Tasmania: PETA want to prove that horse whipping during a race is animal cruelty

NEWS AND COMMENT-TASMANIA: The news is that PETA is using the Australian state of Tasmania to establish that whipping a horse during a race is a form of animal cruelty and should be banned. It seems that they’ve chosen Tasmania because they have good animal welfare laws. They are bringing a test case and have filed 14 criminal charges against Tasracing and an Australian jockey using a whip as allowed under racing rules at two races at Mowbray in Launceston in 2019.

Specifically, Tasmania’s Animal Welfare Act 1993 has a provision which states that a person or persons can be charged with animal cruelty if their behaviour “caused or was likely to cause unreasonable and unjustifiable pain and suffering” to the horses. There apparently is no exception to that statement.

Whipping a horse during a race in NY
Whipping a horse during a race in NY. Photo: PETA.

Sometimes animal welfare laws place exceptions in the act to the umbrella definition of animal cruelty in order to allow, for example, veterinarians to perform certain procedures. Also these exceptions allow such acts as emergency euthanasia through for example shooting. I’m just giving two examples as to why exceptions are sometimes required but, I stress, the news is that the provision in the act above has no exceptions.

On that basis PETA would simply have to prove that when a jockey whips a horse, the horse feels pain. And it seems to me that it is entirely possible to prove that. In fact, logically, it will be impossible to disprove it because there is nothing in the anatomy of a horse which tells us that they don’t feel pain when they are whipped.

Of course, whipping on a horse in a race is allowed under Australian horseracing rules. So if PETA prove in a court that it is an act of cruelty then they will also prove that Tasmania’s Animal Welfare Act clashes with the rules of horseracing in that state. In fact, the horseracing rules will be seen then to be out of step and to contradict the overarching animal welfare legislation. That is entirely possible. It would be a mistake on the part of the horseracing authorities but these sorts of mistakes can sometimes happen.

At the moment, Australian Rules of Racing permit the use of a whip a maximum of five times in non-consecutive strides up to the hundred-metre mark and after that at the rider’s discretion.

Racing Victoria has taken the view that whipping of racing horses is inappropriate today. Last year they called for a national reform. The state of Victoria wants the racing industry in the country to transition to an “ultimate prohibition” on the use of whips unless it’s for the purpose of protecting the safety of horses and jockeys.

PETA is therefore not alone in their campaign to ban it. Racing Australia has undertaken a review of the rules on the use of whips but the report is yet to be published as I understand it.

In November 2020, a scientific study reported that humans and horses have the same basic anatomical structures in their skin to detect pain and therefore they feel pain when they are whipped. The fact that a horse’s skin is thicker than the skin of humans does not prevent them feeling pain from whipping.

Another study apparently also found that there was no significant differences in the movement of horses when racing when they were whipped.

In defence, Kevin Ring, the Work Health and Safety Officer for the Australian Jockey’s Association said whips are essential for safety. The whips are used to encourage the horse to do things not to hurt them. He said that the whips are used as a “noise thing to encourage the horse. Without the use of the whip, the horses learn to do whatever they like and that’s quite dangerous”.

Comment: in addition to my comments above, I have to say that it is hard to escape the conclusion that whipping hurts horses. As it is arguably unnecessary and therefore unreasonable and unjustifuied it must therefore be a form of animal cruelty which should be banned under the aforesaid Act.

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