Following years of pressure by animal welfare activists to end "standard practice" abuses in horse racing, officials in California have announced new rules that will reduce, but not eliminate, one of the more unsettling aspects of the sport.
Under the new guidelines put in place by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) this week, jockeys are no longer allowed to constantly whip at horses to spur them to move faster down the track. Instead, the use of whips will be restricted to three lashes in succession - giving horses at least an opportunity to respond before being whipped again.
"Prior to this, there were no restrictions on the number of times a whip could be used," CHRB spokesman Mike Marten told The Dodo. "But the safety of the horse is paramount, and this is one more step in that direction."
Marten says California's whip restriction is likely the strictest in the country.
While the new rule will offer some relief to horses, it does fall short of an outright ban on whips, which animal rights groups have called for. Instead, some horse tracks have switched to padded whips, which are intended to inflict less pain on the animals, but a study from Sydney University in Australia showed they weren't fully effective.
"We found that 64 percent of the time, the unpadded section of the whip was making contact with the horse. And that is very troubling because if the padded whip is supposed to safeguard horses from pain, then it is failing in its job," said researcher Paul McGreevy.
"If this was not happening on a racecourse, it would be a prosecutable offence."
PETA has acknowledged that the racing industry's attempts to ease potentially abusive practices show progress is being made, but the group says that numerous other harmful aspects of the sport have yet to be addressed.