The purpose of the jockey’s whip is to make the horses run faster and to maintain speed when tiring towards the end of a race. Whipping the horses over and over again inflicts physical and psychological pain and increases the likelihood of injury. Somehow, the racing industry has escaped accountability for this blatant act of animal cruelty. Under current Animal Cruelty legislation, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (POCTA), if the same routine treatment was inflicted on a horse outside a racetrack, the perpetrator would almost certainly be prosecuted.
The use of the whip in horseracing has been and continues to be an extremely contentious issue around the world. This passionate debate has been ongoing for decades, and is often cited as the reason that many people actively dislike horse racing.
In England new whip rules restrict the number of times a horse may be struck. Meanwhile, Norway has gone even further by outlawing the use of whips for the purpose of forcing racehorses to run faster.
Here in Australia, the whip rules were changed in 2009 to reflect community attitudes. However, less than 2 months after they were implemented, threats by jockeys to go on strike led to the changes being diluted to the point where they were ineffective.
The controversy over whipping racehorses continues...
On February 19th, 1966, a 52-year old former jockey named Walter Hoysted casually walked onto the racetrack armed with a double barrelled shotgun. Hoysted told officials he would use the gun if the jockeys rode with whips in the upcoming race, the Fulham Hurdle.He was later charged but successfully drew attention to the unnecessary use of whips in horseracing. Whilst Wally Hoysted is no longer with us, the point he raised over 40 years ago is still one of racing’s most hotly debated topics to this day.
In 1991 the independent Senate Select Committee into Animal Welfare in the racing industry stated in its Report that
“the Committee, (however) cannot condone the use of the whip to inflict pain on a horse for no other purpose than to make the horse run faster in what is essentially a sporting event. Competent riding of a horse using only hands and heels to urge the horse on should provide just as an exciting race and may also encourage more emphasis on improving horsemanship. The Committee would like to see the use of whips as a means of making a horse run faster eliminated from horse racing”.
Regrettably, no State Government in Australia enforced this recommendation.
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act
Section 9 of Victoria’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act defines Cruelty as:
"(1) A person who -
(a) wounds, mutilates, tortures, overrides, overdrives, overworks, abuses, beats, worries, torments or terrifies an animal; commits an act of cruelty.”
Monty Roberts, world-renowned ‘horse whisperer’ who advises the Queen on horse matters, spoke out against what he described as the “felonious abuse” of racehorses with the whip. Roberts spoke to Victoria’s apprentice jockeys in August 2006 before the Spring Racing Carnival. He said it was a “myth” that whips made horses run faster and stated “It is a fact that whips have been involved in 86% of racing accidents”. (1) Roberts pleaded for the end of the whip and to relegate it to “a museum with a list of all the races lost with them.”
Paul McGreevy, Associate Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Science at Sydney University stated “If flogging a dead horse is futile, flogging a tired horse is worse still since such animals feel the pain while unable to respond” (2)
A recent study carried out by Dr. Paul McGreevy and Dr. David Evans in January 2011 found that whipping a horse in the final stages of a race does not make the horse run faster than he would if he wasn’t whipped.
“This study has found that jockeys use whips just as people would expect – to try to make their slowing horse recover speed in the closing stages of a race in the hope they will get a place. That’s not surprising. What is surprising is the finding that whipping doesn’t make any difference. Jockeys may as well save their energy, keep their hands on the reins, and head straight for home. Their horses will be so much better off for it,” Dr David Jones (3)
The Padded whip and the new whip rules
The padded whip was introduced in August 2009 as part of the new whip rules. As the name suggests, the new whips are padded where previously there was just a strip of leather. Though it could be argued that the padding does provide a cushioning effect, the severity of the force used by the jockey is the most important factor in causing pain.
In many cases, it is not just the padded portion of the whip that makes contact but also the shaft. Even the padded portion of the whip has a stitched edge that forms a hard edge that can be used to make impact on the horse and potentially cause as much pain as a non-padded whip.
The new whip rules have been relaxed several times since they were implemented in Aug 2009. This was primarily as a result of pressure from the Australian Jockey’s Association (AJA) who maintained jockeys needed to use the whip to control the horse.In short, jockeys are permitted to whip a horse in the last 100 metres at their own discretion. They are not allowed to raise their whip hand above their shoulder and cannot whip a horse in consecutive strides before the 100 metre mark.
Despite the whip rules being constantly breached, they are seldom enforced.
The penalties imposed are not a deterrent when the reward for breaching the whip rules can far outweigh the risk in being fined. There have been many owners who have publicly stated that they will pay their jockeys whipping fines because they want their horse ridden out. In other words, made to compete under pressure from the whip.
Whips and injuries
There is absolutely no doubt that the whip has been responsible for countless injuries and deaths in horseracing. The purpose of the whip is to make the horse run faster when fatigued, while not having any net benefit to the horse, jockey, trainer or owner. It is time the Racing Industry reconsidered its appropriateness and have it banned.
After all, a ban will improve horsemanship skills, create a level playing field and reduce injuries both to horse and rider.