Animal Aid’s campaign to ban the whip

Animal Aid makes no secret of its opposition to commercial horse racing. The evidence points to an industry that systematically exploits its principal resource – the Thoroughbred horse. It does so from the breeding shed to the slaughterhouse, where many a commercially spent equine meets his or her end. We urge the public not to support the industry by betting on horses or by attending racecourses.

In the interim, we also campaign for welfare measures – such as a ban on the use of the whip in racing.

Opposition to the whip is growing, not just amongst the general public but also within racing circles. The issue came to a head in 2011 when the British Grand National winner, Ballabriggs, was severely beaten in the final stages of a race that left him so exhausted and dehydrated that he required oxygen. His treatment shocked and distressed the public, and provoked a divisive debate within the racing industry. While the whips commonly used in racing do have a padded area at the end, they also have a long, hard handle that frequently and painfully comes into physical contact with the horse – not only on the quarters but also down the neck. In 2010, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) recorded 17 incidents of horses being wealed by the so-called cushioned whip.

It is our view that, while horse racing continues, jockeys should be allowed to carry a whip but be prohibited from using it except on rare occasions when safety is genuinely an issue – e.g. if the trajectory of the horse changes so as to put the horse, rider or spectators in danger.

Whipping is cruel, painful and intimidatory

In their more guarded moments, jockeys and other industry figures avoid any suggestion that horses are beaten to make them run harder. Instead, they will argue that the whip is used for reasons of ‘safety’ or for ‘correction’. This explanation is offered even though the majority of strikes against horses come in the final stages of a race when riders are wild with ambition to win, and are beating their horses to achieve that end.

A prominent racing figure and Director of Towcester Racecourse, Charlie Brooks, expressed the truth about the ‘safety and correction’ myth in his Daily Telegraph column: ‘The well worn argument that jockeys must be allowed to use sticks, as they currently do to keep horses straight, was well and truly exploded by Richard Hughes on Channel 4’s The Morning Line on Saturday morning. Hughes had been unseated from Kojak at Ascot last week, when the two-year-old swerved violently to the left. Hughes expressed the opinion that the horse probably behaved erratically because he hit it. So much for whips keeping horses straight.’ (Daily Telegraph, 16 May 2010)

An insight into the physically and psychologically intimidating effects that a whip has on so-called ‘lazy’ horses was exposed in a throw-away comment made by jockey Barry Geraghty: ‘… if you are on a horse that’s a bit lazy and wants a couple of smacks early on in the race to keep him up to his job, your eight have gone and you’re just watching the race go away from you…You can’t ask the horse for the effort he needs to give to win when you are reduced to a passenger’ (Irish Times, 23 October 2011).

Geraghty reiterated the role of violence in racing a few weeks later: ‘My horse probably made it look easier than he did it …He’s definitely one of those that if you give him a kick in the belly, he’ll find a bit, but I’m not sure he’s going to sprint clear’ (The Independent, 10 January 2012).

Leading jump jockey Ruby Walsh commented: ‘… Horses are animals and animals can’t be treated as humans. Race horses are a specific breed to do a specific job. They’re not pets.

‘We need the whip to ride them to encourage them to go faster.’ (ESPN Staff http://www.espn.co.uk/horseracing/sport/story/137297.html)

The reality is that jockeys use the whip to bully and intimidate horses into running up to and beyond their physical limits. The public knows this, which is why, according to a poll commissioned by the British Horseracing Authority, 57 per cent of people want an outright ban on the whip. Animal Aid’s anti-whip campaign echoes that straightforward objective: the whip hurts; ban it.

Whipping is ineffective as well as cruel

As well as the pain and stress that the whip causes, Animal Aid’s comprehensive March 2004 report, A Hiding to Nothing, showed that the more often horses are whipped, the less chance they stand of winning their races. Horses whipped at the start of a race almost never win, and that pattern holds until the finish line. In the final part of a race – where the whip is most often used – jockeys who use it least win more frequently.

The report was based on a meticulous investigation of 161 races that were run during October and November 2003, involving 285 jockeys and 1500 horses. Forty of the 161 races (around 25 per cent) were won by horses who were not subjected to any whipping at all. Horses who are whipped may also be driven off a true line, placing them and other horses in danger, and even causing them to fall.

Our findings have been supported by a 2011 University of Sydney report, An Investigation of Racing Performance and Whip Use by Jockeys in Thoroughbred Races. It also concluded that whipping race horses does not improve performance. ‘On average, they achieved highest speeds when there was no whip use, and the increased whip use was most frequent in fatigued horses. That increased whip use was not associated with significant maintenance of velocity as a predictor of superior race placing at the finish of the race.’

Whip regulations in Britain

A long-awaited review of the whip was published by the BHA on 27 September 2011, with the new rules commencing on 10 October. The review document contained the following admission: ‘The current whip guidelines and penalties for those jockeys who breach the Rules on whip use are not an effective enough control and deterrent in their current form.’ Animal Aid’s research showed that the BHA’s old rules were being regularly and repeatedly flouted, with 887 breaches during 2010, and 15 jockeys each committing 10 or more offences. In the first six months of 2011, the rules were breached some 450 times, and 10 horses were wealed by the BHA’s so-called welfare-friendly cushioned whip. The new rules effectively halved the number of times jockeys could strike their horses, limited the number of times a horse could be struck in the last part of the race and introduced financial penalties (loss of riding fees and prize money) for breaches.

Just one month later, on 11 November, and following two bouts of rebellion and threats of strikes from jockeys over the new rules, the BHA predictably caved in and amended the rules to allow jockeys greater licence to hit horses. Under the amended regime, jockeys would keep their riding fees for breaking the rules, and would not incur a financial penalty unless they hit their horse twice more than the permitted number of strikes. The revised scheme also abolished the last furlong/last jump rule, which meant that jockeys could hit their horses more often in the last part of the race than previously allowed. In addition, serious repeat offenders faced reduced penalties. The situation with regards to trainers and owners remained the same – they keep their prize money and face no sanction whatsoever.

On 21 February 2012 came even more radical concessions to jockeys. The former restrictions on whip strikes became merely a guideline – leaving horses who are repeatedly hit vulnerable to the subjective discretion of the Stewards as to whether or not they have been abused. The punishment regime was also greatly weakened, with the abandonment of the system of escalating penalties for repeat offenders. The prize money fines for offending jockeys are also expected to be reduced. Together, these changes will allow jockeys an almost free rein to beat their mounts into submission.

A working example of whip-free racing

In 1982, Norway effectively banned the use of the whip in horse racing. This move was met with the enthusiastic approval of racecourse officials, horse trainers and spectators, according to Hans Petter Eriksen, administrative director of the Norwegian Jockey Club. The rules stipulate that ‘Use of the whip will only be tolerated when a dangerous situation occurs, situations which can be of danger to the jockey’s own mount or to competitors, or if the horse is obviously hanging badly, or is trying to duck out’.

Comparisons of overseas whip regulations with British Regulations

The basis of our argument is that whipping any animal is cruel. This holds true regardless of variations in whip regulations from country to country. (See Annex) These variations may be subtle or complicated, which strengthens our position that the only way forward is for a universal whip ban – such as that in force in Norway.