Is Whipping Racehorses Necessary?

December 21, 2012


With the Melbourne Cup looming, here's an article of interest from one of Sentient's members that was published in a local newspaper. 


With the Spring racing carnival upon us, many Australians will turn their attention to horse racing and in particular the Melbourne Cup. The Cup is a good excuse to get together at the office for a slap up lunch, wear an outlandish hat and hopefully take home the cup sweep winnings. But do we ever think about what the horse experiences? Racehorses are supreme athletes which are fed and exercised to strict regimes to ensure enhanced performance and so one would assume that they are treated with utmost care and respect.


One aspect of horse racing that has recently come under scrutiny is the use of the whip by jockeys. Some people believe that the level of whipping doesn’t really hurt because the force used is minimal or horses have thicker and tougher skin than us and don’t really feel it; or if whipping was harmful, it would have been stopped.


Questions have been raised and pressure placed on the industry to implement safeguards including using a padded whip, only striking the horse on specified areas of the body, only striking close to the finish line and to a maximum number of times. This sounds reasonable and practical.

However, results from a study* released earlier this year by the University of Sydney showed that many of these safeguards were not being adhered to and in fact whipping a tired horse in most cases did not improve its final placing. In addition, it was shown that 83% of impacts showed a visible indentation suggesting tissue trauma and damage. This study provides valuable insights for the industry to better evaluate the role and need for whips.


The industry claims that using a whip is important for safety in that if a horse is steering off course, the whip will correct this. This claim has not been scientifically substantiated.


So, when you are cheering on your Cup hopeful, keep an eye on whether your jockey uses a whip a lot, a bit or not at all.


* (Study done by Professor Paul McGreevy and Hon Assoc Professor David Evans)

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