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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:
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 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.
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.