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What is a riding crop and how to use one

What is a riding crop

Riding crops are an essential riding aid in equestrianism, designed to enhance communication between horse and rider. The riding crop is not merely for reinforcement but also a crucial part of a rider’s signalling system ensuring smooth and effective interaction.

Understanding what is a riding crop and its role in equestrian sports is essential for both novice and seasoned riders. Proper use of a riding crop can significantly improve the horse’s responsiveness, obedience, and performance.

A riding crop is a short, flexible whip used by equestrians to communicate with their horse. It typically consists of three main components: the shaft, the handle, and the keeper or flap.

The shaft is the long, flexible part that provides structure and is made from either cane or nowadays from more modern materials, such as fibreglass or carbon fibre (the same composition as fishing rods). The shaft is normally wrapped in leather, cotton or nylon cord.

The handle is designed for a secure and comfortable grip, with a mushroom-shaped end cap to prevent the crop from slipping through the hand, often featuring wrist loops for added security.

The keeper, a small flap at the end of the shaft, normally made of leather, is the part that makes contact with the horse to give them precise, gentle signals. Riding crops are crucial for reinforcing leg aids and ensuring effective communication during riding.

Whips have been used for thousands of years to herd cattle and other animals. However, riding crops have been a part of equestrian activities for only a few centuries. One of the earliest recorded uses of a riding crop is attributed to George Washington in 1770.

antique riding crop

Riding Crops have evolved from simple sticks to sophisticated aids designed for effective communication between horse and rider. In ancient times, riders used basic whips to control their horses. Over time, the design of riding crops became more refined, incorporating flexible shafts and comfortable handles for better control and precision.

The addition of the keeper, a small flap at the end, allowed for gentle signalling without causing harm. Today riding crops are crafted from advanced materials featuring ergonomic designs that are light but perfectly balanced, making them indispensable tools in contemporary equestrianism.

Exploring what is a riding crop shows the versatility in disciplines such as showjumping, dressage, and hunting. Riding crops are typically carried and used by riders on horseback. They can be categorised into five different types.

1. Standard Riding Crop

Standard riding crops typically include a handle, a shaft, and a keeper (the leather flapper at the end), although some may also feature a lash. They are used by riders of all levels, from amateurs to professionals, whether for training, leisure riding, jumping, or hacking out. These crops are generally shorter, ranging from 45cm (18 inches) to 61cm (24 inches) in length.

2. Jumping Crops

Whilst many riders use a standard riding crop for jumping, there are specialised crops or bats designed specifically for this discipline. These are known as jumping bats or jumping crops, distinguished by their longer padded keeper.

According to British showjumping rules, a jumping bat must meet specific criteria:

  • It should measure between 45cm and 70cm in length.
  • The diameter of the shaft must be at least 1cm, running the full length of the whip.
  • The contact area, covered with a smooth pad, and at least 40% of the whip’s overall length.
  • The pad must be smooth with no protrusions or raised surfaces.
  • No wording or personalisation of the pad is allowed.
  • No binding within 17 centimetres of the pad’s end.
  • The whip must not exceed 160 grams in weight which should be evenly distributed.

The FEI rules for showjumping state that a jumping bat or riding crop should not exceed 75cm or 30” (including the lash or flap)

3. Dressage Whips

Dressage whips are an essential tool for riders participating in dressage, a discipline that emphasises precision, elegance, and harmony between horse and rider. Dressage whips are typically longer and more flexible than standard riding crops, with a length ranging from 100cm to 140cm (40 to 55 inches). This extended length allows the rider to tap the horse’s side or hindquarters without having to move their hands from the reins maintaining a steady and consistent contact.

The rules regarding dressage whips vary between regulatory bodies, so this is a quick explanation of the rules.

FEI & USEF: Under FEI Dressage Competition Rules in respect of most major competitions the use of a whip is expressly forbidden, unless in the practice arena, when is must be dropped before you enter the space around the competition arena . In this case dressage whips should not exceed a maximum of 120cm (one hundred and 20 cm) or 100cm (one hundred centimetres) in the case of pony competitions.

British Dressage rules are less specific. At most low-level dressage competitions, you will be permitted to carry a schooling whip for your dressage test. However, if you are Eventing, or competing at a Championship, whips are not permitted outside of the warmup arena. The rules state that one whip is permitted in normal competitions (unless special dispensation has been given) and may be of any length. At most championship competitions, whips are not permitted, but refer to our page on British Dressage rules for specific events and more information.

One of the key features of a dressage whip is its flexibility. Unlike the stiffer standard crops, dressage whips have a supple shaft that provides a more subtle and refined touch. The whip’s lash, often made of lightweight materials, is designed to deliver precise cues without causing discomfort to the horse. This gentle yet effective form of communication helps riders reinforce leg aids and encourage specific movements, such as lateral work or transitions, enhancing the horse’s responsiveness and performance.

In addition to its practical design, the dressage whip serves a crucial role in training and competition. Riders use it to reinforce aids and guide the horse with finesse, ensuring that commands are clear and understood. Proper use of the dressage whip can enhance the horse’s obedience, balance, and overall harmony with the rider, contributing to the elegance and precision that are hallmarks of dressage.

4. Trotting and driving/carriage whips

Trotting or driving/carriage whips are specially designed for use in harness driving, where horses pull carriages or carts. These whips are characterised by their considerable length, typically ranging from 120cm to 200cm (47 to 79 inches), allowing the driver to reach the horse without needing to leave their seated position in the carriage.

A feature of driving whips is their lightweight construction, which ensures ease of handling over extended periods. The shaft of a driving whip is generally made from materials such as fiberglass or carbon fiber, providing both flexibility and strength. At the end of the whip is a long lash of a similar length to the shaft, often made of nylon or leather, which is used to gently cue the horse.

In harness driving, the whip serves as an essential communication tool between the driver and the horse. It is used to signal commands, reinforce voice aids, and guide the horse’s movements, ensuring precision and coordination.
For instance, a light touch with the whip can encourage the horse to increase its pace or to correct its alignment in the harness. Proper use of the whip helps maintain the horse’s focus and responsiveness, contributing to a smooth and controlled drive.

5. Hunting Crops

Hunting crops, also known as hunt whips or hunting whips, are specialised tools used in the traditional sport of fox hunting. These crops are distinct in design and functionality, featuring unique elements such as a hook and a thong, which set them apart from other types of riding crops.

One of the primary features of a hunting crop is the hook, also referred to as the “horn” or “crook,” traditionally made of deer or staghorn antler, or metal but in more modern times from durable synthetic materials. The hook is used for opening and closing gates without the rider dismounting, which is particularly useful during a hunt where maintaining pace and efficiency is crucial.

Attached to the end of the hunting crop is the thong, a long leather strip that serves multiple purposes. The thong is not normally used to encourage the horse, but to assist in controlling the hounds by keeping them away from the horses feet, It can also be lowered and used to retrieve objects such as a dropped glove or to clear small obstacles encountered during the ride.

Hunting crops are typically shorter than riding crops, usually measuring around 50cm (20 inches), excluding the length of the thong. The shaft is made from a much stiffer, cane, wood or carbon composite material. The compact size makes them easy to handle while riding through dense woodland or rougher terrain, common in hunting environments.

Holding a riding crop correctly is essential for effective communication with the horse and for maintaining a proper riding technique. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to hold a riding crop properly:

1. Position in the Hand:
– Hold the crop in the same hand as your inside reins.
– Place the handle of the crop so that it rests along the palm of your hand, with the end of the handle extending past your pinky finger.

2. Grip:
– Grip the crop with your fingers, holding it firmly but not too tightly. Your thumb should wrap around the reins and the crop, securing them together.
– The crop should lie across your palm at an angle, not straight up or down, allowing for easy use without altering your grip on the reins.

3. Angle and Position:
– The shaft of the crop should point downward, lying along the horse’s shoulder or thigh. This position allows for quick, precise movements.
– Avoid holding the crop too far forward or backward, which can interfere with your balance and the horse’s movement.

4. Using the Crop:
– When using the crop, apply light taps to the horse’s shoulder, flank, or hindquarters, depending on the desired effect
– Use your wrist to move the crop rather than your entire arm. This ensures subtle, controlled signals.

5. Switching Hands:
– If you need to change reins, to switch the crop to your other hand, bring both reins and the crop to the center, briefly hold both reins in one hand, and then transfer the crop to the other hand.
– Ensure that you maintain control of the reins during this process to keep steady contact with the horse.
By holding the riding crop correctly, you ensure clear communication with your horse and maintain a balanced and effective riding position.

It is important to emphasise that a riding crop, dressage whip, or any other horse riding whip should be used solely for communication and training, never for punishment. Regulatory bodies have strict rules on the use of whips to ensure humane treatment.

For example, in showjumping, it is prohibited to use a whip to vent frustration. If a horse is hit more than three times in a row, if the skin is broken, or if the horse is hit on the head, the rider is immediately eliminated.

Using a whip as punishment is not only cruel but also counterproductive. Horses are intelligent and remember acts of cruelty. The proper way to use a whip is as an extension of your leg to communicate the desired movement, fostering harmony and cooperation between rider and horse.

Choosing the right riding crop involves considering several factors, including the riding discipline, the material, the length, and the grip. Here’s a very simple guide to help you select the most suitable riding crop for your needs.

Leisure Riding/Training

For leisure riding or training, opt for a standard riding crop between 45 and 61 cm. Most modern riding crops are made from carbon fibre, though traditional bamboo crops are still available. Look for a crop with a comfortable grip that feels balanced in your hand. Riding crops can come with either a keeper or a lash, depending on your needs. To find the right length, hold the crop with your reins and ensure it allows you to touch the horse without requiring significant movement on your part.


For showjumping, you can use a standard riding crop or a jumping bat specifically designed for the sport. Ensure that whatever you choose is compliant with British Showjumping Association (BSJA) regulations.


Dressage whips are typically longer (100-140 cm) and have a lash at the end. Most modern dressage whips are extremely light and well-balanced. The length allows you to tap the horse’s side or hindquarters without moving your hands from the reins.


Hunting whips come in a wide variety of styles. While modern materials are available, traditional hunting whips made from real wood or cane, wrapped in leather, with a stag horn hook and braided leather lash, offer a classic feel. These traditional whips are not only functional but also embody the heritage of the sport.

Proper care of your riding crop can extend its lifespan and ensure it remains effective and safe to use. Here are some tips on how to care for your riding crop:

1. After each use, wipe down the crop with a damp cloth to remove dirt, sweat, and grime. Avoid soaking the crop in water. Occasionally, give your crop a more thorough cleaning using a mild soap solution. Gently scrub the handle, shaft, and keeper or lash. Rinse with a damp cloth and let it air dry completely before storing.

2. Store your crop in a dry place to prevent mold and mildew, especially if it has leather components. Keep your crop away from direct sunlight, heat sources, or freezing conditions, as extreme temperatures can damage the materials. Hang the crop by its handle or lay it flat to prevent bending or warping.

3. If your crop has leather parts, such as the keeper or thong, regularly condition the leather with a suitable leather conditioner to keep it supple and prevent cracking. Use leather protectors to shield the leather from moisture and dirt.

By regularly inspecting and caring for your riding crop, you can ensure it remains in good condition. Replace it as soon as you notice significant wear or damage to maintain effective communication with your horse and ensure safety during rides.

Learning what is a riding crop and how to choose the right one ensures effective communication and harmony between horse and rider, whether for leisure riding, showjumping, dressage, hunting, or driving. Selecting the right crop involves considering the specific needs of your discipline, the material, length, and a comfortable grip. Proper care and timely replacement of your riding crop ensure its longevity and maintain the safety and effectiveness of your riding aids.

Over the years, riding whips have evolved significantly. Today, you can purchase bespoke whips in a variety of shaft and handle colors, and even adorn them with crystals for a personalised touch. At Pink Equine, we offer a wide range of custom horse whips for sale through Fleck Whips of Germany, providing both functionality and style to suit every rider’s preference and unlike many online retailers, we are able to offer worldwide shipping on any whip up to 150cm.

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