"And then another slash of the whip, when all the time we are doing our very best to get along, uncomplaining and obedient, though often sorely harassed and down-hearted."
--Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell, Chapter 29
Australia stepped into the equine welfare spotlight today by becoming the first nation in the world to voluntarily ban the use of the whip in harness racing. Harness Racing Australia announced the landmark decision after the Inter Dominion, Australia’s premier Standardbred race, was run in Perth in Western Australia.
The rule will ban the use of the whip both during races and in training.
Harness Racing Australia described the ban as “a world-leading animal welfare initiative that improves the industry’s image and enhances its sustainability.
“The decision sets the pace in animal welfare and for the long-term support and sustainability of the industry. It aligns with high expectations of the community, fans, and industry participants in harness racing,” the statement continued.
“We are strongly of the belief that the improved image of our sport will add to the appeal of our racing product and be broadly welcomed by fans,” said Geoff Want, Chairman of HRA.
The implementation of the ban will begin on September 1, 2017, to allow for a program of awareness, education, and research and monitoring to be undertaken across the industry.
The program will embrace the education of drivers and horses. It will also include a major research task to ensure safety is maintained when drivers do not have a whip to control unexpected horse movements.
Mr. Want said many drivers were concerned that control over a horse would be curtailed without a whip, especially when horses shy (leap sideways) or back up.
“Between now and the implementation of the whip ban, we will consult widely in the industry, especially with drivers and trainers, and with animal welfare advocates, such as the RSPCA,” Mr. Want said.
“Whatever tool evolves from this process it will only be allowed to avoid or guide a horse out of a dangerous situation to itself, other horses, drivers or anyone nearby.
“It will definitely be banned from use to urge a horse to better perform, and strict penalties will apply for any breaches of its use.
“There is ample evidence the whip is not needed in our industry and that its use to enhance racing performance is questionable,” he said. “If no driver uses a whip then no driver has a perceived advantage – each race will be conducted on a level playing field, have a fair winner and horse welfare will be enhanced.”
In the United States, whip rules vary by racing jurisdiction. Minnesota’s three-strike rule was in the news this year, after a jockey finally lost his license when he collected almost a dozen violations for exceeding the limit over the summer.
In California on December 15, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) will vote on issues related to whip use, including changing the name to “riding crop” and applying the same rules to training as are used in racing, which would “prohibit the jockey from using the riding crop more than four times in succession during the last 16th of a mile in a thoroughbred race without giving the horse a chance to respond before using the riding crop again.”
This rule change would increase the number of strikes, from three to four, but only in the last 1/16 mile of the race.
Documentation of the rule change is available online.
At the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation’s Seventh Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit in June 2016, Sue Finley, senior vice president and co-publisher of Thoroughbred Daily News, moderated a panel of retired jockeys including Gunnar Lindberg, now a Canadian racing official, and Hall of Famers Chris McCarron and Ramon Dominguez; the jockeys discussed regulations involving the use of the riding crop in light of the California rule change.
"If we want to increase our fan base, we can't be abusing horses with a whip," Lindberg said.
"The whip is important for safety and can help you guide a horse around a turn," said McCarron. "It's a very useful tool and has prevented a lot of accidents and incidents when used properly."
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in Australia welcomed today’s landmark decision by Harness Racing Australia.
In a press release, RSPCA Australia CEO Heather Neil, who was present at the announcement in Perth, said the removal of whips from harness racing will go a long way towards protecting harness racing horses from unnecessary and unjustified pain and distress.
“As Harness Racing Australia has recognized, racing should celebrate quality horsemanship, breeding and training -- whips shouldn’t come into it,” she said.
“We strongly urge the Thoroughbred racing industry and its governing body Racing Australia to follow the lead of harness racing and announce the end of whip use as the outcome of their current whip rule review,” said Ms Neil.
The RSPCA in Australia had long been running a “Scratch the Whip” campaign aimed primarily at what it charges are frequent instances of abuse of the whip. A change in Australian Thoroughbred racing whip rules in 2015 limited the number of times a jockey can strike a horse to five.
In the United Kingdom, World Horse Welfare (WHW) has consulted on whip-related issues and new rules. The charity’s website has a section covering many issues connected to whip use in racing, especially flat and National Hunt. Link:
In March, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) reported that whip offenses were down by 40 percent in that country.
To learn more:
Whip Use by Jockeys in a Sample of Australian Thoroughbred Races—An Observational Study
Paul D. McGreevy, Robert A. Corken, Hannah Salvin, Celeste M. Black
PLOS | One Published online March 19, 2012 (Open Access)
Whip Abuse commentary by Natalie Voss of The Paulick Report
Black Beauty: A handy and accessible website by the University of San Francisco lays out the entire text of Black Beauty for readers, accompanied by downloadable audio chapters.
Top photo courtesy of Wikimedia. The horse is Lawn Derby, the first Standardbred outside of North America to pace the mile in less than two minutes. He raced in the 1930s and did not wear hobbles. He set records in five Australian states and in New Zealand.