Liam has always been very scared of any type of whip for as long as I’ve owned him. I don’t know exactly what his experience was, but any kind of whip makes him immediately go into high alert.
He’s getting to a place in his training where the whip as an aid (not as a punishment) would be very beneficial to both of us, if he would accept it. Then I could more easily show him what I am wanting him to do (tap tap “please move these haunches over”).
My trainer told me that in order for him to understand that the whip is an aid and not a punishment, I need to start carrying it all the time, instead of just picking it up when I need it. That made sense, then he learns that I can have it in my hand and not use it, instead of waiting until I need it to grab it and then have to use it right away. So I picked it up at the beginning of my ride yesterday, and he immediately got tense and began to leg yield, which was previously what we had been doing when I picked up a whip. I tried to get him to walk forward, and he basically shut down. He just could not handle the fact that I had a whip in my hand, and we spend the entire ride mostly standing still, waiting for him just to relax and walk forward quietly. It was a long boring ride, but at the end he did sigh and walk forward.
Today we started right where we left off, and it was much better, but still not great. He would walk and trot, more or less on the bit, but with much tension. So my trainer told me to hold the whip up higher across my waist instead of across my thigh. She said it is less intimidating to them that way because they can’t see it to the side and it can’t “get them” from up so high. It felt weird in my hand, but it did help a ton. He knew I still had it and remained wary, but by the end of the ride today I had my soft relaxed horse back, and he was trotting around quite nicely despite the whip in my hand.
It was a good lesson for me. Previously, he had me trained not to use a whip because he objected so strongly to it. But what I learned this week was that even though we spent almost an hour standing still just waiting for him to relax and it sure didn’t feel like we were doing “dressage”, we actually accomplished a VERY big step in his dressage training. Going forward, as he continues to gain confidence and trust when I carry a whip, it will be so helpful to have that additional aid to communicate with.