We all like to hold on to our beliefs and our familiair training aids. I know I do, even when I already know I never will use it. Here are some ways to drop your crop.
Holding on to your riding crop (carrot stick, training stick or lunge whip) gives us a feeling of safety and empowerment. We need our crop, just in case…
But what if you don’t have a crop anymore. What would happen? Would you die? Yes, it can feel that way, but you (probably) won’t. I survived and I am riding without a crop for almost 20 years now.
If you need it to punish your horse, I think there are some issues to solve first before you jump back into the saddle. Then you don’t need it anymore.
I think the safety issue of carrying a crop lives between our ears.
Ask yourself ‘Why’
Why are you using a crop? I know the answer most riders will give: ‘It is an extension of my arm/leg’. Hmm, you say only really, really , really long armed people can ride and train horses? I don’t believe that.
If your horse needs a long-armed, long-legged person to do as you say, there is something that can be changed in your communication. Teach your horse other cues and solve it. I think this is a lame excuse for all the riders who think it is really convenient to use their whip (which hurts! There is no such thing as a ‘light tap’, without hurting your horse) to get their instant result. Study proves that horses have even thinner skins than humans.
The only people who might be ‘needing’ a crop in this way are the para-Olympic riders without arms or legs who have to ride other peoples horses, horses that are traditionally trained with leg aids. You can’t expect them to retrain a horse in a day in an unfamiliar environment and win.
How I dropped the crop – cold turkey
I know exactly when and where I dropped my crop. It was in the summer of ’87. It broke, while I was using it. Oops.
There are many, many excuses I can come up with why this happened: my crop was about a decade old and therefore the plastic must have been poreus. I always used it on my bike (my ‘iron horse’ in Dutch) and it often came between the spokes of my wheel while biking so it was probably already broken inside. And it was-of course- my pony’s fault. If he hadn’t been lying down in that deep puddle to roll with me and his saddle on his back I wouldn’t have to use my crop. I like to tell myself I was hitting the saddle when it broke. Anyway. It broke into two pieces and became useless instantly. I had no money for a new one, I was also really ashamed to tell anyone about it. So that was the end of my crop and the day I stopped using one altogether.
From that day forward I had no crop, so I had to solve my ‘problems’ with him in another way. Since I couldn’t force or threaten him anymore I tried the friendly way. Just asking. A miracle happened: he just would do it!
Sometimes I had to rephrase my question, but he never refused ‘on purpose’ or ‘to get back at me’. No. I discovered he was very willing but sometimes needed a few seconds before he would do it. I discovered he was sometimes afraid or there was another (good) reason for him.
The day I lost my crop was the best day: from that day on I took a leap and flipped my approach 180 degrees. I started really to listen to my horse. It wasn’t always easy and often I still got really frustrated. I also discovered that I had been using the crop on many occasions just to relief myself from some of my frustration. I only released this when I had no crop anymore.
When I found positive reinforcement I knew this was the next step in my journey. It still didn’t tell me what do do and how to solve ‘problems’ (when you say ‘Yes’ and your horse says ‘No’) but it was a start for me. Now, almost 20 years later I wrote my own step-by-step program in positive reinforcement horse training: my Key Lessons (the ‘keys to success’ in clicker training).
I dear you to throw away your crop (or whip or training stick or carrot stick or lunge whip) and see how good your communication skills with your horse really are when the threat of the crop is taken out of the equation.
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Do you need some help to ‘drop your crop’ and change to positive reinforcement training or do you want to sign up for the next online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them‘, please visit my website