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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:

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)

Cat o' nine tails at the torture museum in Freiburg im Breisgau.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.

Type of whip