How to train your horse with a stockwhip
Lily’s Diary – stock-whip training
As mentioned last month, I will be talking about Lily’s training in accepting someone cracking a stock whip next to her. Ok, in real life, my little mare will never be exposed to mustering cattle and have whips being cracked around her, neither will she feature in the next Guy Maclean show. But it is Guy who, unknowingly, planted the idea in my head when I saw his show in 2009 at the Ekka.
I was bedazzled to see his mare not even blinking an eyelid when he was cracking his stock whips around her. This is when something clicked in me and I heard that little voice saying “hmmm…. I wonder if I could ever do this with Lily… I’m sure I can… I will have to find out one day”. I bought one of his DVD and watched it as soon as I went home. It did not show me any methods to teach Lily to stay put but it reinforced the fact that she would need to bond even more with me in order to fully trust she will not get hurt.
As at that time we were still in Brisbane and, for some reasons, I didn’t feel I could do it there so I parked the idea in my mind and forgot about it.
It is only 2 months after we moved to Warwick that the idea perked its little head again. Everything seemed to be right. Lily was lame due to the hard ground so we couldn’t ride and it was the perfect opportunity to do something different.
I knew I had to build up her confidence in me first, and probably mine at the same time. We started with some ground works and I took her out to see scary things until I felt she was trusting me not to put her in danger.
I always start the training sessions with a little chat to explain what we will be doing, followed by a little bit of ground works as it seems it triggers a switch in her head which helps her to focus on the job. Then a treat as a reward. I always finish the training with a walk around the place, lots of praise, a little grazing and a final treat.
The first training session, I started with a lunge whip at first to see her reaction. She snorted and bolted. I decided to hold her then, showed her the whip and let her sniff it, gave her a treat and then made some noise with the whip. It took few attempts for her not to move away but she stayed there eventually.
The next day, we repeated the same process at first then I dropped the lead on the ground. She did not move away, did not snort and was calm. We had a winner!
Well, that was it for us until the following week-end now as I can’t train her during the week.
So a week later, the 3rd session started as a repeat of the previous one and her reaction was the same. I then got the stock whip out and let her sniff it as long as she wanted to. I held her lead and simply swung the whip above her head. No reaction. Praise and treat. I then went further and cracked it on the side. No reaction. Praise and treat. So I went on and kept cracking as much as I could since I am not a whip-cracker. Same deal. No reaction. Praise and treat. I closed the session.
The following day, we repeated what we did the day before and this time I dropped the lead on the ground. And to be honest, I thought she would bolt away but she did not.
So that was it. She stayed and we won a battle.
If I could do it, you too can!
- First of all, make sure you and your horse are in a safe environment. If you haven’t got access to a proper round yard, ensure that the place where you will be practising is appropriately fenced. That is the fences are safe for your horse in case he gets frightened. The enclosure should be the size of a round yard and it doesn’t matter if it is square or rectangular. It must be free of obstacles and anything that may cause harm to you or your horse in case he panics.
- Your horse should wear a good halter with a 2 or 3 metre long lead. You can hold the lead at first and then as he becomes more comfortable, you can increase the gap between you and your horse while holding the lead. Eventually you will be able to drop the lead on the ground.
- If you are not an experienced whip cracker, then you would need a small stock-whip as it is easier to use than the long ones. Practice a lot before bringing your horse around you.
- Practice until you are confident that you won’t hit anyone or anything around or next to you, including you. It is of utmost importance that when you crack the whip you don’t hit your horse.
- Once you are confident cracking the whip, you can start working with your horse.
Training with your horse and the stock-whip
- If you like working with treats like I do, then prepare them and carry them in your pocket or a small bag attached to your waist.
- Bring your horse in the enclosure
- If it helps, do some ground works first so your horse understand he needs to focus.
- Let him sniff the whip as long as he wants to.
- Explain to your horse what you are going to do. As you speak to him, project your words into images. Your horse will understand. That is the animal communication part.
- Stands in front of your horse but a little bit on the side of him while holding the lead so you are not in his way in case he gets scared. You do need to stay close to your horse though as he needs to see you as his comfort zone.
- Slowly and gently, wiggle the whip and make sure your horse sees what is happening.
- If you see he is paying attention but is not afraid, then move the whip harder but don’t crack it yet. You want to arrive at a point where your horse is relaxed with whatever you are doing.
- Praise and reward.
- When you know your horse is comfortable, then start cracking the whip gently.
- If your horse gets too unsettled, stop and do some more ground work. Start over.
- Always praise and reward when he is doing what you are expecting.
- As your horse becomes more comfortable with the exercise, then intensify the whip-cracking.
- As you two progress, you can then move away from your horse to eventually having him away from you by a couple of metres. He must not move though. Plenty of rewards when you get there!
As you can see, the whole training is about building up the confidence but also the intensity of the work. It is gradual. You don’t want to get straight into cracking the whip loud and strong as you might scare your horse so much that it will be very hard to reverse.
It takes time and patience, but it is fun an so rewarding for both of you!
And you also need to repeat the exercise often. Always try to finish on a good note so your horse does not keep any bad memories. Don’t yell at him either, instead think out of the box and ask yourself what it that you are doing that he does not understand. There are different ways of saying the same thing, so try something different.
And always have fun!