It is a shocking fact that horses are the only animals who are legally permitted to be beaten in public. It should not happen at all, but British jockeys are legally allowed to hit horses around 7 or 8 times during the course of a race. That's bad enough, you would think, but the rules are frequently flouted, and the whip is used more often than that.
Last year, there were 548 occasions in the UK when the whip was misused by 269 jockeys. The majority of these offenses involved the jockeys hitting the horses more times than permissible. Sad to say, 2018 was the third year in a row when this number of whip offenses has risen.
Following unrelenting pressure from animal rights activists, the British Horseracing Association (BHA) is currently undertaking a review of the use of the whip in racing, and not before time. Jockeys are more likely to face more stringent penalties for over-use of this “motivational” tool, in order to improve the public image of horse-racing in Great Britain.
Nick Rust, Chief Executive of the BHA, has said that a “new structure of penalties and deterrents” for over-using the whip will be introduced, but there is at present no firm deadline for the change to be implemented. However, it appears that senior figures in the horse-racing industry are prepared for a possible outright ban on the use of the whip within three years. Penalties for misuse of whips may become harsher, and this review has already started, as from January of this year.
This latest development in the debate over whip use has come after a separate review into the deaths of 7 horses as a result of jump racing at Cheltenham Festival in March 2018.
It transpires that this independent inquiry has been called for due to concerns that welfare issues may threaten the future of horse-racing if the problems are not addressed.
New guidelines regulating the number of times whips can be used in a race were introduced in 2011, and since then, the number of jockeys in breach of the rules has on average halved, falling from a total of 1,000 to closer to 500 last year.
Britain’s horse-racing regulations are among the most stringent in the world. However, the most competitive, high-stakes races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup have seen a number or riders banned on separate occasions for being in breach of the rules. For example, champion Richard Johnson won 2018’s Gold Cup but was punished for whip misuse during the race and was given a ban for 7 days and a fine of £6,550.
The use of the whip is a very divisive issue, and it seems that the debate may carry on for some time.