The word whip describes two basic types of tools:
A long stick-like device, usually slightly flexible, with a small bit of leather or cord, called a "popper", on the end. Depending on length and flexibility, this type is often called a riding whip, riding crop or "bat". It is also sometimes called a "horsewhip" or "horse whip".
The other type of whip is a long tapered flexible length of single-strand or plaited (braided) material (usually leather) with a stiff handle. Some whips of this type include the bullwhip and the stockwhip. Each design has many variations and lengths for different purposes, often with different names.
As well as these traditional whip types designed for use on animals, there are whip designs that had historic uses for inflicting pain on humans, such as the "cat o' nine tails", knout and others. These devices are used as flogging instruments, a means of control, corporal punishment or torture.
Whips today are used primarily in animal training for three main purposes:
- As an extension of the human arm to give commands to animals by tapping them.
- To make a loud sharp sound, to provide direction and command to animals.
- To inflict pain. (However, this is considered incorrect use and can be considered animal cruelty in some jurisdictions.)
When a bullwhip handle is rapidly and properly moved, the tip of the whip can exceed 340 m/s (760 mph) producing a small sonic boom described as a "crack". Whips were the first man-made implements to break the sound barrier. This loud noise is commonly used to drive or direct livestock or teams of harnessed animals, such as oxen or mules.
Most horse whips can be used to give commands by touch and can cause pain, but cannot make a "crack". These may include riding crops, dressage whips, and carriage or buggy whips. The exception is the Longe whip, which due to its long lash, can be made to crack as well as be used to touch the animal.
Another far less common and more modern way to create a crackable whip involves "weaving" metal rings together and typically welding the rings closed in various rope-like chain mail patterns.
Stock whips, including bullwhips and the Australian stockwhip are a type of single-tailed leather whip with a very long lash but a short handle. Stock whips are primarily used to make a loud cracking sound to move livestock (cattle, sheep, horses, etc.) away from the sound. It is generally not used to actually strike an animal, as it would inflict severe pain and is difficult to be applied with precision.
The Australian Stockwhip
is often said to have originated in the English hunting whip, but it has since become a distinct type of whip. Today, it is used primarily by Australian stockmen
. Unlike the short, embedded handle of a bullwhip, the stock whip handle is not fitted inside the lash and is usually longer. A stock whip's handle is connected to the thong by a joint typically made of a few strands of thick leather
(which is called a keeper). This allows the whip to hang across a stockman's arm when not being used. The handles are normally longer than those of a bullwhip, being between 15 and 21 inches. The thong can be from 3 feet to 10 feet long. Stock whips are also almost exclusively made from tanned kangaroo
Australia's John Brady is an internationally renowned exponent of the art of whipcracking (an expertise he demonstrated during the live musical production The Man from Snowy River: Arena Spectacular). The Australian stockwhip was shown internationally when lone rider Steve Jefferys reared his Australian Stock Horse and cracked the stockwhip to commence the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.
A bullwhip consists of a handle between eight and 12 inches in length, and a lash composed of a braided thong between three and 20 feet long. Some whips have an exposed wooden grip, others have an intricately braided leather covered handle. Unlike the Australian stock whip, the thong connects in line with the handle (rather than with a joint), or even engulfs the handle entirely. At the end of the lash is the "fall" and cracker or popper. The fall is a single piece of leather between 10 and 30 inches in length. During trick shots or target work, the fall is usually the portion of the whip used to cut, strike, or tie the target. The cracker is the portion of the whip that makes the loud "sonic boom" sound, but a whip without a cracker will still make a sonic boom, simply not as loud.
There are other variations and lengths of stock whips. The yard whip
is a type of smaller stockwhip. The yard whip is used on ground in cattle yards and other small areas where speed and precision is needed. The yard whip is also used by younger children that aren't quite strong enough to handle a large stock whip.
The cattle drafter (or drafting whip) is a cane or fibreglass rod, with a handgrip, knob and wrist strap. The cane length is about 75cm (2'6") and the flapper length is about 30cm (12") long. These whips are used in cattle yards and also when moving pigs.
The bullock-whip was used by an Australian bullock team driver (bullocky). The thong was 8 to 10 feet long, or more, and often made of greenhide. A long handle was cut from spotted gum or another native tree and was frequently taller than the bullock driver's shoulder. The bullocky walked beside the team and kept the bullocks moving with taps from the long handle as well as using the thong as needed.
The Rose whip is another variation of the stockwhip that was pioneered in Canada in the early 19th century, though it largely fell out of use by the 1880s. The Rose whips were effective in animal yards and other small areas. It was pioneered by an American farmer, Jack Liao.
The Florida stockwhip
or Florida cow whip
used by Floridian cowboys
is often known as a cracker. It is a two-piece unit like the stockwhip and is connected to the handle by threading two strands of the thong through a hollow part of a wooden handle before being tied off. The cowwhip is heavier than the Australian stockwhip. Early cowwhips were made mostly of cowhide or buckskin
Modern cow whips are made of flat nylon parachute cord, which, unlike those made from leather, are still effective when wet. Most cowwhips have handles that average 16 inches, and thongs that average 12 feet. A good cowwhip can produce a loud crack by a simple push of the handle. This can make it more convenient to use than a bullwhip in a thick vegetated environment with less swinging room. The Tampa Bay Whip Enthusiasts give demonstrations of the Florida Cracker Cowboy in costume at the annual Heritage Village Civil War Days festival, located in Largo, Florida every year in May.
Signal whips or signalwhips are a type of single-tailed whip, originally designed to control dog teams. A signal whip usually measures between 3 and 4 feet in length. Signal whips and snake whips are similar. What distinguishes a signal whip from a snake whip is the absence of a "fall". A fall is a piece of leather attached to the end of the body of the whip. In a snake whip, the "cracker" attaches to the fall. In a signal whip, the cracker attaches directly to the body of the whip.
are a type of single-tailed whip. The name snake whip is derived from the fact that this type of whip has no handle inside and so can be curled up into a small circle which resembles a coiled snake. They were once commonly carried in the saddlebag by cowboys of the old west. A full sized snake whip is usually at least 4 feet in length (excluding the fall and cracker at the tip of the whip) and around one inch in diameter at the butt of the whip.
A pocket snake whip can be curled up small enough to fit into a large pocket, and ranges in size from 4 feet to 6 feet in length. The pocket snake whip is primarily a whip for occasional use, such as in loading cattle. Both of these types of snake whips are made with a leather shot bag running approximately three quarters of the length of the whip.
Blacksnakes are the traditional whips used in Montana and Wyoming. The blacksnake has a heavy shot load extending from the butt well down the thong, and the whip is flexible right to the butt. They range in size from 6 feet to 12 feet in length. Some types concentrate a load in the butt (often a lead ball or steel ball-bearing) to facilitate the its use as improvised blackjack.
Equestrian whips and crops
Horse whips or riding whips are artificial aids used by equestrians while riding, driving, or handling horses from the ground. There are many different kinds, but all feature a handle, a long, semi-flexible shaft, and either a popper or lash at the end, depending on use. Riding whips rarely exceed 48" from handle to popper, horse whips used for ground training and carriage driving are sometimes longer.
The term "whip" is the generic word for riding whips, the term "crop' is more specific, referring to a short, stiff whip used primarily in English riding disciplines such as show jumping or hunt seat. Some of the more common types of horse whips include:
- Dressage whips are up to 43 inches long, including lash or popper, and are used to refine the aids of the rider, not to hurt the horse. They generally ask for more impulsion, and are long enough that they can reach behind the rider's leg to tap the horse while the rider still holds the reins with both hands. The shaft is slightly flexible and tapers to a fine point at the tip. A similar, but slightly longer whip is used in Saddle seat style English riding.
- Longe whips (also known as lunge whips) have a shaft about 4-5 feet long and a lash of equal or greater length. They are used to direct the horse as it is 'moved on a circle aroung the person standing in the centre, a process known as "Longing" (pronounced "Lungeing") The whip is used to guide and signal direction and pace, and is not used with force against the horse. Taking the place of the rider's leg aids, the positioning of the longe whip in relation to the horse gives the horse signals. Occasionally, due to the long lash, it may be cracked to enforce a command.
- Driving whips have a stock about the same length as a longe whips, but a short lash, often no more than 12 inches. They are used specifically for driving horses in carriages or carts.
- A crop or "bat" has a fairly stiff stock, and is only 2-2.5 feet in length, with a "popper" - a looped flap of leather - at the end. Because it is too short to reach behind the riders leg while still holding the reins, it is most often used by taking the reins in one hand and hitting the horse behind the rider's leg, using the crop, held in the other hand. Less often, it may be used to tap the horse on the shoulder as a simple reminder to the animal that the rider is carrying it. It is to back up the leg aids, when the horse is not moving forward, or occasionally as a disciplinary measure (such as when a horse refuses or runs out on a jump). Crops or bats are most commonly seen in sports such as show jumping, hunt seat style English riding, horse racing, and in rodeo speed sports such as barrel racing.
- A hunting whip, is not precisely a horse whip, though it is carried by a mounted rider. It has a stock about the same length as a crop, except its "stock" is stiff, not flexible. On one end of the stock it has a lash that is several feet in length, on the other end it has a hook, which is used to help the rider open and close gates while out fox hunting. The hunting whip is not intended to be used on the horse, but rather the lash is there to remind the hounds to stay away from the horse's hooves, and it can also be used as a communication device to the hounds.
- A quirt is a short, flexible piece of thickly braided leather with two wide pieces of leather at the end, which makes a loud crack when it strikes an animal or object. They inflict more noise than pain. Quirts are occasionally carried on horses used in western riding disciplines, but because the action of a quirt is slow, they are not used to correct or guide the horse, but are more apt to be used by a rider to reach out and strike at animals, such as cattle that are being herded from horseback.
- A show cane is a short, stiff cane that may plain, leather covered or also covered with braided leather. Rarely used now except in formal show hacking events.
Rudyard Kipling's short story Garm - a Hostage mentions a long whip used by a horseback rider in India to defend an accompanying pet dog from risk of attack by native pariah dogs. This probably was a hunting whip.
Buggy whip and coachwhip
A buggy whip
is a horsewhip with a long stiff shaft and a relatively short lash used for driving a horse harnessed to a buggy
or other small open carriage
. A coachwhip, usually provided with a long lash, is used in driving a coach
with horses in front of other horses. Though similar whips are still manufactured for limited purposes, the buggy whip industry as a major economic entity ceased to exist with the introduction of the automobile
, and is cited in economics
as an example of an industry ceasing to exist because its market niche
, and the need for its product, disappears. In discussing market regulation, it is often held that the economy would be disadvantaged as a whole if the automobile had been banned to protect the buggy-whip industry.
Buggy whips are not entirely gone. A resurgence of interest in the international sport of combined driving and historical carriage driving, sports enjoyed by people of all ages, has allowed some buggy whip manufacturers to stay in business, serving this specialty niche market. Foremost among these is a company in Westfield, Massachusetts.
Whips in popular culture
The whip is occasionally portrayed in popular culture in various contexts. Whips have appeared in many cartoons
, television shows
such as Castlevania
and numerous movies
, from films such as the original Zorro
to Indiana Jones
Often their usage is dramatic and wildly exaggerated, showing action heroes tripping or disarming an adversary, breaking furniture, swinging from the whip or other dramatic activities.
As practical weapons
Because of popularity of whips in film and television, people often want to learn to use the whip as a weapon, though in reality this is seldom practical. Whips when applied against a human adversary are of limited effectiveness, and are primarily psychological. The potential for the infliction of pain and the loud crack produced by long single-tailed whips popularly seen in cinema can scare less resolute opponents into fleeing. However, their ability to defeat an adversary usually stops there.
Short, stiff whips, including crops, are capable of inflicting welts or painful stings, but typically no disabling injuries. Long, single-tailed whips can inflict deep cuts and can wrap around limbs or the neck, but this is extremely difficult even with training and not practical in most environments where there is not adequate space to throw the whip.
One exception is the original blacksnake whip, which is designed with a heavy lead or steel ball woven into the pommel. This not only provides balance during normal use, but enables the whip to be reversed and used as a bludgeon.
Whip-like appendages in nature
Some organisms have whip-like devices:
- Many unicellular organisms, and spermatozoa, have one or two whip-like appendages called flagella, which they use for propulsion. "Flagellum" is Latin for "whip".
- Some large lizards (e.g. iguanas and monitor lizards) can whip with their tails. At least one veterinarian has complained that a modern hazard of his work is being "bitten, scratched, and whipped" by pet iguanas. The biological names of some lizards contain Mastigo- or -mastix, which is Greek for "whip".
- The whip snake was so called from its appearance; but the old myth that it could whip a man painfully is false.
- There has been a theory that all or some sauropod dinosaurs could crack the ends of their tails like coachwhips as a sound signal, as in the book form of "Walking with Dinosaurs".
- Edwards, Ron (1999). How to Make Whips. Cornell Maritime Press. ISBN 0870335138.
- Largier, Niklaus (2007). In Praise of the Whip. Zone Books. ISBN 9781890951658.
- Morgan, David W. (2004). Whips and Whipmaking. Cornell Maritime Press. ISBN 087033557X.
- (1963). The Australian Encyclopaedia. Halstead Press. ISBN.