There are two ways to look at lunge whips, as a basic, disposable piece of equipment or as a precision training aid. People who keep a lunge whip always at hand, propped up by the barn door or ring gate to be used by whoever walks by, want an inexpensive lunge whip. It’ll always be swiped or stepped on or bitten off or lost or snapped in a doorjamb before it wears out.
Those who can take care of their lunge whip may revel in the luxury of a more expensive whip. Lunge whips that are lighter and longer usually cost more. Are they worth the heftier price tag' For the most part, yes.
Here’s the basic principle: The bigger the circle that you lunge, the better it is for your horse. Circles that are too tight — less than 20 meters — cause torque and repetitive stress on legs. You need a long whip to control the horse out on the circle. Sturdy one-piece whips are fairly heavy and thus have to be shorter. Lighter whips can be longer.
That takes us quickly into the realm of telescoping whips, which came about a few years ago for ease of transport, so you wouldn’t have to roll down the window of your truck. But since they are partially hollow — unlike their one-piece cousins — they are also lighter. Because they collapse, they’re easy to carry, store and can telescope to lengths inconceivable on a one-piece whip.
The only time you want a really short lunge whip is when you are first breaking a horse to lunging or if you have a horse that is afraid of the whip, and thus you need to reverse it under your arm.
The place where people usually go wrong in terms of length is right when they make a purchase. The buyer snaps away at all the whips in the display looking for the one that “feels best.” But he doesn’t really have room in the shop to appreciate the longer whips (unless he goes out to the parking lot), and the one that feels best is usually going to be shorter. That won’t do the horse much good. For the sake of your horse’s legs, get a longer whip.
The way whips are listed for sale causes some confusion. They’re usually listed by the length of the shaft, but the lash doubles the whip’s length so that a whip listed at 72” is really 12’ when you include the shaft, lash and the popper.
When it comes to feel, men and women seem to head in different directions, with men leaning toward a heftier whip. Try a whip before you commit yourself to it. Find out about return policies if you are catalog shopping — and remember that long, one-piece whips also will require a shipping surcharge. At a tack shop, find out if you can go outside in the parking lot to snap the thing a few times before your purchase.
Solid Lunge Whips
The basic one-piece lunge whip has a fiberglass shaft covered by woven nylon or some other synthetic thread that then extends into a lash that is at least as long as the shaft. There is usually a molded rubber grip.
Cheaper models with a loose weave may have a cover just slipped onto the shaft and will wear out more quickly. A tighter cover woven directly on the shaft is more durable, especially at the most vulnerable point at the end of the shaft. Avoid whips where the cover shifts easily.
Lunge whips that don’t have a cover must form a lash with a separate attachment, usually a swivel, and the lash can be made from a variety of materials, including cording, leather and braided synthetics.
Poppers formed from the end of the braided lash aren’t replaceable. Poppers looped on the end of the lash can be replaced for a dollar or two if they wear out before the whip does.
Some whips don’t have a popper, although they may produce more of a “snap” than a “pop” with the right wrist action. If the end of the lash is made of thin leather or cord, the material can be split and a popper added if the handler prefers one. If you really want a popping sound when you lunge, we found that poppers work best with a well timed flick of the wrist rather than through the use of strength.
Collapsible Lunge Whips
More new ideas have been produced in collapsible whips than the usual solid one-piece versions, although some traditionalists resist the change. Ideas have been borrowed from both fishing and golf equipment for materials and structure.
Handles from Snowbee, which makes fishing poles and golf clubs, are sometimes seen on lunge whips. The Practical Choice whip has a Snowbee handle that actually says “Lady” on the end, straight from the golf rack.
Lunge whips that can be shortened come in two types, those that break down into two pieces and those that telescope. Two-piece whips usually resemble their one-piece cousins, with a solid fiberglass core, woven cover and lash plus a screw-in or push-in mid-section to join the pieces together. The intention is convenience of storage and transport. Sometimes the attachment stays tight and sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s almost impossible to tell which will be the case until the whip is used.
Telescoping whips are partially hollow and usually contain some graphite. They don’t have a woven cover. Thus, the lash can be a different, light material and is connected with a swivel or firmly glued on. Since the shaft is so short when it’s broken down, the lash can be a minor annoyance to store since there’s less room to wrap it.
The telescoping whips in our trial had some special features, in addition to their lightness and length. The Fleck and Libertyville whips both have a threaded tip where the swivel is attached that prevents the sections from falling out when retracted. Some of our testers found the swivel connection disconcerting, while others took to it right away. The light weight is attractive to those who suffer from carpal-tunnel syndrome.
The Telewhip is a truly distinctive whip. It extends from 3’ to an amazing 27’ overall, with a 10’ shaft in four sections and a 17’ lash — 12’ longer than the next longest whip we tried. Since the whip is so long, the handler must change her timing because otherwise the horse will be half way round the circle from the moment when she casts the whip until the lash reaches its end.
When retracted, the lash — which can be trimmed — can be wound around two brass hooks that stay out of the way when the whip is in use. Thus the whip makes a neat three-foot package that can be easily stored in a tack trunk.
The manufacturer warns that arena dirt can clog up the telescoping action. One of our testers used her own Telewhip for four years, thinking nothing of dropping it in the ring, until it finally shattered when her horse stepped on it. It does need to be dropped at times because the 10’ shaft is nearly impossible to reverse under the arm.
The most impressive whip in this trial is the Fleck Telescoping Whip. It’s long, light and well-balanced and has the ad ded convenience of retracting for storage. The only thing heavy about it is the $67 price tag.
If you don’t want to spend that much for a lunge whip, or you prefer the traditional one-piece whip with a braided cover and lash, the Westfield Standard is our Best Buy. It’s well-made, sturdy and well-balanced and a clear bargain. But we would suggest you go for the longer six-foot shaft (13’overall), which is $19.
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: County and Practical Choice, Miller Harness Co, 800/553-7655, www.millerharness.com; Fleck & Co., 866/436-8225; Westfield Whip Mfg. Co., 413/568-8244; Libertyville Saddle Shop, 800/872-3353, www.saddleshop.com; Telewhip, 408/847-7157 or Dover Saddlery 800/989-1500 www.doversaddlery.com.