens to blow by. I do just the opposite with plastic bags- my horses think carrots and treats come in plastic bags, and instead of running AWAY from them, they go TOWARDS them, thinking there is a treat. If your issue is that your horse refuses to respect you and do what you ask, you need to go back to working him on a line and focus on having him listen to you, not scare him with plastic bags or shaking soda cans filled rocks at him.
Longe whips (or any whips) should never be scary
Whips should, again, be an extension of your hand, and they should never, never be used in anger, to hurt, or to scare the horse (see above mention about plastic bags). Horses who have been beaten by whips will fear them- the only way to overcome this is to gently and slowly get them used to the whips- and sometimes the abuse has been so terrible that the horse will often be scared, or at least wary, of the whip. This can be dangerous to future handlers as the horse will have a violent reaction to a whip and hurt himself or the handler.
You can see Quixote here and how scared he is of the longe whip (watch for the yawn!):
As you can see, Quixote has no fear of the whip at all, and is pretty bored by the entire interaction.
Body language and your voice are more effective than a longe whip
Although I use a longe whip while working with the horses, it’s more my body language and my vocal commands that the horses are watching. Again, the whip is just the extension of my hand, so while I’ll move it to get their attention, it is not the only thing they’re watching (as opposed to when you’re chasing them with a bag at the end of the whip- I can guarantee the bag is all they’re watching because they’re afraid it might hurt them).
Watch the end of a short workout with Quixote (below). You can’t see me the entire time, but you can see that he changes gaits, stops, turns, and comes in without me chasing him or waving the whip excessively.
Quixote has an ear cocked towards me, and he is listening to me as he works. You’ll notice I never hit him with the whip, and he is not stressed or fearful in the interaction. You can ask your horse to canter or even run without stressing him out, chasing him, or scaring him- you just have to work on the relationship so he knows what you’re asking.