It is no secret that many people are opposed to the use of the whip in horse racing, it's often thought of as cruel or pointless. But how much do people really know about the modern whip and its uses?
On 19th February 1966, a 52-year old former jockey named Walter Hoysted walked onto a racecourse armed with a double barrelled shotgun. He told officials he would use the shotgun if the jockeys rode with whips in the upcoming race, the Fulham Hurdle. Although later charged, he drew attention to what some consider the "unnecessary use of the whip". Now I get why people might think it's cruel, why it can look cruel and why people think the horses are in distress when whipped and pushed to their limits. This however is not the case…
Many believe that whipping a horse hurts them however the modern whip is energy absorbing and is merely an encouragement device. The inside of the whip consists of a composite spine surrounded by a polymer, the soft foam then coats the outside which when used creates a popping sound. This sound simply focuses the horse on the task in hand and encourages it to run without inflicting any form of pain, it is most commonly used to keep a horse in contention and in a challenging position towards the end of the race to encourage it to give its best effort. If the whip is mis-used excessively it could potentially leave a mark on the horse, however from 93,000 runners in 2018, only one horse was subsequently found to have been marked (weald) by the use of a whip and the rider was consequently given a ban. I will now go into the rules of using the whip and what is classed as "mis-use".
The professional jockeys association quotes: "The whip may be used to encourage a horse – to have the horse focused and concentrated – to perform at its best but the stimulus provided by the use of the whip must be limited so as not to compromise the welfare of the horse." The rules of racing mean the whip cannot be used to coerce or force the horse, only a designated number of whips are permitted per race with hands off the reins (7 on the flat and 8 over jumps).
Some examples of whip mis-use are: Using excessive force, using it even if the horse is out of contention/clearly winning, using it once the horse has passed the post, having your arm raised above shoulder height when whipping or whipping the horse too often (allow 3 strides per stroke). The degree of force with which the whip is used, its purpose and the distance over which it was used are all factors that must be considered when evaluating if it was mis-used or not. The severity of the ban varies dependent on how the jockey is found to have mis-used the whip, especially if the horse is injured, however most bans are between 2-8 days (these will obviously be longer if the jockey is found to have mis-used the whip in more than one way because the bans will accumulate).
It is also important that all up and coming jockeys learn when and when not to use the whip, an example here could be a 2 year old horse with minimal racing experience. Regardless of the pedigree of the horse, if the jockey aboard uses the whip to thrash it home, even if in a promising position, it could ruin all chances for the horse going forward. I know many younger jockeys work particularly hard to get winners, and part of this is down to inexperience, but again in that situation even if the horse is staying on nicely, there is no need to use the whip so vigorously because in future races the horse gets an idea of what could happen at that stage of the race and therefore won’t want to race again. Horses are far more intelligent that some people realise and so it’s important that the jockeys understand when and how to use the whip so not to put the horse off running in the future, even if it did mean the horse won on that particular day.
It is also worth noting that a whip is not only used to encourage a horse, it is also a vital safety feature for both the horse and jockey. It allows the jockey to be able to steer the horse alongside the reins which is important if the horse is beginning to hang to one side when racing or if they need to avoid trouble potentially from a horse that has fallen, stumbled or is short of room. A jockey is also able to switch the whip from one hand to another during the race to encourage the horse to move in the opposite direction.
So what about the people who say the whip should be removed from horse racing altogether? Norway banned the use of whips in 1982 on humane grounds with riders riding with both hands on the reins and that's it. There have been calls for many years for British Racing to do the same, especially following a study in 2011. The study carried out by Dr. Paul McGreevy and Dr. David Evans found that: "Jockeys use whips just as people would expect – to try to make their slowing horse recover speed in the closing stages of a race in the hope they will get a place. That’s not surprising. What is surprising is the finding that whipping doesn’t make any difference. Jockeys may as well save their energy, keep their hands on the reins, and head straight for home. Their horses will be so much better off for it."
The whip has no benefit to the horse or jockey and removing it will create a level playing field improving horsemanship skills. To counter this, prolific trainer Mark Johnston said and I quote: "On the removal of the whip, you're talking about a flight animal that needs something to induce the flight response. Some of it is induced up to a point and some of it induced because we've bred them for it for 300 years. If you turned a horse out in a field it will gallop but it won't gallop fast and it won't induce the flight response."
I was reading a discussion the other day in a syndicate group where someone mentioned that people don’t understand why a whip is essential for a lazy horse, which was greeted with a response of: “why whip a horse who clearly doesn’t want to race, it’s tantamount to cruelty to whip a horse to try and make it enjoy racing when it clearly doesn’t.” I too believe this to be true, as harsh as it may sound, a horse that doesn’t want to race shouldn’t be on the racecourse, therefore going back to the original argument that the whip is merely an encouragement device for a horse to remain competitive as opposed to whipping it to try and force it to do something it doesn’t want to. Professional jockeys will also understand this and should have the knowledge of when to use the whip for it to be effective or in order to keep a horse straight.
So where do I stand on this? As stated above, unless the whip is heavily mis-used, it does not seem to hurt the horse. The soft foam shell prevents any form of pain to the horse and the restrictions on the number of times and frequency with which you can use the whip adds to this further. It is possible however that a jockey could mis-use the whip subsequently causing the horse to be marked or lightly injured, and although they would receive a ban for such actions, this doesn't completely prevent it from happening.
Norway has proven that you don't necessarily need a whip to run a horse race and the study conducted found that using the whip had no significant benefit to a tiring horse. I would like to point out here that whilst having no benefit to a tiring horse, using the whip in this circumstance could be classed as mis-use, and instead using the whip on a horse which is making significant headway from the rear would in fact encourage it just that little bit more to get its head in front.
In terms of being a safety feature there is ample evidence to suggest that you can steer the horse sufficiently using the reins and as noted above it would create a more level playing field. I would like to clarify however that I do understand the argument from both sides. Taking away the whip could potentially make the races less interesting, because the only way to encourage the horse is through the use of hands and heels. Using this method means the horse is less likely to respond to that encouragement and the horse is unlikely to reach its top running speed. I do still believe that it is an important aspect of making races more competitive and getting the best from the horse.
Without it, the races would become much less exhilarating and potentially impossible to call in terms of form because it would just depend on which horse responded better on the day or had the better stamina, as opposed to getting that little bit extra from the horse which is more likely to win or is a hold-up horse that makes headway towards the end of the race.
This idea of uncertainty however may appeal to some people, and the removal of the whip from horse racing would help settle a number of issues relating to horse cruelty. So for me, I sit on the fence. I can see the positives and the negatives to both sides and I wait with anticipation to see where the BHA goes with this in the future! I do however think stronger sanctions of some form could be introduced for jockeys who break the rules.
Who is Lynton Gomm?
My name is Lynton Gomm, I'm 23 years old and I live in a small town in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom.
My passion for Horse Racing started at an early age. It was my grandad who really influenced me, I'd regularly spend the weekends at my grandparents whilst my parents were at work and I'd sit and study the days racecards with him. Over time this led to me understanding more and more about the sport, from studying the form and the horses previous run, to the weight the horse was carrying and its stall draw. Fast forward to 2021 and here I am, creating a blog on something that I am very involved in and enjoy more than I'd ever realise. Guess I can thank my grandad for that one!
But Horse Racing isn't just about winning money for me, it's a bonus don't get me wrong, but the thrill of watching these machines compete is just different to any other sport. I have an ever-growing collection of horses which I have shares in, again not for the profit, but the feeling of being involved in the sport and the excitement you get every time you get to watch one of them run really is something special.
Away from the sport, I graduated from university in 2019 with a Bachelors Degree in CGI and Visual Effects which although not continuing exactly down that path, I am currently trying to explore and further into a career of some form. I have a keen interest in photography which I like to pursue whenever I travel somewhere, particularly abroad, and I really enjoy digital design/writing hence this blog. I'm really hoping in the future this blog can turn into something special!
The Racing Horse wrote a piece about this vexed subject with the help of ace racing commentator Gareth Topham back in OCTOBER 2011. It is clearly a subject not fully understood and one that is not going away. We thank Lynton for sharing his views with us and look forward to further contributions in the future. We take this opportunity to welcome his place online and wish him good luck, please check out Lynton's website when you have a moment...