Are jockeys whipping their horses for “safety reasons”?

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The RSPCA welcomes the suggestion from several leading racing commentators that whips might be used for safety and emergency reasons only.

In the wake of Harness Racing Australia’s announcement that it will ban the use of whips from 1 September 2017, the reaction from the Thoroughbred racing industry has been – unsurprisingly – swift.

Jockey Craig Williams was quoted on Saturday as saying, “You wouldn’t want to see a coroner’s report that said a jockey died because he was unable to control a horse because he had no whip.”

Cox Plate-winning trainer Colin Little echoed these concerns, saying “They could never bring it in for horse races … The whip is vital as a control tool.’’

To put it bluntly – that’s okay with us.

RSPCA Policy states, “The RSPCA is opposed to the use of whips in racing due to the unnecessary and unjustified pain and distress they inflict on horses. The RSPCA supports the introduction of hands-and-heels racing where whips are no longer used for performance but may be carried for safety purposes where proven necessary.”

So we have no major concerns with jockeys carrying a whip (or some other device) for safety and emergency reasons.

In fact, the harness racing industry has clearly outlined its intention to develop and introduce a safety device that drivers can use to steer the horses away from danger.

It’s the whipping of tired horses to try and make them run faster, that we have a problem with.

The effectiveness of the whip in these situations is highly questionable anyway.

Research has found horses are whipped most during this final stage of the race, in an attempt to make them run faster when they are slowing down due to fatigue; yet how the horse ran prior to these final stages was found to be the most critical factor in racing success.

In 2011, research found 98% of horses were being whipped without it influencing the race outcome.

In defence of the Thoroughbred racing industry’s continued use of the whip, Racing NSW chief steward Marc Van Gestel said the ‘significant difference’ was the jockeys’ use of a padded whip.

However, independent research has found that in 64% of whip strike, the hard unpadded section of the whip is hitting the horse*.

We recognise the importance of safe riding for both jockeys and horses.

But as you watch the skin of these horses ripple under the force of the whip, ask yourself if you really believe these jockeys are whipping their horses for safety reasons?

I don’t think so.


* McGreevy et al, 2012, ‘Whip Use by Jockeys in a Sample of Australian Thoroughbred Races—An Observational Study’.