A study released by the University of Sydney has found evidence of the unacceptable use of whips in Thoroughbred racing and revealed the inability of stewards to adequately police Australian whip rules.
The study also shows evidence that the International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering, (http://www.horseracingintfed.com/resources/2011_choose_eng.pdf) to which Australia is a signatory, has clearly been contravened.
The study  which has been peer-reviewed and published by the Public Library of Science, involved experienced behavioural scientists assessing the area struck and the visual impact of so-called padded whips when used on horses.
It follows an award winning study released by the University of Sydney last year which showed that whipping racehorses was pointless since it did not make a difference to the outcome of the race.
The latest study, which analysed 350 rider-horse interactions over 15 race finishes frame-by-frame, found at least 28 examples of apparent breaches of whip rules and highlighted the inability of stewards to effectively police the rules regarding whip use because of inferior technology.
The study’s author, Veterinarian and University of Sydney Professor Paul McGreevy, said the results of the study demonstrated the unacceptable use of so-called padded whips in Thoroughbred racing.
In 2009 the Australian Racing Board implemented rules regarding the use of so-called padded whips with the intention that the padding absorbs the impact of the whip as it makes contact.
“Our analysis found that the unpadded section of the whip made contact on 64% of impacts, demonstrating that padding the whip does not necessarily safeguard a horse from possible pain.
“We found that more than 75% of the time the whip struck the horse in the abdomen (also known as the flank), which according to the International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering as well as the British Horseracing Authority is unacceptable.
“This further highlights the need for Australia’s use of whips in racing to align with international best practice.
“We also observed the whip causing a visual indentation on the horse in 83% of impacts, potentially causing localised trauma and tissue damage,” Professor McGreevy said.
Professor McGreevy said the study also showed that stewards were not being provided with adequate tools to police Australian whip rules.
“While we had access to and were analysing high quality, high speed footage, we had to discard the data relating to nearly one third of the jockeys’ arm actions because any resulting whip impact was obscured.
“Until stewards have access to cameras filming at 2000 frames per second from the inside, outside and head on, it is impossible for them to effectively police the rules surrounding whip use in Thoroughbred racing.”
RSPCA Australia Chief Scientist Dr Bidda Jones said the study results make it clear that the current Australian whip rules are neither effective nor enforceable and are in urgent need of review.
“This new study finds a number of serious problems with the current whip rules and their enforcement which are placing horses at serious risk of abuse. The RSPCA is calling for an end to the use of whips as a performance aid in Thoroughbred racing and the use of hands and heels only,” Dr Jones said.
Professor Rosanne Taylor, Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney, said “This latest study by Professor Paul McGreevy shows just how easily whips can be misused by riders, with horses regularly hit with unpadded parts of the whip, and also how hard it is for horse whipping to be properly regulated in such a fast paced environment.”
“Along with Professor McGreevy’s previous study on horse whipping, the scientific evidence of indentations, particularly when the whip hits sensitive regions of the abdomen, raises concern about current whipping practices, which are not in the best interests of the horses’ welfare,” said Professor Taylor.
“These studies are a great example of how new scientific approaches to tackling unresolved questions can inform our interactions with animals and by improving our interactions, we can improve the animals’ performance and welfare.”
The full study can be viewed at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0033398
- Professor Paul McGreevy (Study Co-author): 02 9351 2810 / 0423 464 505
Dr McGreevy is Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the University of Sydney and is recognised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as a specialist in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine.
 McGreevy, P.D., Corken, R.A., Salvin, H., Black, C. 2012. Whip use by jockeys in a sample of Australian Thoroughbred races – an observational study. PLoS 7(3) e33398
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