Holly Whips – Esoteric Equestrian Tool

Holly Whips – Esoteric Equestrian Tool

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Whips

While this essay is part of an upcoming series of posts I’m writing about “Whips and BDSM”, it’s also very much on theme for this week’s Kink of the Week (KOTW) topic – Pony Play.  While I’ve assigned the post to the Kink of the Week category, as well as the Tools and Technique category, it can really only be a part of a single series, there it will remain part of the collection of essays on whips.

While I’m sure there are enterprising minds out there who could imagine a multitude of different uses for a holly whip than equestrian eroticism / pony play, that’s really the only place I can envision their use.  With this particular essay already completed, Jade’s decision to give us Pony Play as the KOTW simply pushed the publication of this essay forward, a few weeks ahead of it’s intended schedule.

I hope that despite being shoehorned into two categories, the piece will have appeal to both equine enthusiasts and whip aficionados alike.

what the heck is a holly whip?

holly whips The holly whip, (or holly stick as it’s also called) is a less commonly used disciplinary instrument only occasionally found in the BDSM parlor (or dungeon).  While not as famous or well-known as their cousin, the classic rattan “English Cane” or “School Master s Cane”; holly whips do have their aficionados.  The holly whip isn’t a whip for cracking.  It’s nothing like a signal whip designed for directing and spurring on dogsled teams with noise.  It’s certainly no bullwhip either.  It’s not going to flay anyone’s flesh.  

Holly whips are actually a variant of what some folks would call a  “driving whip”, which has its own sub-set of regional and colloquial names.  Growing up, I always called this sort of tool a buggy whip – in other words – a whip meant for use with a horse and buggy.  Perhaps that’s not a perfect technical term, but it was all I knew growing up.

Most horse riders never use any sort of crop or “whip” when actually riding horseback, they guide the horse with pressure from their legs and knees.  That changes, however, when driving a horse-drawn carriage of most any sort.  When driving a buggy or carriage, the driving whip (holly whip) then takes the place of a rider’s legs.  The holly whip is used as an extension of the driver’s arm, by giving nudges and taps, the holly whip is used to give the horse a proper sense of desired speed and direction.  Having a holly whip (or other similar buggy whip) is considered an absolute essential for anyone driving a carriage.

At one point, before the age of the automobile, a holly whip was a very common tool, available in most any household with a horse and buggy.  So, it’s no great surprise that they found their way into use whipping people too, that’s just human nature.  Like the riding crop, the holly whip is another “classic” BDSM implement who’s use has carried over from the equestrian era.  The riding crops use has really been turned on it’s head too, as I’d wager that the majority of riding crops sold at saddlery shops never see the slightest bit of horseflesh.  I doubt that’s true for “hollies” as they are called by some.  But, it’s also true that, for the right individual, a holly whip can have a special role in exploring the joy of kink.

Here’s a basic description of whips of this sort from Judy Newbert of Newbert Equine Enterprises in Alberta, Canada, excerpted from a PDF she authored – The Whip As An Aid In Driving.

Whips all have some common characteristics; they include a stick (the rigid straight part), a lash (flexible string, leather, or nylon) and a handle. In the old days, whips were made of holly, bamboo, braided leather, whalebone, and goose quills. A traditional holly whip has a holly stick with a leather and brass (or silver or gold) handle and a goose quill in the end of the stick covered with a braided leather lash of the appropriate length. There are a few companies in Europe, which even today continue to make traditional holly driving whips. Holly whips are expensive ($350 US and up) and somewhat fragile but they are considered the ultimate traditional whip.

it’s just a stick with a thong?

icon holly whipThe “stick” part of a holly whips is constructed from the woody stem of the Holly plant.  By nature, each of the holly stems is different, and their manufacture is a relatively slow process.  It’s still done individually, in “old world” style, by artisans.  To the uninformed, the finished product may look very much like little more than a fancy varnished stick.  At their essence, that’s pretty much what they are.

With that said, holly whips really are considered to be the “ultimate” by their aficionados.  I’m not sure that I can understand that perfectly well from my own limited perspective.  While I occasionally rode a neighbors horse while growing up, I’ve never driven a horse drawn buggy or carriage.  What I can understand, however, is a deep appreciation for real craftsmanship.  And there’s no denying that the very best holly whips are beautifully and painstakingly finished.  To some eyes, they are very much considered to be works of art.

That I can understand, and I do suppose they could be considered to be something similar to folk art.  Antique holly whips, undoubtedly aged to the point they are too fragile for use, can sell for significant sums at auctions in England.  And, in my own explorations of the topic, I found that Judy Newbert’s estimate of $350 as a starting point for one to be rather conservative.  Holly whips offered for sale by Driving Essentials Inc of New Holland, Pennsylvania (but crafted in Germany) are available in lengths from 130 cm to 170 cm in length, at prices from $475 to $550.   The measurement is for the length of the stick, whatever the length of leather thong on the end, it’s a separate measurement.

The different lengths are designed for different horse types and teams.  It just makes sense that a single pony holly whip would be shorter than a single horse whip, with holly whips for teams being longer still.  So, quite obviously, no matter how finely crafted and finished, a thin wooden stem four or five feet long with a leather thong attached at it’s end isn’t going to be the most sturdy of objects.  So what happens when your really expensive stick breaks?

holy whips

breaking a holly whip

The breaking of hollies is a constant source of annoyance, more so perhaps to the manufacturer who only gets grumbled at than to the saddler who can charge for the repair. An unsound stick may occasionally escape detection, but the amount of trying that the sticks get during dressing and thronging is so considerable that very few rotten or weak sticks can get passed, the only defect that is likely to get missed is what is called an “open knot” that is one going very deep into the wood and such may occasionally overlooked, as the whip may be smacked in every direction but one and stand it all right, but if smacked in that one direction, the knot may open, and the stick will break.
It is really astonishing how often, according to the user’s account, the stick broke “the first time I smacked it.” It will be found more often than not, when holly sticks are brought back broken, that the end of the thong is squeezed and grease-marked, shewing that it has been caught round the wheel or axle; or that the thong is scored and marked where it is quilled up, showing that it has been against the top of the coach-house door or into some low hanging boughs in a lane, rather than that there was any real fault in the stick itself. We know that the saddler very frequently dare not point out such factors, but he may remind a customer that the top of a holly whip is not as thick as a lead pencil, and consequently, although it will stand fair, it will not stand rough, usage.
~~ excerpted from Whips and Whip Making by W.G. Ashford, Birmingham England 1893 

I suppose the quote is just as much about human nature as it is about breaking whips. “It broke the first time I used it,” has to rate right up with, “The dog ate my homework,” as self-serving phrases uttered to avoid responsibility for one’s own actions.  As a dominant, I can’t complain really. I have benefited from this quirk of human nature on more than one occasion in the past. You see, for some, the act of submission is simply another way to avoid feeling responsible for the nasty things they dream of having done to them.  When a scene is over and they are flying on endorphins, there’s a built in excuse for them too . . .

“Master made me do it!”  Yes I did.  But, I didn’t eat your homework. And, I didn’t break your holly stick!

holly whips and BDSM

Obviously then, holly whips aren’t an element commonly found in your average run-of-the-mill dungeon.  It’s not likely, except in very unique circles, that you’d ever see a holly whip at a play party.  Instead, a holly whip is a very specialized equestrian tool that can be, with appropriate care and caution, adapted for light BDSM play.   In the hands of a serious sadist, it’s not likely to be of great use.  But for equestrian role play, a nice holly whip could be the “ultimate” – the unique look of every stick has great potential fetish value.  I’d imagine that a beautifully finished holly whip could be the perfect compliment for a House of Gord style pony cart rider.


holy whips

Holly Whips is on topic for this week’s Kink of the Week – Pony Play!