This article briefly touches on the change in rules regarding jockeys whipping their horse to speed them up. I also touch on whipping racehorses generally and its effectiveness.
Change in rules
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) recently announced a change in the use of the whip in British racing to make it more humane. The upper threshold for using the whip has been reduced to 6 times on a flat race and seven times in a jump race (down from seven and eight respectively).
As a consequence, it is reported that jockeys have been hit with 20 bans in a week for breaching these new rules. For example, Lorcan Williams, 23, was hit hard after winning a grade 2 novice hurdle at Haydock Park on Saturday.
He was judged to have hit his mount twice above the new permitted level of seven strikes in a jump race. He also raised arm above his shoulder height when using the whip. Because it was a high-class race his penalty was doubled from 9 to 18 days. It means that he will miss the Cheltenham Festival which begins on March 14.
He said he’s devastated. He was aware of the rules but remarked that “it’s very hard with all the emotion that comes in, it’s very difficult [to count].”
The first horse to be disqualified under the new rules was Lunar Discovery. The horse was beaten in a photo finish last Tuesday but disqualified because the jockey, Charlotte Jones, used the whip 11 times. If a horse is struck four times or more over the limit it is disqualified unless the whip was used for safety purposes. Jones was also handed a ban of 14 days.
The whip encourages a horse to run faster because it makes them believe that there may be a predator striking at it from behind.
Within horseracing there are those who detest it and those who support its use. It is a contentious practice. The whip can also be used to steer horses.
In Scandinavia jockeys are forbidden to remove the whip hand from the reins. This greatly limits the use of the whip.
The British version of limitations is probably the most common i.e. limiting the number of times that the horse can be struck during a race.
A horseracing authority some time ago said that whipping a horse is a consequence of “the inherent tendency in mankind, especially in the lower stages of civilisation, to beat unmercifully domestic animals”.
Many professionals support the whip as a control method. It can help prevent them clashing with other horses in a crowded group when racing.
And a light touch of the whip in the final run in can help the horse to accelerate forward out of a group and go to the front.
The answer is a compromise in laws to ban the excessive use of the whip. Dr. Desmond Morris says that “a light flick of the whip is no more cruel than slapping your own thigh”.
Severe whipping can make the horse swerve away from the source of the pain. As the whip is used on one side of the horse or the other, it can make the horse suddenly lurched sideways which disrupts the animal’s rhythm and slows them down.
This is a practical reason why overuse of the whip should never be employed.