History of 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 commercially ‘spent’ equines meet their 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.
It is our view that, while horse racing continues, if jockeys are to be allowed to carry a whip they must be prohibited from using it except on rare occasions when safety is genuinely an issue – e.g. if the line of the horse changes so as to put the them or others in danger.
2011 Grand National whip scandal
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.
Animal Aid’s A Hiding to Nothing report (2004)
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.’
BHA review of the whip (2011)
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 an 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. Together, these changes will allow jockeys an almost free rein to beat their mounts into submission.
Has the whip been banned in other countries?
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’.
In 2022, Sweden introduced a ban on the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’. Officials stated that “whip use in horseracing simply does not belong in 2022”. This decision means that the whip can now only be used in situations where safety is at risk.