British jockey and author John Francome, who rode more than 1100 winners in his celebrated career, believes a ban on whip use could be positive for the racing industry.
The 62-year-old told delegates at this week’s World Horse Welfare Conference in London that a ban would improve standards of horsemanship and boost public perception of the sport, which in turn would encourage more people to engage with it.
Francome, who entered racing in 1969, said he did not so much see it as an animal health issue with the modern short and padded whip, but said: “Nobody goes to racing to watch horses being hit. They don’t want to see horses being beaten.
“There’s lots of positives from looking at having jockeys carry a whip but not being able to use it,” he said.
“Does it [the whip] look good? Definitely not. And what are the positives of not having a whip? Jockeys would have to keep both hands on the reins and work a lot harder. It’s about 20 per cent harder to ride a finish without using your whip … they would have to think more.”
He said if people had asked him when he was riding if the whip should be banned, he probably would have said “don’t be ridiculous”.
But when you stood back and looked at the benefits of not using them, there were many pluses, he said. He believed there would be better finishes. Jockeys, he said, would need to have better feel and think more.
He said he had not seen one finish in the last month where the result would have been different if there had been no whips used.
But he said he was definitely in favour of jockeys continuing to carry a whip. “You need one if [the horse] doesn’t want to go in to jump or it goes to run out.”
Sweden, he noted, did not allow the use of whips. “A couple of English jockeys have been over and they have said it is extraordinary how much harder they have to work. You’ve really got to think and it’s a different way of riding and I think it’s a better way of riding.”
Francome said racehorses in Britain were well looked after, and even those that weren’t quick enough had access to retraining and rehoming programmes when they left the sport.
The racing industry as a whole should be proud of the way it looked after racehorses, he said.
Francome, who examined issues from a horse’s point of view in his address, said: “I think from a horse’s point of view, we need to be teaching a better standard of riding and we need to be teaching it in a different way so that people ride by feel.”
Too much riding was “done by numbers”, he said.
“Teaching lads to be able to think what they are doing more than just what time they are doing it in is much more important and if I was a horse I would be much more pleased to have someone riding me out who was thinking about where I was going … trying to encourage them to put themselves in the place of the horse.”
The charity’s president, Princess Anne, who also addressed delegates, highlighted the need for horse owners to maintain a long-term interest in their horse’s health and welfare, adding that short-termism and convenience were no replacement for experience and understanding when challenging the status quo in the sector.
The princess stressed that whilst innovation, research and technology played a huge role in helping to improve horse welfare, the importance of experience and knowledge in aiding people’s understanding of horses must not be underestimated.
She called on different equestrian disciplines to work together for the benefit of the whole sector.
Spanish veterinary surgeon Josep Subirana addressed the different attitudes and approaches to equine euthanasia and care around the world where practices varied widely depending on cultural and religious beliefs.
“Religion, fables, literature all condition how we see animals,” he said. “With domestication we took on certain obligations, including providing a good death. Contrary to wild animals, domesticated ones don’t have the mercy of wild predators … euthanasia is a compassionate act that should be granted to animals in need because the alternative is much worse.”
Sir Jim Paice, former minister with the agriculture agency Defra, considered whether British horses were better off inside or outside of the European Union; stressing the importance of an enforceable and robust equine identification system to safeguard the animals.
“The issues of movement rules, disease and ID have an enormous impact on welfare. Almost all of those controls [for import/export] are unenforceable or irrelevant unless the animals can be properly identified and the system has integrity.”
The head of equine clinical orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust, Dr Sue Dyson, took a strong stand on the ever-growing issue of equine obesity, which is widespread in the leisure horse market due to a lack of awareness about assessing bodyweight and condition.
She called on vets to be more direct with their clients about overweight horses and on the sector as a whole to work together in changing attitudes and awareness around what level of condition defines a healthy horse.
“Pleasure horses are twice as likely to be obese as competition horses,” she said.
“A fat horse is not necessarily a healthy horse and we have to educate owners, trainers and judges. All parts of the industry need to work responsibly and act soon.”
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said: “I have challenged all of our attendees and viewers to go home from the conference and make the decision to do one or more things differently following the discussions which took place and I am confident that if we all make just one change, by this time next year the world will be a better place for horses.”
A full video of the conference can be found at World Horse Welfare’s YouTube channel.