An international campaign to drop the use of whips in horse sport has been launched by the World Bitless Association.
The charity, registered in Britain, has created the #DROPtheWHIP campaign in support of the horse and in support of the stance taken in 2020 by Tasmanian harness racing driver Gavin Kelly.
Kelly is challenging the rules that mandate he carries a whip, and has refused to carry a whip or use it in a harness race, describing the devices as cruel.
The association is campaigning for a total ban on the use of whips for both encouragement and for punishment for non-performance in racing and across all equestrian sports.
It says its position aligns with many other animal welfare advocates calling for a ban on the use of the whip in racing.
The association notes that the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities (IFHA) has developed minimum standard guidelines for the use of the whip. However, regulation of whip use and the penalties for abuse in horseracing internationally remains widely varied.
It notes also that some parties in racing support the removal of the whip, and that racing authorities around the world have consistently recognised that whip use is controversial.
The British Horse Racing Authority’s (BHA) recent 2021 welfare strategy recognises the disparity between the industry and the public perception and feelings about the whip in racing. It states “we cannot afford to be complacent in relation to the salience of the whip as a political issue.”
The BHA’s Horse Welfare Board discussed the question of further research into pain and concluded that further scientific research is not a viable option because:
- Research to assess pain would be complex and potentially unethical;
- Research to assess stress caused by stimulus of the flight response is likely to be inconclusive and potentially subjective;
- Crucially, even if further credible research were possible, in the time it would take to commission and complete it, the public and political debate is likely to have overtaken the equestrian industry. Racing, the board said, must remain on the front foot.
The World Bitless Association urges the creation of a universal racing body to unify the various rules of racing in the individual countries so that the rules and penalties can be applied consistently, with clarity and fairness for jockeys and their horses around the world.
It says if whips are to be carried for “safety”, then any use should result in a steward’s enquiry to determine if its use was for exceptional circumstances of safety, to prevent injury. If not, then sanctions should apply.
The association argues that whipping a horse has no valuable contribution to racing.
It says it recognises that change will be slow and difficult to incorporate.
“This, however, must not divert us from campaigning against the common cruelty that is applied to horses, using equipment in an aversive way,” it says.
“Our goal is for all equestrians and all horse sports to recognise that there is no place for pain and fear-inducing stimuli mandated for use in racing or any equestrian competitions.
“We encourage all equestrians and animal advocates to support the campaign to Drop the Whip.”
The association was set up with the aim of informing riders and trainers about the choice of bitted and bitless bridles, enabling them to make an educated decision about which type of bridle would be best for each individual horse.
It also aims to raise the welfare standards of horse training and participate in rule revisions to allow free choice of bitted or bitless bridles, and options for bitted bridles without nosebands.