Horse racing’s whip use still a sore point, despite new recommendations

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"We are clear that we want to see a move away from the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’ in horseracing on both welfare and ethical grounds."
© World Horse Welfare

Following a review of the use of the whip in horse racing, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has announced 20 recommendations relating to whip use, but an equine charity says the moves do not go far enough.

Among the 20 recommendations are the continuing use of the ProCush whip “for encouragement, with strong and appropriate regulation of its use”, and whip rules will be amended to restrict use for encouragement to the backhand position only.

The recommendations, proposed by the Whip Consultation Steering Group, form part of a detailed, 96-page report. The need for a review into the use of the whip was set out by the sport’s cross-industry Horse Welfare Board in its 2020 “A Life Well Lived” welfare strategy.

But international horse welfare charity World Horse Welfare wants to see racing move away from the use of the whip for encouragement, and during this review argued that this use should cease on both ethical and welfare grounds.

World Horse Welfare has advised the BHA on a series of welfare matters over the past decade and fed into the BHA’s 2011 whip review, confirming the role of the whip in safety but highlighting the need for a wider debate on the use of the whip for encouragement.

Chief Executive Roly Owers was a member of the BHA’s 2021 Whip Consultation Steering Group and the only member representing the equine welfare sector, with other members of the group drawn from jockeys, trainers, representatives of the racing industry, politics and media.

Owers said the charity welcomed the formation of the BHA Whip Consultation Steering Group and was happy to participate actively in the consultation process as the only member representing the equine welfare sector.

“An increased focus on training and education on how the whip should be used is also warmly welcomed. We would like to see this education include a focus on how horses learn so that if the whip is used, it is used in accordance with evidence-based learning theory,” Owers said.

“However, we believe that the recommendation on whip use ‘to be used in a backhand position only’, while welcome, does not go far enough. We are clear that we want to see a move away from the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’ in horseracing on both welfare and ethical grounds. We simply do not believe its use is justified, especially in light of what we now know about what makes a good horse-human partnership.

“We will continue to work constructively with the BHA and others in racing to support the implementation of the rules and the recommendations of the Horse Welfare Board. Racing of horses, like all horse sport, can only continue to take place if the sport maintains the support of the public, which will require everyone in racing to justify their use of the whip in the context of horse welfare, and show that they can be trusted to adhere to and enforce these rules.”

World Horse Welfare supports the responsible involvement of horses in sport and is an independent welfare advisor to horse sport regulators, including the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the International Horse Sports Confederation (IHSC) and the BHA.

Above: British Horseracing’s Whip Consultation process

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