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A type of whip known as a riding crop
A leather cat o' nine tails pictured with a U.S. dollar bill for size comparison.
A set of romal reins, featuring a quirt at the end of the romal

A whip is a tool traditionally used by humans to exert control over animals or other people, through pain compliance or fear of pain, although in some activities whips can be used without use of pain, such as an additional pressure aid in dressage. Whips are generally of two types, either a firm stick device designed to strike directly, or a flexible whip which must be swung in a specific manner to be effective, but has a longer reach. There are also whips which combine both a firm stick (the stock or handle) and a flexible line (the lash or thong), such as hunting whips.

The majority of whips are designed for use on animals, although whips such as the "cat o' nine tails" and knout were designed specifically for flagellation of humans as a means of a corporal punishment or torture. Whips can be used on oneself as part of a religious practice, or on consenting persons during BDSM activities.


  • Use of whips 1
  • Stockwhips 2
    • Australian stockwhip 2.1
    • The bullwhip 2.2
    • Additional types 2.3
  • Florida cow whip 3
  • Signal whips 4
  • Snake whips 5
  • Equestrian whips and crops 6
  • Buggy whip and coachwhip 7
  • Qilinbian 8
  • As practical weapons 9
  • Whip-like appendages in nature 10
  • In popular culture 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14

Use of whips

Whips were primarily designed to inflict pain, with the objective of obtaining pain compliance to the wishes of the user. In modern times, the pain stimulus is still used in some animal training, and is permitted in many fields, including most equestrianism disciplines, some of which mandate carrying a whip. The whip can be a vital tool to back up riding aids when applied correctly, particularly when initial commands are ignored. However, many competition governing bodies limit such use of whips, and severe penalties may be in place for over-use of the whip, including disqualification and fines.[1] Socially, the use or over-use of whips may be considered animal cruelty in some jurisdictions.[2]

Whips can also be used without painful stimulus, as a tool that is an extension of the human hand or arm, used as a visual command, or to tap an animal, or to exert pressure, in order to indicate a certain command. Such use may be related to operant conditioning where the subject is conditioned to associate the whip with irritation, discomfort or pain, but in other cases, a whip can be used as a simple tool to provide a cue connected to positive reinforcement for compliant behavior. Such use is sometimes accompanied by practitioners renaming the whip with alternative, softer terms such as a "wand" or a "stick," calling the lash a "string" or a "popper"

Another use of the whip is to make a loud sound (the 'cracking' of a whip) which induces a fear response in animals, especially those conditioned to the pain stimulus of the whip, and this technique is often used as part of an escalation response, with sound being used first prior to a pain stimulus being applied, again as part of operant conditioning. This loud noise can be used to drive or direct livestock or teams of harnessed animals, such as oxen or mules.

When some types of flexible whip are swung in a certain way, a loop in the material may move down the whip, rapidly increasing in speed, until the tip moves faster than the speed of sound, or more than 30 times the speed of the initial movement in the handle. This creates a small sonic boom, described as a "crack".[3] Whips were the first man-made objects to break the sound barrier.

Most stick type whips cannot make a crack by themselves, unless they either have a very long lash, such as a longe whip, or are very flexible with a moderately long lash, like certain styles of buggy whip. But any design can be banged against another object such as leather boot to make a loud noise. Short, stiff crops often have a wide leather "popper" at the end which makes a particularly loud noise when slapped against an animal, boot, or other object.


An Australian stockwhip
An Australian bullwhip
Drafting whip (or cattle drafter) made by George Woolnough, the famous "Tenterfield Saddler"

Stockwhips (or 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. Stockwhips 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 apply with precision.

Australian stockwhip

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 stockwhip handle is not fitted inside the lash and is usually longer. A stockwhip'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. Stockwhips are also almost exclusively made from tanned kangaroo hide.

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.

The bullwhip

A bullwhip consists of a handle between 8 and 12 inches in length, and a lash composed of a braided thong between 3 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.

Additional types

A whip made of balatá, made prior to 1939.
Whip, possibly Native American, Plains, late 19th century, horsehair and rawhide, Brooklyn Museum

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 75 cm (2'6") and the flapper length is about 30 cm (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.[4]

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 Raman whip is a similar variation of the stockwhip which closely relates to the Rose whip. This variation was pioneered in the small Ontario city of Hamilton in the early 20th century, though it largely fell out of use by the 1920s. The Raman whips were effective on horse farms, horse derbies, and in other rural areas. It was pioneered by the South African inventor, Delaware Kumar.

Florida cow whip

The Florida cow whip used by Floridian cowboys 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.

A 4' (1.2 m) signal whip

Signal whips

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.

Snake whips

Snake whips (or snakewhips) 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 3 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 its use as improvised blackjack.

Equestrian whips and crops

Top: A dressage whip. Bottom: a hunting crop

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 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 "longeing" (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.
Longeing whip
A plaited show cane
  • 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 be plain, leather covered, or covered with braided leather. Traditional canes are made from a stick of holly, cherry or birch wood, which is dressed and polished. They are 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.

In Victorian literature cads and bounders are depicted as being horsewhipped or threatened with horsewhipping for seduction of young women or breach of promise (to marry), usually by her brothers or father. Examples are found in the works of Benjamin Disraeli and Anthony Trollope who includes such a scene in Doctor Thorne. It is also mentioned, though not depicted, in comic novels by Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse. As late as the 1970s the historian Desmond Seward was reported by the Daily Telegraph to have been threatened with horsewhipping for besmirching the reputation of Richard III in a biography.

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 and marketing 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.



Qilinbian (麒麟鞭, literally meaning "unicorn whip") is a metal whip invented in China in the late 1900s. The 15 cm handle is made from a steel chain wrapped with leather. The lash is made of steel rods decreasing in size linked by progressively smaller steel rings. Lash varies between 150 cm and 180 cm and is attached to a fall and a cracker. Total weight is 1–2 kg. It is used for physical exercise and in performances.[5]

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 only certain types and usages are practical. Whips when applied against a human adversary work primarily through inflicting pain and fear rather than actual force.

Short, stiff whips, including crops, are capable of inflicting welts or painful stings, but, typically, no disabling injuries. The more martially-designed sjambok can inflict serious wounds and sometimes even cut through clothing.

Single-tailed whips hold a fearsome reputation from popular depictions; the fear of being painfully struck and the loud crack produced by long whips can scare less resolute opponents into fleeing.

Striking a person or animal with a single-tail whip can inflict cuts, but with a whip made from common materials, these wounds are simple high-speed abrasions that do not penetrate more than the depth of the skin. If the whip has sharp barbs or the tip includes material, such as Kevlar, that is fine enough and strong enough to cut, there can be more serious wounds, but even with these, a disabling injury is unlikely. Whips with these features require an expert whip handler to avoid inadvertently cutting themselves, the whip, or other people or objects the whip may contact.

A single-tail whip can wrap around limbs or body or the neck. This is fairly easy to do, but is impractical in most physical combat environments where it is difficult to maintain the necessary spacing between the target and the person throwing the whip.

Some shorter whips are designed with a heavy lead or steel ball woven into the pommel or a shot bag filled with lead shot braided into the body. Other whips have flexible metallic cable or rigid metal rods in the handle. These materials provide mass, making the whip easier to crack during normal use. These weights and rigid pieces also enable the whip to be reversed and used as a bludgeon.

The Chinese Jiujiebian ("nine section whip"), is a segmented metal chain whip designed for use in martial arts. In the hands of someone trained in its uses, it is considerably more effective as a weapon than other whips.

Whip-like appendages in nature

Some organisms have whip-like devices:

  • Many 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, and larger lizards can seriously injure a human if they strike at the right place.[6] 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.
  • Similarly, Thelyphonida arachnids are also known as "whip scorpions" due to their whip-like tails (and scorpion-like bodies).
  • It has been proposed that 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".

In popular culture

The whip is occasionally portrayed in popular culture in various contexts. Whips have appeared in many cartoons, television shows, videogames such as Castlevania, and numerous films, from the original Zorro to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Catwoman (2004). Often their usage is dramatic and wildly exaggerated, showing action heroes tripping or disarming an adversary, breaking furniture, or other impressive activities.

One of the more popular portrayals of whips involves wrapping a fixed overhead object and then swinging from the whip across an open space. While it is possible to do so in reality, achieving a wrap strong enough to hold the body weight yet loose enough to disengage once the swing is complete is highly impractical. Further, the strain will damage or break most leather whips. In film, the effect is achieved by braiding the whip over a steel or kevlar support cable and anchoring the tip permanently to a support such as a crane or scaffolding. Many times the whip handle is attached to a concealed body harness on the actor for safety and to make the swing appear more graceful.

On Mythbusters, various capabilities of whips shown in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark were tested on the "The Busters of the Lost Myths" episode. When properly trained, it is in fact possible to disarm a pistol-wielding opponent. When there is a log above a chasm it is possible to swing across using a whip and loosen the whip after the swing, but only if the log has sufficient friction. Using a high-speed camera they were able to verify that the tip of a whip can break the speed of sound.

See also



  1. ^ "Final decision of the FEI tribunal" (PDF). Fédération Équestre Internationale. 2010-07-09. 
  2. ^ Curnutt, Jordan. Animals and the law: a sourcebook. Contemporary Legal Issues. ABC-CLIO. pp. 260–261.  
  3. ^ Graham, Sarah (2002-05-28). "True Cause of Whip's Crack Uncovered". Scientific American. 
  4. ^ Chisholm, Alec H., The Australian Encyclopaedia, Halstead Press, Sydney, 1963
  5. ^ "麒麟鞭_百度百科". 2010-09-18. Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  6. ^ "Physical Aggression in Captive Iguanas". University of Saskatchewan. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 


  • Chisholm, Alec H. (1963). The Australian Encyclopaedia. Halstead Press. ISBN. 
  • Dante, Robert (2008). Let's Get Cracking! The How-To Book of Bullwhip Skills. RDante.  
  • Edwards, Ron (1999). How to Make Whips. Cornell Maritime Press.  
  • Largier, Niklaus (2007). In Praise of the Whip. Zone Books.  
  • Morgan, David W. (2004). Whips and Whipmaking. Cornell Maritime Press.  

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
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