Use of the Whip in racing

In April 2011, the BHA invited World Horse Welfare to take part in its review of the use of the whip in racing along with the RSPCA and SSPCA.

racingThe BHA had already committed to a consultative process on whip use several months before Jason Maguire breached the existing rules when winning the Grand National in April 2011.

Maguire’s was just one of several recent high-profile cases where jockeys used their whips excessively to win a race, and despite breaking the rules were still able to claim victory and a substantial monetary prize. Their only punishment for overusing the whip was a short ban from race-riding. It became clear to almost everyone involved in racing that the penalties which applied at that time were not a sufficient deterrent to ensure jockeys abided by the whip rules, and there needed to be change, which also involved the influence of trainers and owners.

The BHA asked all welfare groups taking part in the review to respond to a set of questions about the whip. Following a period of research and consultation, World Horse Welfare presented answers to the review panel in July. We told them:

  • The whip is important for safety

A rider should be able to use a whip to keep horse and rider safe. This is as true for racing as it is for any equine sport.

  • We need a debate on the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’

In addition to its use as a safety aid, the whip is used in racing to ‘encourage’ the horse, in most cases to make it run faster. To date we have tolerated its use for encouragement within strict limits and under certain conditions, but we believe the principle of its use should be reviewed.

We said that there needed to be an open debate among all parties on the principle of the use of the whip for encouragement (including jockeys, trainers, owners, welfare groups and importantly, the general public). It is this use of the whip that is most abused, and most disturbs the general public.

Over the past two decades the public have developed a greater awareness of animal welfare issues and are becoming increasingly uneasy at the sight of horses being whipped for sport. The whip itself may have softer padding after its redesign several years ago, but the principle of whipping still causes concern. For racing to continue and flourish, which we hope it does, it must have the consent of the public.

Until this debate takes place, we said that we would take no firm view on how the whip should be used, if at all, for ‘encouragement’. Therefore we did not take a prescriptive approach regarding the number of strikes that would be acceptable when participating in the review. We asked the BHA to review its own evidence of whip breaches, and we support their evidence-based approach to date and monitoring of the almost 1,500 race meetings each year.

  • Whip use is a welfare issue when it is used inappropriately or excessively

Given its use for safety, we do not consider the whip per se to be a risk to horse welfare – it depends on how it is used. However, excessive or inappropriate use of a whip is always a welfare issue. There were 20 officially reported cases of horses being marked by the whip in racing in 2010 – an indication of excessive use or force – but the actual number is likely to be much higher. We would not agree to unrestricted use of the whip in any position in terms of force or frequency. This is not a responsible approach to take and is not in the interests of horse welfare.

Use of the whip can be inappropriate or excessive depending upon when it is used, as well as how frequently. For instance, we would consider the use of the whip to be inappropriate or excessive if it were used on an exhausted horse, or on one that was not responding to it, or on a horse that had fallen behind in a race and had no chance of winning or making a prize-money place. The whip serves no purpose in these circumstances – indeed it is counterproductive - unless it is used for safety.

  • We need stronger penalties to change attitudes and behaviour

There were over 900 whip offences in 2010, a rise of 33% from 2007. Almost everyone in racing agreed that the existing penalty structure was not working and needed strengthening if it was going to change the attitude and behaviour of all of those involved in the sport (jockeys, trainers and owners). While the majority of jockeys worked within the rules governing whip use, evidence showed that many did not – and some offended repeatedly.

When a jockey overused the whip, s/he might only have received a caution or a few days’ suspension. The results of races were unaffected, regardless of whether a winning or placed jockey had breached the whip rules. The rider, trainer and owner received their fees and prize money, respectively. This meant that there was no financial incentive for jockeys, trainers or owners to abide by, or encourage their riders to stay within, the whip rules if they thought flouting them could still win them a race. In spite of on-going mandatory seminars on key rules provided to jockeys by the BHA over the years, little progress was achieved in this area, which was clearly unacceptable for a modern, professional and regulated sport.

We relayed our concerns that, despite the adjustments made to jockeys’ use of the whip and the accompanying penalty structure in recent years, problems persisted in terms of riders’ adherence to, and, at times, understanding of the rules. The penalty system had not been an effective deterrent, nor had it changed behaviour or attitudes. This has clearly had a damaging impact on the reputation of the sport at a time when the public appear increasingly anxious about whip use and with so many breaches being widely covered by the media.

If the new rules do not reduce overuse of the whip, we see no alternative but a move to ‘hands and heels’ racing, with the whip carried only for safety

We said that there would need to be persuasive and sound arguments as well as measurable change against any revised rules to delay a move towards ‘hands and heels’ racing. Further restrictions on whip use and a stronger penalty structure would only be as effective as the respect shown them by riders and their enforcement. Furthermore, it is questionable as to whether the public will continue to tolerate the use of the whip for encouragement which is why it is so important to have a public debate.

  • Other considerations:

In addition to the fundamental need to have an open debate on the whip for encouragement, we said that for the review to be successful it was also important that:

Any decision is based at least in part on the available evidence. The BHA has access to a wider variety of data that should inform the review process – from an analysis of the current horses that are marked to the effectiveness of the current biennial seminars for flat and jump jockeys and the remedial courses at the British Racing School and Northern Racing College.

Careful consideration is given to the role of education – of not only jockeys but trainers and owners. After all, racing is a team effort, and jockeys follow the instructions of their employers. There is a precedent within the BHA rules where both trainers and jockeys are subject to sanction if it can be proved that they did not follow the rules. For instance, all jockeys receive instructions prior to a race from the trainer or owner, and these instructions are often given in evidence should it appear that the horse or jockey were not trying their best under the ‘non-triers’ rule. If it is already recognised within the rules and penalty structure that trainers are at least in part responsible for the behaviour of their jockeys, we think this principle should apply equally to the use of the whip.

We would be more than willing to play a role in providing education and training on horse welfare to jockeys, trainers and owners under the auspices of the BHA as part of our commitment to racing and the responsible use of horses in sport.

If you have any comments regarding our views on horses in sport or on the use of the whip, we would like to hear from you. Please email us at