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How to Use a Dressage Whip Correctly

How to Use a Dressage Whip Correctly

A dressage whip is a useful tool as an additional training aid for your horse when used correctly. But if you’ve never used one before, simply holding the whip without dropping it can be a challenge!

In this article, we take a look at how to use the dressage whip correctly.

What is a dressage whip used for?

A dressage whip is intended to be used as an additional refined aid and to reinforce your leg aids.

You should never use the whip to punish your horse. If things go wrong, take a moment to work out why, and don’t immediately assume that the horse is deliberately naughty or disobedient.

What about a jumping whip?

In theory, you could use a jumping whip when schooling your horse, and that can be a useful tactic if your horse is afraid of a long dressage whip. However, a jumping whip is far too short to be of any practical use when schooling a horse for dressage, so it’s better to invest in a dressage whip for that purpose.

How to choose a dressage whip

When you head to your local tack shop to buy a dressage whip, you’ll be amazed by the range of lengths and styles to choose from.

Essentially, a dressage whip is a three to a four-foot length of fiberglass that is encased in a nylon or cotton woven cover with a handle at the thicker end.

At the top of the handle is a cap that finishes the look of the whip and prevents the whip from slipping through your hand.

At the end of the whip is a soft lash, which typically measures from two to as much as nine inches long. Some whips are designed with a flat tab at the end, rather than a lash. The tab doesn’t hurt the horse but makes a snapping sound that can be very effective for some horses that ignore the touch of the whip.

Although the use of the dressage whip remains unchanged, there are dozens of variations to choose from, and the range of handle styles is mindboggling. There’s leather, bamboo, ribbed, suede, velvet, or no handle at all. You can get whips with chrome, gold, and silver-colored, leather, bling, and rubber handle caps. There’s even a choice of cap shape – ball, mushroom, or disc.

However, it’s not all about how the whip looks. The different finishes can affect the stiffness of the whip and its balance in your hand.


Most dressage whips are covered with woven nylon or cotton thread. Generally, the tighter the weave, the stiffer the whip will be, especially if the weave is lacquered too. Lacquered whips are also less likely to fray.

Essentially, a stiff whip will have a lighter touch on the horse. A more flexible whip will have more sting but won’t be as easy to control as a stiffer one. Unless you are very experienced, we suggest that a stiffer dressage whip is the best choice for you.


When you’re carrying your whip, you will be holding the base of the handle, so the material that the whole thing is made from is really more about the look you want.

What’s most important is the balance of the whip which we will talk about next. The whip’s balance will determine how comfortable it will be to hold for an hour or so and whether you will be able to use it accurately.

You can buy dressage whips that don’t have a handle. However, those are extremely difficult to balance and are very easy to drop, especially if you have a sweaty horse or it’s a rainy day. One solution is to use a rubber rein stop as a cap, but a whip with a handle looks smarter.


The whip should rest at an angle across your thigh. You shouldn’t need to keep adjusting the whip to stop it from falling onto your horse’s shoulder, and ideally, a slight flick of your wrist should be all it takes to bring the whip into contact with the horse’s side.

The whip’s balance point is where the handle fixes to the shaft. That means you need to hold the whip at that point, not right at the top underneath the cap.

Generally, the longer the whip, the more weight you will need at the top to balance it. Therefore, a shorter whip with a very heavy handle will feel awkward and tricky to balance. A well-designed whip will be created with a cap that matches the whip shaft’s weight and length.

So, when you’re choosing a whip, hold it at the point where the handle joins the shaft and see whether the whip automatically tips to one side or if it’s easy to hold. Basically, the whip should feel easy to maneuver and be comfortable to hold.

How long is a dressage whip?

Dressage whips come in different lengths, and you want one that suits the size of your horse. For example, if you have a 14hh dressage pony, you don’t want a four-foot fishing rod! Similarly, if you ride an 18hh warmblood, a short whip is useless, as it most likely won’t reach past your saddle pad, and your horse won’t feel its touch.

As with any item of tack, dress, and equipment, always consult your dressage body’s current rule book to see what the rules are for whip length. Unfortunately, just to muddy the water, most whip manufacturers measure their whips by shaft length, and they don’t include the lash. So, be sure to measure the whip from its cap to the end of the lash so that you know you are within the rules.

What colors are available?

Dressage whips come in an array of colors, including sparkles!

It’s really just a matter of personal preference, but remember to check your dressage association’s rules on what color whips are permitted to be used in competitions.

Left or right hand?

If you’ve chosen a well-balanced dressage whip that is the correct length for you and your horse, you should be able to hold the whip in both hands fairly easily. That’s important for a few reasons.

  • One hind leg may need more activation, so you need to swop the whip over to that side.
  • If you are riding indoors, you don’t want the whip to catch on the wall, etc.
  • There may be others riding with you, and you don’t want to accidentally clip another horse or rider with your whip as you pass.

So, although it may be tempting to hold your whip in whichever is your dominant hand, you must practice carrying and using the whip in both hands.

How to hold a dressage whip

When you hold a dressage whip, it should run right through your hand.

Hold your reins as normal. The dressage whip should rest on the crease in the center of your palm.

Check that you are holding the whip correctly by turning your hand over. The whip’s angle should match that of your knuckles. Beware! If you get the angle wrong, you could accidentally flick your horse across the flank, which could have dramatic results!

Changing the whip from one hand to the other 

When it comes to changing the whip from one side to the other, there are two ways to do that.

To change the whip from your right hand to your left:

Method #1 – least preferred for long whips

Take the whip’s handle and both reins into your right fist.

With your left hand, grab hold of the whip’s handle and slide it up through your right hand.

Now, reposition the whip correctly in your left hand with the shaft lying across your left thigh and take back your reins.

This method is the least preferred because the sound of the whip sliding through your gloves can frighten some horses, and if you have a very long whip, it can be difficult to slide it all the up and out of your hands.

This method is best for shorter dressage whips and jumping whips.

Method #2 – most preferred for long whips

Take the whip’s handle and both reins into your right fist.

With your left hand, reach over the top of your right hand, grab hold of the whip and rotate it through an arc over to the left side.

Now, reposition the whip correctly in your left hand with the shaft lying across your left thigh and take back your reins.

Although this method does take practice, once you get the hang of it, it is the easiest way to change your whip hand and can cause the least disturbance to the horse.

How to use a dressage whip correctly

As previously mentioned, the whip is not there to punish the horse. Your dressage whip is used to reinforce your leg aid and elicit a sharper reaction.

For example, in leg-yield, if your horse is slow to move away from your inside leg, a quick tap with the whip behind your leg can help to keep the horse attentive and alive to your aids.

When you want to use your whip, don’t use your elbow. The movement should come from your wrist, but the angle of the whip is controlled by your pinky. Although moving that little finger might seem like nothing much at all, it does create big changes to the angle of the whip at the lash end, which is the part of the whip that the horse will feel.

So, if you want the whip to touch your horse low down to activate his hock, you need to open your pinky. If you want the whip the touch your horse higher up, you close your pinky.

Using your wrist

Think about how you would use your wrist to turn a doorknob. You could turn the doorknob suddenly as if you were in a rush to go out, or you could turn it slowly, as though you were balancing a bag of groceries in the other hand.

Those two wrist rotation speeds send different messages down the whip to your horse. In the first scenario, sudden rotation of your wrist causes the whip to give your horse a sharp tap, whereas the second scenario translates to a gentle tickle on the horse’s side.

You can also create a gentle, feathering effect with the whip by rotating your wrist quickly and softly back and forth.

Saluting with the dressage whip

If you carry a dressage whip in competitions, you should never salute with your whip hand. Simply salute the judge with the hand that isn’t holding the whip.

Note that if you do salute with your whip in your hand, you will be deducted two marks for an error of the test.

In conclusion

The dressage whip is used to reinforce your leg aids and should never be used to punish the horse.

Choose a whip that is well-balanced and fits the size of your horse, and practice switching the whip from your left to right hand and vice versa so that you can do that easily when needed without having to stop.

Please share this article if you found it helpful and share with us any tips that you may have on how to use a dressage whip.

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  1. I have found that it is very hard to find a Dressage whip that is balanced so that you can actually hold it anywhere near the handle. When buying a new whip, I balance it on one finger to see where the balance point is. If it is way down the shaft, it is a no buy. I once had a whip I loved. I had used black duck tape to tape a fishing weight under the pommel.

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