Trainers, jockeys, owners and punters think that whipping racehorses is an essential tool of trade. I’m yet to hear a convincing argument.
These opinions are certainly not science based, and they are certainly not putting the horse first in their considerations.
If nothing else, Blake Shinn’s egregious breach of the whip rule a few days ago highlighted that the ongoing use of the whip in racing is one of its greatest embarrassments.
It is three years since Racing Victoria (RVL) trumpeted “world leading” equine welfare and safety standards when introducing the Melbourne Cup ‘fitness to race’ veterinary protocols. Since then, RVL and racing more generally has reverted to being a laggard in the equine welfare outside of retirement planning.
In a post-race interview over the spring carnival, jockey James McDonald debunked the ‘doesn’t hurt’ myth.
This backs up research by Sydney University School of Veterinary Sciences that showed there is no anatomical difference between humans and horses in their capacity to feel pain, something acknowledged months if not years ago by retired Chief Steward John Schreck.
Does it make slow horses go fast or non-triers try? Is it an essential safety tool?
Well, even RVL’s own reduced, five-strike whip trial showed that there was no observable difference in safety incidents or race times. Did a horse or two not try – possibly, but then perhaps they are the ones that should be in a different career.
There is also research from a review of UK racing where a ‘hands and heels’ (no whip use for encouragement) apprentice series ran alongside standard races (subject to more liberal whip usage). Empirically dissecting the results of over 120 races involving more than 1100 jockeys and horses, researchers McGreevy & McManus found that allowing the whip to be used did not “maker racing safer, faster or fairer” after controlling for variables such as race distances or surfaces.
Some in the industry have called for the ‘uneducated fringe fanatics’ to be educated that the whip doesn’t hurt.
Perhaps they’ve got the education piece right but the audience wrong. Perhaps the need is to educate those in the industry that are calling for education – that it doesn’t make the difference they think it does. Or as McGreevy and McManus put it “the use of whips in horse racing is unnecessary, unjustifiable and unreasonable”.
Why begs the question – why is whip use still permitted by Australian Racing Authorities supposedly keen to bring greater scientific rigor into its governance of racing and keen to engage a much larger portion of society?