Working towards whip-free horse racing
In Australia, it’s common to see jockeys wearing bright colors riding athletic horses on a racetrack. It’s easy to miss the black whip in the jockeys’ hands amidst the excitement and color. This inconspicuous black whip is causing a lot of controversy and criticism in the racing industry.
It’s time to reflect as we get closer to the Melbourne Cup and Spring Racing Carnival.
This year, the use of whips has been in the spotlight once again. Lashes have been used in horse racing for centuries in various forms. However, it is only during racing that horses are repeatedly whipped with lashes by their jockeys to “encourage them” to run faster.
In recent years, however, the public’s concern about whip usage has increased. The RSPCA in Victoria commissioned an independent poll this week that found 69% of Victorians felt horses shouldn’t be whipped in the course of a normal race. A ban would not deter 71% of Victorians who watch or bet on races and continue to attend and participate in horse racing activities and events.
The majority of people believe that whipping horses is cruel, inhumane, and unnecessary. The horse-loving public, including regular punters, are clearer than ever about their opposition to beating horses.
Why using a whip is a bad idea?
In recent years, whip use has steadily been reduced and reformed as the public’s concern and understanding of its effects has grown.
There are restrictions on the number of times a jockey may use a whip in a race. In Australia, since 2009, all thoroughbred jockeys must use a padded whistle.
Racing Australia’s Rules of Racing does not limit the number of whip strokes in the last 100 meters. The horses are most likely to be whipped as they approach the finish line, where the jockey has a greater incentive to get the horse to run faster. However, this can also mean that the horses are hit with the whip at a time when they are tired and are least able to respond.
It was a good idea to introduce padded whips. Unfortunately, the data show that it is often the shaft of the unpadded whip that comes into contact with horses. Images show visible welts or marks left by the whip on the horse’s skin.
It’s not proven that whipping a horse affects its performance. One study, for example, found that whipping horses did not increase their chances of placing first, second, or third in a race. It also showed that 98% were destroyed without any effect on the outcome.
What’s the alternative to this?
Reform is possible. New Jersey, a major horse racing state in the US, has banned the use of the whip except for safety purposes. California’s racing board also has introduced a rule that limits the number of whippings a jockey can do during a race.
In Norway, whips can only be used for safety reasons in races for juveniles, while in the UK, races with ‘hands-and-heels’ for apprentice jockeys take place regularly.
Racing Victoria, a state-based organization, has also called on the nation to reduce the use of whips and reform it at the national level.
In an emergency, jockeys might still be required to carry a whip. It’s hard to argue against this.
While it is important to ensure the safety of riders and horses, there are no studies that support the continued use of whips. The public is also in favor of a gradual phase-out.
The solution is to stop using whips when racing. This will improve the welfare of the horses and also help to create a sustainable future for the sport.