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Review of the use of the whip in racing

Use of the whip in racing for ‘encouragement’: World Horse Welfare review of the evidence

Use of the whip in racing for ‘encouragement’: World Horse Welfare review of the evidence

Overview

To the fullest extent possible, World Horse Welfare approaches questions related to the use of horses from an evidence-based perspective. In applying this approach to the question of use of the whip for ‘encouragement’, on July 5, 2022 we searched the PubMed scientific database using the search term ‘horse racing whip’. This yielded 10 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

This review focusses primarily on these papers, but also incorporates older relevant scientific papers and information from relevant websites. As in any area of science, the quality of the work relating to use of the whip varies and more research is needed; however, much of the work that has been done is valid and relevant to UK racing.

The studies quoted in this document range in robustness from circumstantial evidence for an association between whip use and falls (analysis of videos, without controls; Ueda et al., 1993) to good evidence for an association between whip use and falls (retrospective, matched, nested case-control study; Pinchbeck et al., 2004), as well as good evidence that the ability of horses and humans to perceive pain is equivalent (comparative anatomical study; Tong et al., 2020). Although some of the work that has been carried out may not be of optimal design – and prospective studies, in particular, are lacking – the body of research conducted to date includes multiple different indicators that argue against retaining the whip for ‘encouragement.’

Summary of the evidence

  • There is no proof that use of the whip makes horses race faster/slow down less (for supporting evidence, see sections 1 and 2 below)
    • If whipping horses does not induce them to ‘perform at their best’ (i.e., speed up/not slow down), this leads us to question the rationale for continuing this practice
  • There is no evidence that use of the whip improves steering, reduces interference, or increases safety (Section 3, 5th main bullet)
  • Use of the whip has been associated with decreased safety (Section 3)
  • Although there may be no definitive proof that whipping causes pain in horses, there is likewise no proof that it does not cause pain, and every reason to believe that it does (Section 4)
    • The precautionary principle should therefore prevail and banning use of the whip for ‘encouragement’ is a moral imperative
  • World Horse Welfare and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), who advise the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) on welfare issues, do not support the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’ (Section 5)
  • If the whip is to be used, jockeys, trainers, and stewards must all understand learning theory; without this, the potential for abuse is heightened (Section 6)
  • Consideration should be given to revisiting the design and specification of the whip: recent data suggest that changing the length of the padded section, investigating the properties of the core, and mandating the presence of a microchip in the handle have the potential to improve welfare (Section 7)

Supporting evidence

1) There is no proof that use of the whip makes horses race faster

  • In Quarter horses, whipping on the shoulder in time with the stride reduced stride length, increased stride frequency, and did not increase speed (Deuel and Lawrence, 1987)
  • In Australian Thoroughbreds, whipping in the final 400m of a race was not associated with greater speed than prior to the 400m marker (Evans and McGreevy, 2011)
    • The best predictor of whether a horse was placed (1st, 2nd or 3rd) in the race was its place at the 200m marker, not the number of whip strikes in the final 200m
    • Any increase in speed that did result from use of the whip did not affect speed enough to change the chance of being placed vs not placed

2) There is no evidence that horses race slower when the whip rules are tightened up

  • In Australian harness racing, introduction of rules that moderated whip use were associated with increased frequency of fast (<1 minute 55 seconds) winning times; the data show no reduction in the frequency of fast winning times in association with moderation of whip use (Wilson et al., 2018)
    • In a comparison of case-matched whip-free races vs whip-permitted races in the United Kingdom (UK), there was no difference in race times for races run over the same distance (Thompson et al., 2020)
      • Whip-free races involved apprentices, whereas whip-permitted races almost certainly involved professional jockeys (jockey status was not clarified in the paper)
      • Whip-free races were, on average, 0.5 seconds slower than whip-permitted races but the difference was not statistically significant
      • Races were matched on the basis of date, racecourse, type of race, distance, number of runners, class, and going

3) Use of the whip has been associated with decreased safety

  • In a case-control study of 119 falls in hurdle and steeplechase races in the UK (Pinchbeck et al., 2004):
    • Use of the whip was associated with significantly greater risk of falling
    • The more times the horse was whipped (from 0 to ³3) the greater the risk of falling
    • Horses whose position in the race was improving and were being whipped were at the highest risk of falling; this risk was >7 times greater than for horses that were not progressing in the race and were not being whipped
    • It appeared that the whip was used primarily for increasing the speed of the horse – in other words, for ‘encouragement’
    • Cause and effect was not proven in this study, although the idea that fatigue was a factor in many of the falls is countered by the fact that improved position in the race was a significant risk factor for falling
  • In a study by Parkin et al. (2002), horses receiving ‘encouragement’ in the final 10 seconds before time of fracture were at greater risk of suffering a fatal distal limb fracture
    • In a Japanese study, 38% of serious racing accidents (fractures and dislocations) were associated with prior use of the whip (Ueda et al., 1993)
      • Although the design of this study was weak, the possibility that whip use decreases safety cannot be ruled out
    • There is no evidence that safety has been adversely affected by banning/limiting use of the whip in Norway (personal communication in Jones et al., 2015)
    • Comparison of a total of 1,178 starters in whip-free (WF; apprentice) and whip-permitted (WP; presumably professional jockey) races in the UK found no evidence that whip use improves steering, reduces interference, or improves finishing times (Thompson et al., 2020)
      • Confidence intervals were wide but there were more reports of movement left, movement right, and interference in WP races vs WF races, and there were fewer WP runners vs WF runners
      • Therefore, for each horse that ran, movement left, movement right, and interference were more likely to occur in WP races
      • These findings suggest that whip-free racing does not compromise racing integrity
    • Re steering, McGreevy and Oddie (2011) examined photographs of Australian racehorses running on two tracks, one of which raced clockwise and the other counter-clockwise; the data indicated that the hand in which the whip was held was dictated primarily by the handedness of the jockey and not by the direction of the track; similar data were reported by Knight and Hamilton (2014)
      • In terms of what the studies’ findings reveal about the utility of the whip for steering, the two pairs of authors came to different conclusions about the relevance of this finding; we therefore feel that no firm conclusions can be drawn from these data

4) Comparative evidence suggests that forceful use of the whip causes pain in horses

  • Detection of superficial pain occurs in the epidermis (Tong et al., 2020); hence, comparisons among species of full skin thickness are irrelevant in this context
    • Tong et al. (2020) compared the thickness of human and equine epidermis and dermis, and innervation of the epidermis
      • There was no significant difference between horses and humans in the thickness of the epidermis in the gluteal region, or in the density of innervation within the epidermis at this site
      • These data show that, from an anatomical perspective, the ability of horses and humans to detect superficial acute pain is equivalent
    • We need to assume that if a procedure causes pain in humans and leads to a response in horses, then it causes that response by causing pain (Hood et al., 2017)
    • Comparison of the mechanical threshold for nociception (detection of pain) in multiple species, including horses, with data from whip impacts delivered by jockeys strongly suggests that the force of the blow delivered by the whip would be noxious (Taylor et al., 2016; McGreevy et al., 2013)
    • The fact that a horse does not display any apparent reaction to a whip strike does not necessarily mean that it does not feel pain – if it cannot control whether it is whipped (e.g., if, when it responds, the whipping does not stop, or if the whipping is applied when the horse is too fatigued to respond), the whipping becomes positive punishment
      • For a horse that is already putting in maximum effort, this is abuse
      • There is also the possibility that the horse may enter a state of learned helplessness in which it does not even try to respond

5) Use of the whip for ‘encouragement’ is not supported by welfare organisations

  • World Horse Welfare and the English and Welsh Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), who act as independent welfare advisors to the BHA, both currently endorse removal of the whip for the purposes of ‘encouragement’

6) The whip and learning theory

  • If use of the whip is to be effective and ethical, and if jockeys are going to hit a horse and have it produce the desired response, jockeys and trainers need to have an understanding of learning theory (Evans and McGreevy, 2011; McGreevy et al., 2018)
    • Without such understanding, the potential for abuse is heightened
  • Use of the whip can be viewed as negative reinforcement or positive punishment, depending on how it is used; both are aversive, the extent to which they are aversive being related to the manner and force with which the whip is used
  • The BHA cite the ‘sight, sound and sensation of the whip’ and induction of the flight response as potential reasons for its effectiveness, without causing pain (BHA, 2021). This raises three questions:
    • What valid rationale is there for the whip being effective in ‘encouraging’ the horse if it is not aversive in some way?
    • If waving/using a whip is not aversive, why do horses not habituate to it, making its use ineffective?
    • If inducing the flight response (i.e., eliciting fear) is the mechanism by which use of the whip is effective, is this ethical?
  • BHA rules state that the horse must be given enough time to respond before being whipped again
    • If the horse does not respond to the whip because it cannot (e.g., because it is too fatigued), then it has no way of escaping being whipped again; the horse is now being whipped for galloping as fast as it can
  • The fact that a horse does not display any apparent reaction to a whip strike does not mean that it does not feel pain – if it cannot control whether it is whipped (e.g., if, when it responds, the whipping does not stop, or if the whipping is applied when the horse is too fatigued to respond), the whipping becomes positive punishment
    • For a horse that is already putting in maximum effort, this is abuse
    • There is also the possibility that the horse may enter a state of learned helplessness in which it does not even try to respond

7) Observations relating to whip design

  • The BHA whips were meant to include a microchip so that officials know that they have been made to the correct specification (BHA, 2009) but this is no longer mandatory
  • In an Australian study, both sections of the whip (padded and non-padded) contacted the horse more often than the padded section alone (McGreevy et al., 2012)
    • In terms of total length and length of the padded section, Australian and UK whips are similar; for comparison, Australian whips are slightly ‘kinder’ than UK whips for flat racing and slightly ‘less kind’ for jump racing (under Australian rules, a UK jump whip [68 cm long] would have a 20 cm flap vs 23 cm in UK, and a UK flat whip [70 cm long] would have a 21 cm flap vs 17 cm in the UK)
    • It is important to ensure that the non-padded section of the whip is not contacting horses in the UK, as has been shown to happen in Australia
  • In a study of commercially available whips in the United States, the design of both the core and padded sections of the whip affect the force applied to the horse; the properties of the core may be more significant than those of the padded section (Toma et al., 2020)

References

British Horseracing Authority. British Horseracing Authority announces modifications to existing whip design. October 16, 2009. Available at: https://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/british-horseracing-authority-announces-modifications-to-existing-whip-design/. Accessed July 7, 2022

British Horseracing Authority. Consultation into the use of the whip in British racing. LAUNCH. Key Messages and Q&A. 2021.

Deuel NR, Lawrence LM. Effects of urging by the rider on equine gallop stride limb contacts. Proceedings of the Equine Nutrition and Physiology Symposium 1987;10:487–494

Evans D, McGreevy P. An investigation of racing performance and whip use by jockeys in thoroughbred races. PLoS One. 2011;6:e15622

Hood J, McDonald C, Wilson B, McManus P, McGreevy P. Whip Rule Breaches in a Major Australian Racing Jurisdiction: Welfare and Regulatory Implications. Animals (Basel). 2017;7:4

Jones B, Goodfellow J, Yeates J, McGreevy PD. A Critical Analysis of the British Horseracing Authority’s Review of the Use of the Whip in Horseracing. Animals (Basel). 2015;5:138-50

Kennedy M. An end to ‘encouragement’- it’s time for horseracing to follow the science about whipping. 2021. Available at: https://www.rspca.org.uk/-/blog-time-for-horseracing-to-follow-science-about-whipping. Accessed July 7, 2022

Knight PK, Hamilton NA. Handedness of whip use by Australian Jockeys. Aust Vet J. 2014;92:231-4

McGreevy PD, Oddie C. Holding the whip hand—a note on the distribution of jockeys’ whip hand preferences in Australian Thoroughbred racing. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. 2011;6:287-9

McGreevy PD, Corken RA, Salvin H, Black CM. Whip use by jockeys in a sample of Australian Thoroughbred races–an observational study. PLoS One. 2012;7:e33398

McGreevy PD, Hawson LA, Salvin H, McLean AN. A note on the force of whip impacts delivered by jockeys using forehand and backhand strikes. J Vet Behaviour. 2013;8:395-99

McGreevy P, Christensen JW, von Borstel UK, McLean A. Equitation Science. 2nd edition (2018). Wiley Blackwell, Hoboken, NJ, USA

Parkin, T.D.H., Clegg, P.D., French, N.P., Proudman, C.J., Riggs, C.M., Singer, E.R., Webbon, P.M. and Morgan, K.L. (2002) Fatal fractures of the distal limb in UK racing: an example of a case-control study. In: Proceedings of the 41st British Equine Veterinary Association Congress, Equine Veterinary Journal, Newmarket. pp 84-85

Pinchbeck GL, Clegg PD, Proudman CJ, Morgan KL, French NR. Whip use and race progress are associated with horse falls in hurdle and steeplechase racing in the UK. Equine Vet J. 2004;36:384-9

Taylor PM, Crosignani N, Lopes C, Rosa AC, Luna SP, Puoli Filho JN. Mechanical nociceptive thresholds using four probe configurations in horses. Vet Anaesth Analg. 2016;43:99-108

Thompson K, McManus P, Stansall D, Wilson BJ, McGreevy PD. Is Whip Use Important to Thoroughbred Racing Integrity? What Stewards’ Reports Reveal about Fairness to Punters, Jockeys and Horses. Animals (Basel). 2020;10:1985

Toma M, Pandya YH, Dongre D, Nizich M. Assessing Forces Exerted on Horses Using Varying Riding Crops. J Equine Vet Sci. 2021;98:103341

Tong L, Stewart M, Johnson I, Appleyard R, Wilson B, James O, Johnson C, McGreevy P. A Comparative Neuro-Histological Assessment of Gluteal Skin Thickness and Cutaneous Nociceptor Distribution in Horses and Humans. Animals (Basel). 2020;10:2094

Ueda Y, Yoshida K, Oikawa M. Analyses of race accident conditions through use of patrol video. J Equine Vet Sci. 1993;13:707–710

Wilson B, Jones B, McGreevy P. Longitudinal trends in the frequency of medium and fast race winning times in Australian harness racing: Relationships with rules moderating whip use. PLoS One. 2018;13:e0184091

World Horse Welfare. 2022. Use of the whip in racing. Available at: https://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/about-us/our-work/who-we-help/sport-and-leisure-horses/use-of-the-whip-in-racing. Accessed July 7, 2022

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