It’s already been a big year for our work against whips in racing, and we’re not even halfway through 2017 yet.
Our year started on a positive note after Harness Racing Australia’s (HRA) December 2016 announcement of its voluntary and unanimous decision to end the use of whips in harness racing.
Coming into effect in September 2017, the world-leading decision was applauded by the public and by animal welfare groups.
HRA Chairman Geoff Want wrote just last month, that ‘the community outside our industry, has become increasingly sensitive and demanding in its expectations of good animal welfare practice … The signals are all around us’. He also said that ‘it is not often that the opportunity arises – and is seized – to control our own destiny’ and that the whip-free direction is ‘a vital step in helping to secure our long-term sustainability’.
However, recent moves Harness Racing South Australia to delay or sidestep the animal welfare improvements seem to suggest they’re keen to keep living in the past.
HRSA is talking about plans to trial some novel ways to continue hitting horses with whips, including using ‘pads’ on the horse’s rump and restricting drivers ‘wrist action’.
If you’d like to tell HRSA what you think of this decision, visit our website and add your voice.
Meanwhile, the thoroughbred racing industry continues to excuse its ongoing use of whips on horses, but a significant incident in the past week has shown just how risky their current position is.
Dreams Aplenty was whipped 27 times by apprentice jockey Tiffani Brooker before crossing the line first in the Group III Gunsynd Classic at Brisbane’s Eagle farm. This included whipping the horse 17 times before the final 100m, far beyond the allowed 5 strikes.
Brooker was reported as claiming she was ‘caught up in the moment’ and ‘totally forgot about the whip rule’, and was also quoted as saying ‘I way, way over-hit it’.
Neither stewards nor any other jockeys or owners lodged an appeal after the race, though Brooker was fined $2,000 and suspended for seven days.
Arguably, this is barely a slap on the wrist for a race that’s worth $125,000 in prizemoney.
However, connections of the colt Violate – which crossed the line second – have lodged a formal complaint and are now set to launch legal action over the controversial whip rules that seem to have allowed a rider who broke the rules to win.
They’re arguing the rules are unclear, confusing, and that jockeys shouldn’t be responsible for monitoring each other’s whip use in order to raise objections.
When your rules are sending your participants to court, something is very wrong. These latest incidents demonstrate just how difficult it is to keep enforcing these increasingly complex rules, that are designed to prolong whip use, and which fly in the face of overwhelming community opposition and strong evidence of their ineffectiveness.
The controversy comes off the back of independent research commissioned by the RSPCA that found a growing number (75%) of people oppose the use of whips in racing, and that more than 90% of those who watch and bet on racing will continue to do so if whipping is stopped.
One of the key benefits of banning the whip will be that stewards and jockeys won’t have to try and enforce convoluted rules, and racing success will instead depend on good breeding, good training and good riding.
Isn’t that what it should be about anyway?