How To Crack a Whip

Have a hankering to whip-break your horse? Here are a few tips from professional cowboy, Sam Morrison for desensitizing your mount properly.

By Jenn Webster

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1) Start this process from the ground. It works best with a halter and lead shank, but as you can see in these pictures I am demonstrating the technique with a horse that has approximately three days of experience with a whip already. It can be done with or without a saddle. I start by gently swinging my whip one of two swings at first over the horse’s withers, without any sound. I continue repeating this process until the horse is calm and standing still and tolerating the touch of the whip laying over him. As the horse becomes better with it, I swing the whip over the wither three to four times.

If at any point the horse decides to leave, that’s okay. He may have to move his feet to help him become more accepting of the whip. Holding tight to my inside rein or lead rope, I simply allow the horse to move in circles around me and I start swinging the whip in a gradual motion in front of the horse’s front feet. I never touch his front legs with it, nor do I try and scare him with the whip. I simply want to use it to discourage any more forward motion. Then I can go back to swinging it over the withers. In the meantime, it gives him some experience with the sensation of a rope (or a whip) near his lower legs.

Pic-#2-(Over-the-back)

2) Once the horse is quiet with the whip going over his withers three or four times in a row, I progress to constant swinging. I will finally add one crack of sound in and let the horse process what just happened. In doing so, however, I must ensure that I start out with a soft “pop” as opposed to a full-on crack of the whip and that the sound is always directed away from the horse’s face or ears.

Pic-#3-(Soft-pop)

3) When the horse can consistently handle step #2, it’s time to work the whip down the horse’s body. Standing on the same side as I began, I gently begin throwing my whip over the horse’s back, just the same as I did at the wither. Once he can handle that, I advance to his hind end- gently throwing my whip around his hind legs and so on. I will do this repeatably in each spot and get the horse desensitized to the whip being tangled on, or around each part of the body until he is no longer afraid of it. If at any point the horse shows that he is uncomfortable, it’s best to keep going at it but retract back to a point on the body where the horse is comfortable with the whip being laid over. For instance, many times the wither is a great point at which to revert back. My advice is not to progress forward to the next point on the horse’s body until he is consistently relaxed with the last phase.

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4) After the horse can accept the whip being gently laid over each part of his body, it’s time to move forward and begin introducing the sound of the whip to the horse. Up until this point, I’ve only begun to acquaint the horse to soft “pops,” but as we all know the sound of a whip is much more piercing. Once soft pops are tolerated, I can begin making my whip sound much louder. I’ll start with one loud crack and then two loud cracks in a row, taking note to ensure my horse is comfortable with everything before I progress further. Once I’ve gotten all of these aspects really solid on the ground, even if it’s my horse’s first day with the whip, I could get on his back and slowly start swinging and cracking my whip around. By the next day, I would start on the ground again, before progressing to the horse’s back. The key is to work on everything at least three days in a row- three days ensures you get the information locked into your horse. After that, you should be able to work on cracking your whip loudly right off the at without any problem if you have properly worked to build confidence in your horse when introducing the whip into his training regime. Any shorter than three days, however, may not be enough to properly ingrain whip-brokenness into your horse.

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Sam Morrison has years of experience in feedlot situations, using a whip to ease the task of moving cattle. He has studied the art of whip-ology from Australian master whip maker, William Gough. Gough, now residing in Saskatchewan, has 41 accumulating years of whip handling and was the Australian Whip Cracking Champion for five consecutive years.

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