Dressage whips are often a matter of preference, because it’s the “feel” that really matters. But searching for a whip that is “just right” can be frustrating, as there are so many variables of materials and design in this relatively simple tool. It’s even worse if you can’t go to the tack store and try the whip. Our whip trial was designed to eliminate much of this work for you, narrowing down your field of choices.
The most important variable in whips seems to be balance. By balance, we mean the weight of the grip above the hand vs. the weight of the longer shaft length below. If the rider must constantly struggle to settle that balance point into her hand, she’ll never be really happy using that whip.
Many older-style whips don’t have a separate grip, which makes it harder to find the balance point. In most whips with a separate grip, the balance point seems to naturally fall where the grip meets the shaft, because the weight of the heavier grip above the hand is relatively the same as the longer but lighter shaft. Therefore, the rider isn’t really holding the grip but rather the joint between the grip and the shaft.
Even so, the material in the grip can make a difference to its security, since a portion of it still touches the hand. Also important is the cap on the end. Since many riders grip the reins firmly between the thumb and forefinger and use the rest of the fingers to play with the bit, the hand can open up somewhat. Some riders prefer a smaller cap that makes it easier to switch hands or that won’t make the whip top-heavy, while other riders prefer a larger cap that will keep the whip out of the sand/grass.
Whippy vs. Stiff
Preferences in whip action seem to have come full circle in the last decade. Some older whips with a fairly loose cover were quite flexible, but when the cover was lacquered it made the whips stiffer and therefore more precise. A few years ago, we were seeing lots of whips where the lacquer was applied directly to the shaft or where the shaft was covered with graphite and therefore became a very thin stick of metal.
These stiff whips required less effort but greater precision and also greater care when not in use, since whips without covers are generally less durable.
Some of these very stiff whips are still around, but they’re no longer so popular. The Horsemaster Gold Line, which is lacquered right onto the shaft, and the Fleck Schultheis, which has a double-lacquered linen cover, are examples of dressage whips that are fairly stiff.
The pendulum has swung back recently to “whippy” action, but for the same reason that very stiff whips became popular: They require less exertion. The problem with flexible whips is that they can more easily touch the horse when the rider doesn’t intend it, so they aren’t as suitable on a very sensitive horse or a green horse. On a well-trained horse that is used to light aids, or on a big warmblood when the flexible action can curve around the body rather than produce a quick tap, the flexible whips may be preferred.
The new Fleck Superflex and the Westfield Dynaflex were both developed in response to an interest in whips with a more flexible action. The flexible whips are produced from a change in the composition of the fiberglass in the shaft and cover materials that aren’t lacquered or as tightly woven.
We’ve found that whip length matters as much to the horse as it does to the feel in the rider’s hand. The same model of whip in a different length may make the horse angry or responsive, depending on the horse’s sensitivity and size: A 48” whip could be too long to be used with precision on an Arab and not long enough to be noticed by a Clydesdale cross.
Most dressage whips have a fiberglass shaft and a woven cover of nylon, cotton or linen. The greatest variety of materials comes in the grip, to suit a range of preferences.
Lacquered shafts are generally the most durable. Shafts that are covered with a thin woven thread rather than with a coarse thread or with lacquer tend to fray and develop a cowlick if the horse nibbles on the whip or steps on it.
If you’re buying your whip at a tack shop, in addition to checking length and stiffness, look to see that the cap is firmly attached, since this seems to be the most vulnerable point on most whips. Then check the other end to make sure no fiberglass can wear through the point and cut your horse. Decide whether you prefer an attached lash or an end with a loop where the lash can be replaced.
Try to store your whip where it can be hung up or left out of sight. 0 Whips get borrowed easily, or caught in doorjambs, or bitten or played with by the barn cat and are generally broken before they actually wear out. Discard a whip if the fiberglass becomes exposed at the end or cover it with tape.
Our chart’s listed whip price is based on the shortest version of the whip in that model. Many models are priced by length, with the price going up along with the inches. Lengths are all listed in inches and based on overall length. If a different length is printed on your whip’s label, then it may be for the shaft alone, without the lash. While the overall quality is generally reflected in the price, all the whips we surveyed are well made and serviceable.
Your choice will depend on your personal preference as to thickness, stiffness and grip and also on the stiffness and length that will best suit the individual horse.
Our favorites for appearance, materials, balance, stiffness and grip are the Fleck German-made Schultheis and Fleck Nubuck. However, the working qualities of these top-of-line whips aren’t that different from the USA-made Westfield Tufflex and the Libertyville Horsemaster for less than half the price. The Horsemaster whip, with a beautiful feel at only $13.75, is our Best Buy.
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or:
Fleck, German Equestrian Imports, 866/436-8225; Westfield Whip Mfg. Co., 413/568-8244; Horsemaster, Libertyville Saddle Shop, 800/872-3353, www.saddleshop.com; Old Mill Whips, Perri Leather And Metal Crafters, 610-869-5941, www.ridingwhips.com; Thornhill, 800-445-2289, www.thornhillusa.com; Wonder Whip, Toklat, 800/486-5528, www.toklat.com.