Use of the whip

Use of the whip in racing

The whip can be used for safety but there needs to be a wider debate about its use in equestrianism.

The whip can be used for safety but there needs to be a wider debate about its use in equestrianism.

The whip has a role to play in keeping a horse and rider safe, but there needs to be a wider debate about its use in equestrianism, and we would like to see an end to the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’ in racing.  

Why do riders use a whip?

We are often asked why horse riders and jockeys carry a whip. The answer is that, when used to get a horse’s attention or to steer it away from danger, a whip can play an important role in keeping both horse and rider safe.

We support the use of the whip for safety

We believe that a rider should be able to use a whip for safety or to ask their horse to concentrate. This is as true for racing as it is for any equine sport or leisure activity. However, appropriate use for safety or concentration should be carefully defined. 

Further research in this area is needed and would be welcomed.

We do not support the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’ in racing

As the British Horseracing Authority conducted a consultation into the use of the whip in 2021, the below outlines our position on the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’ within British racing. We would welcome further debate and consultation on whip use in other horse sports.

In horseracing, in addition to being used for safety, the whip is also used to ‘encourage’ the horse to run faster, and so maintain or advance their position in the race. This use of the whip is controversial as it is increasingly incompatible with society’s views on the acceptable treatment of animals and the evidence base on how horses learn. 

There is a small but growing amount of scientific research on the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’ in horseracing, aimed at determining its effectiveness in making horses run faster, its impact on the horse, and its effect on safety when used for ‘encouragement’ (see here).

While we acknowledge that the overall picture presented by this research is not clear-cut, we believe that the precautionary principle should apply and that the whip should not be used in horseracing for ‘encouragement.’ We base our position on both welfare and ethical considerations:

  • From a welfare perspective, there is no doubt that the whip is an aversive instrument that may cause pain and/or fear. In racing, the whip is also typically not used in a way that is compatible with the growing evidence of how horses learn.
  • Ethically, we do not believe that use of the whip to make horses run faster is justified because the horse does not benefit – and indeed may suffer harm – from this use. The purpose of its use is coercive, and this undermines the concept of partnership between horse and human which is the foundation of ethical horse sport.

At the same time, we have not seen any convincing evidence as to why it is important to retain the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’.  The research available provides no proof that use of the whip makes horses run faster or stops them from slowing down.

See a summary of the existing research here.

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 info@worldhorsewelfare.org

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