7 min read

Whipping Horses: A Critical Analysis Shows It Is Unwarranted

<p> Ellen Tilley / <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/ronmacphotos/4370705068/" target="_blank">Flickr</a> / (<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>)<span></span> </p>

Whipping horses to make them perform is a widespread practice, however its use can be questioned on a number of different grounds including safety and welfare concerns and supposed performance enhancement. In a previous essay I noted that whipping horses doesn't really work by citing the findings of a research paper called "An Investigation of Racing Performance and Whip Use by Jockeys in Thoroughbred Races(link is external)" for which the abstract reads:

Concerns have been expressed concerning animal-welfare issues associated with whip use during Thoroughbred races. However, there have been no studies of relationships between performance and use of whips in Thoroughbred racing. Our aim was to describe whip use and the horses' performance during races, and to investigate associations between whip use and racing performance. Under the Australian Racing Board (ARB) rules, only horses that are in contention can be whipped, so we expected that whippings would be associated with superior performance, and those superior performances would be explained by an effect of whipping on horse velocities in the final 400 m of the race. We were also interested to determine whether performance in the latter sections of a race was associated with performance in the earlier sections of a race. Measurements of whip strikes and sectional times during each of the final three 200 metre (m) sections of five races were analysed. Jockeys in more advanced placings at the final 400 and 200 m positions in the races whipped their horses more frequently. Horses, on average, achieved highest speeds in the 600 to 400 m section when there was no whip use, and the increased whip use was most frequent in the final two 200 m sections when horses were fatigued. This increased whip use was not associated with significant variation in velocity as a predictor of superior placing at the finish.

Now, a new study titled "A Critical Analysis of the British Horseracing Authority's Review of the Use of the Whip in Horseracing(link is external)," also calls into question the use of whipping supported by the the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). Bidda Jones of the RSPCA in Australia(link is external) and the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney and her colleagues conclude that the BHA's 2011 report called "Responsible Regulation: A Review of the Use of the Whip in Horseracing" is flawed. They write, "findings on the welfare impact and justification for whip use are insufficiently defended by the report. These findings indicate that the report is an inadequate basis from which to draw any definitive conclusions on the impact of whips on racehorse welfare. Further review is needed, undertaken by an independent scientific body, to advance this debate."

The authors also note,

"For example, while highlighting the risks of improper whipping, they assert that "controlled use of a specific whip does not cause pain" ... and that 'current scientific evidence broadly supports the continued use of the whip in Racing' (3.35). The Report is here trying to highlight that improper whipping may be painful, but that 'proper whipping is not, but on no basis.'"

In addition, they write, "the Report also concluded that whip use is not painful, that whip use is not a welfare problem, and that whip use is necessary for safety and encouragement, without adequate evidence to support these claims." Furthermore, and of great importance and concern, the BHA is "an organisation that exists to promote, as well as regulate, the racing industry."

The BHA report is replete with unsupported claims and I highly recommend the essay by Bidda Jones and her colleagues as an impartial review of what we know and don't know about the effects of whipping horses. We should all be concerned, as should the horses, that a review of whipping is conducted by an "in-house" organization that works with the racing industry.