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Horses: Do you whip them?

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samsam's picture
Joined: 23.03.2010

Got a question for you horsey people. I got in a heated discussion tonight with a newbie horse owner. I guess their horse charged them so they decided to get a whip. Went back into the paddock and showed their horse who was boss. I am thinking, this horse is now getting a beating and has no clue why? Why would anyone use a whip? Other then the wow factor of the crack sound it makes, I see no use for one. A long time ago I saw an abused horse with whip scars all over it. Poor thing. Thoughts?

John Bull's picture
Joined: 14.05.2011
Samsam, Of  course you don`t


Of  course you don`t whip horses. Do you whip your kids when they are naughty ? Do you whip your wife or husband if they don`t do what you say ? Of course not.

So why the hell should anybody whip horses ?

If people cannot get on with animals without subjecting them to pain in order to obey, then my answer is DON`T HAVE THE BLOODY THINGS IN THE FIRST PLACE.

We are dealing with animals NOT ignorant humans. Altough of course adult humans need a dose of pain at times to alter their behaviour.

By the way, if I was a race horse owner of an animal worth a million pounds and the jockey whipped the shit out of it during a race, I would wait until he dismounts and then knock him clean out with a very hard right cross to the chin.

xmasdogs's picture
Joined: 24.12.2009
I don;t mind a bit of

I don;t mind a bit of whipping. I'm not sure about kids or humans John. I think things have been in the news lately around horse whipping. Even with disrespectful or nasty horses, using a whip of any kind to beat them after the fact isn't going to teach them anything. Other options? in the case of a horse hanging it's head out of a stall and biting anyone that walks past, instead of having an open doorway have one with bars to the horse can't hang it's head out. No more biting passer-bys. Out in an open field or paddock...if a horse is that bad, I wouldn't enter without carrying a buggy whip or lunge whip to use to make the horse keep it's distance.

When I was 10 and into riding, I used to board a horse that seemed to like rushing past me when my hands were full carrying feed buckets or bales of hay. And he'd encourage another one to do it too...the pair of them would rush up behind me, split and run one on each side of me bucking and kicking. Lucky I didn't get my head taken off. I simply started carrying a buggy whip when going out to feed and they respected my space. If necessary for my own safety I would not have hesitated to use it but these weren't mean horses, they were just acting stupid so just carrying it was enough. One of those horses can be quite pushy and I've tapped the whip on his chest to make him back up out of my space...I've also use it to rub and scratch them while they're eating so they learn that it isn't something to be scared of, merely respected when carried a certain way. 

As you said, it's about respect, or lack of it. Respect doesn't just happen, it has to be taught. Beating doesn't garner respect, only fear.

karenhorses's picture
Joined: 18.12.2009
There is no way that I would

There is no way that I would ever whip my horses. Ever!

The Whip In Racing

In this series of articles, three well known horse people share their views on the use of the whip in racing. This is a global issue and the three authors come from three different hemispheres – the USA, Sth. Africa and the UK – and three different backgrounds – horse trainer, race caller and author.

The Whip In Racing by Monty Roberts
To do a dissertation on the whip in racing, I feel the first thing a horseman should say is, “It does not matter whether it’s racing or any other discipline, the whip is the whip.”

Equus, the flight animal, is about 50 million years old. If you accept the discovery by Dr. Louis Leakey of Lucy in the Olduvai Gorge, then humans are approximately 3.2 million years old. We must conclude then that horses got along just fine without human beings for 47 million years. We are quick, however, to use the term “problem horse,” a quite pompous statement from a species so junior.

A scientific fact is that horses are flight animals and, as the reader knows, they only have two goals in life (survival and reproduction). Horses do not often think strongly about reproduction during a race, which leaves us with only one facet of a horse’s existence, his goal to survive. Consider for a moment that we are human beings dealing with horses under circumstances extremely demanding and frightening to them. Knowing that they are vitally concerned with their own survival, we often conclude that the best course of action is to whip them and cause them pain in the hopes that it will get them to run faster.

I submit that this is not only a bad decision from a humane standpoint, but a worse decision where its effect is concerned. Horses are “into-pain” animals. Their natural tendency is to push into pressure, like a child does biting on hard bread when cutting teeth. We may frighten a horse the first few times we whip him in a race, but very soon he may resent the whip and back-up to it, actually causing him to run more slowly.

You so often hear the statement, “We need the whips for safety’s sake,” but, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth, because far more accidents are caused by whips than are ever averted by whips. In fact, if a jockey felt the need for a whip to guide the horse, why not use a spongy, nerf whip so that no pain could be produced?

In a recent conversation with Trevor Den¬man (a race announcer at the Santa Anita race track), he said to me that he felt it would be a good idea if every time there was a disqualification, the newspaper should read that, “the horse ducked from the whip and interfered with the progress of another horse and was thus disqualified.” Trevor suggested that an ¬extremely high percentage of disqualifications were caused by using the whip. Further, he said that if the bettors could understand that, they would be less apt to insist that jockeys use the whips to verify that they are trying.

Aside from whether it is effective or not, let us examine for a moment how we stand with the rest of the world on this issue. Nearly all the racing countries of the world are dealing with the issue of the whip in ways that suggest it will soon be obsolete. I believe Great Britain is down to five strikes now, while Sweden has restricted the use of the whip severely, and, I think, only in front of the girth. In Germany, it is interesting to note that all two-year-olds are ridden only with a soft nerf whip, which is handed to the jockey as he leaves the weighing room. The United States is virtually the only country to fail to act on what has become an important issue to race fans the world over.

The third facet, and possibly the most important, is in the area of public perception. We, in racing, need to be pro-active. We need to realize that many potential race fans abhor the use of the whip and are turned off by our sport. What if we had whipless racing? Someone would be first, someone would be last and someone would be in the middle, exactly as it is with the whips. As for finding the genetic aptitude for racing, would you not prefer the winning horse to run out of a natural desire, rather than running from pain? And, wouldn’t we be more acceptable to our audience?

I believe the number of race fans would increase with a strong promotional program featuring whipless racing. As racehorse people, we often say we are giving the horse a chance to do what he loves best, run. I believe that is a true statement, but if it is what he loves best, why do we have to whip him to do it? We do not.
It is my opinion that the best jockeys would still be the best jockeys, and in fact, true horsemanship skills would come to the front if we were to eliminate whipping.

I sincerely believe that the buggy whips used at the starting gate cause far more trouble than good. I have spent a good deal of my life studying equine behavior at the starting gate and I am absolutely convinced that the elimination of the whip would actually make life easier for the starting-gate crews.

People love animals, and we are supposed to be a civilized species. Is it not time for us to consider changing some of our retained barbaric ways? We have stopped condoning the lashing of prisoners and whipping small children. Is it not time that we stopped whipping our horses, flight animals, who have no intention to hurt anyone? My goal is to leave the world a better place than I found it—for horses and for people too. Racing could lead the horse industry in this truly important area of humane treatment.

Monty’s Points
• The whip is the number-one piece of equipment sold throughout the world.
• A horse is an “into-pain” animal and while the horse may run from the whip a few times, he will come to resent it and actually may run slower.
• Most disqualifications at the racetrack are caused by overusing the whip.
• The United States is virtually the only country to fail to act on the important issue of the whip in racing.
• The racing industry needs to recognize that the whip has a negative connotation among racing fans.
• Racing needs to be pro-active in this issue.
• Many disciplines use the whip for communication, and not pain. This is acceptable.
• Whatever the discipline, the use of the whip to produce pain is unacceptable.

- Monty

Thoughts and Empirical Observations from Trevor Denman
Biography: This South Africa native came to the United States in the fall of 1983 and announced his first "And away they go" as the 1984 Del Mar season began. Trevor Denman also calls races at Santa Anita back to 1983. His stint as guest commentator led to his being named track commentator for the 1983 Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita. At the start of the 1984-85 Santa Anita season, Denman assumed duties for the winter-spring season as well. He has been at the mike in Arcadia since.

Denman has come to be regarded as the nation's foremost caller of Thoroughbred races with a peerless reputation for accuracy and the ability to anticipate events during a race seemingly before they unfold. His anticipatory knack, says Denman, stems from training at a riding academy during his youth. After 12 years of race-calling in Durban, South Africa, Denman, at 31, became the announcer at the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita and then served as assistant to Dave Johnson for the 1983-84 winter-spring season at the Arcadia oval. He has been announcing at Del Mar now for 22 years.

Mr. Denman’s thoughts and empirical observations on whips in racing:
1) The use of the whip has been extensively curtailed in England. Since England is the cradle of racing and one of the top racing nations on earth, I believe if it can be done there it can be done anywhere. Also, in South Africa and Sweden the whip is hardly ever used. The point is that it CAN be done and already has.

2) Racehorses have been bred to race for hundreds of years. They WANT to run. Watch any field in America racing down the backstretch on the turf; the horses are not trying to pull themselves up or stopping to graze grass. They are running willingly and at fast speeds with absolutely no whips involved. Obviously they are keen to go on. Once in the stretch those whips come out to try to squeeze maybe a half to three quarters of a second faster time out of them. Not one single person could tell if a race was run in 1:34 or 1:35. We would still have winners in every race and the payouts would be exactly the same i.e. form would hold up exactly as it does now.

3) 99% of the jockeys I have spoken to say they love horses and do not want to hurt them, but the trainers make them whip the horses. They say they would not get a ride if they did not. This is possibly a crux to get out of it, but the point is if the jockeys were forbidden from abusing the horses with the whip the question would be moot.

4) If we have to inflict pain on horses for entertainment or to make money we are a pretty sick society.

5) 40 years ago animals in zoos were kept in small cages behind steel bars with no room to exercise or live a remotely normal life. Today the vast majority (almost all) of zoos have come a long, long way to making life better for the animals. Ideally there would be no zoos, but if we still do have them the least we can do is make life bearable for the animals. The same can be said for animals in circuses. Thank goodness watching animals get abused just to "entertain" us is now a thing of the past. Racing could learn from zoos and circuses.

6) Racing would be much more visually aesthetic without the use of whips.

Young people today are much more sensitive to animal abuse than they were a few generations ago.

7) How many times do we see a rider drop his whip turning for home and still go on to win. One wonders how many times the horse would have been whipped to do the same job as he did without being hit?

8) The greatest jockey of all time, Bill Shoemaker, hardly ever cocked his whip in a race, relying on balance and persuasion to win races. Gary Stevens, Pat Day, David Flores, Richard Migliore and Eddie Delahoussaye are just a few great jockeys who did not or do not rely on the whip to win races. Without whips the true horsemen would rise to the top.

9)Whips are an anachronism whose time has come. Fifty years from now people are going to watch races from today and say, "My goodness, were those guys barabric!"

Trevor Denman
Whip Use by Jack Houghton, author of Winning On Betfair For Dummies
I love taking first-timers racing. It’s one of the few times I have an opportunity to sound authoritative about something.

More than that, first-timers provide an attentive audience to listen to my theories on why novice chases are the best betting mediums. My previously attentive audience (that is, my girlfriend) has long stopped being attentive and is now only an audience under duress. In fact, she’s now my ex-girlfriend.

The annoying thing is that my new audience doesn’t understand what a novice chase is.

And their ignorance doesn’t stop there. They know nothing about form, going or conformation. Nothing about jockeyship. They even expect me to be able to back the winner in the day’s novice chase.
At their most ignorant and naïve, they even suggest that it might be cruel to whip a horse to make it run faster.

I would love to be able to tell them that it’s not, that the horse doesn’t really feel anything, or that horses have “a very thick hide” (or whatever dross most whip proponents come out with), but unfortunately, even though they know nothing about racing, they know that the logic of those responses just don’t stack up.

If a horse “doesn’t really feel it” then why do it in the first place? Is it like that gymnastic thing you see at the Olympics with a girl twirling a ribbon around her head? Do the jockeys receive extra points for artistic use of the whip?

When we whip a horse, we trigger their flight reactions. Whip a horse and it thinks, “something is chasing me and trying to take a bite out of my arse.”

This has potentially serious health implications for horses. “It is almost certain that this increases the injuries to horses,” explains David McDowel, an equine vet at the RSPCA. “The adrenalin released when a horse is whipped acts as a pain killer, meaning that they run in spite of any injuries they may have. In many cases, this is likely to lead to further injury or even death.”

The rules of racing in the UK present a strange paradox. Horses are not allowed to run when under the influence of pain killers such as Bute and Morphine, because they are thought to endanger the well being of the horse. Yet we allow jockeys to administer their own brand of pain killer, just at the time when horses are at their most vulnerable.

Every year, racehorses are dying and seriously injuring themselves as a result of the current whip regulations. But as well as the immediate harm that whipping a horse can inflict, the long-term psychological damage may be more difficult to assess. How many horses that are reluctant to go into the stalls, reluctant to start, or reluctant to put their full effort in, are that way because they associate a day at the races with pain and fear?

Luckily, a solution to the whip issue exists. Introduce a rule that a jockey must never take their hands off the reins in order to use their whip – effectively meaning that the strongest “encouragement” a jockey could administer would be a tap down the shoulder.

With one simple ruling, the Jockey Club would end every future negative headline regarding the whip. Perhaps more importantly, it would give racing the opportunity to take a moral stand against genuine animal cruelty.

Many people believe that full whip use should be retained to “motivate”, “galvanize”, “persuade” (or whatever increasingly ridiculous euphemism racing commentators are using for “whipping” this week) recalcitrant horses that just don’t seem to want to put it all in when racing. Their argument usually goes along the lines of, “a horse is treated like royalty for 360 days of the year. What’s wrong with giving it a few smacks across the backside to make it earn its keep for the other few days?”

The above argument used to be trotted out for the infamous Royal Rebel, who seemingly could not win a race unless it was over 2 ½ miles, at Royal Ascot, he was whipped about 2 dozen times in the process, and Russell Grant said that Venus was in line with Uranus.
Reframing the whip guidelines as I suggest would have deprived Royal Rebel’s connections of enjoying a victory on those rare occasions and, the argument goes, this is unfair.

I don’t accept that it is unfair. At its heart, racing is about the athletic ability of horses, just as it is with any human sporting endeavor. For a human to be successful at any sport, talent has to be matched with an unrelenting desire to succeed, so why don’t we expect the same from our equine athletes?

But the material point is that on the whole, horses want to run. When they jump out of the stalls, they run. They are not whipped at this stage and yet run their hearts out. They don’t all suddenly stop and start eating grass. They lock-up and run together in exciting duels. There is no real reason to believe that hitting them with a whip encourages them more when they reach the closing stages.
What it does do is artificially push them beyond where they naturally want to go. And what’s the point? Is there anyone in the stands on any day at Newmarket or Cheltenham that could tell the difference? Would the racing be any less exciting?

Make it an even playing field where whip use is limited to a tap down the shoulder and the sport will not suffer.

The current regulations regarding the use of the whip in racing are morally wrong. But even if you don’t see this as being the case, then you should take more seriously the fact that they are slowly killing the public perception of the sport.

For those outsiders who are new to racing, those people who are not part of the club, the use of the whip is an unnecessary and cruel aspect of the sport. Of the 20 or so first-timers that I have taken racing over the last couple of years, they have all expressed concern at the whipping of horses. Most of them subsequently make the choice that horse racing isn’t a sport that they wish to patronize. In short, the current whip regulations are alienating potential race goers.

The problem is, that as members of the club, we don’t appreciate that this is happening to the sport and jeopardizing its future. We’re too insular and introspective, unable to stand back and appreciate the wider public perception.

As they say in America, this is a no-brainer. By giving up the whip, we lose nothing. Racing is safer, the horses enjoy it more and the racing is still exciting. What’s more, we ensure that people new to the sport will keep coming racing – new punters, new owners, new audiences to listen to my theories on novice chases…
~Jack Houghton

John Bull's picture
Joined: 14.05.2011
Karen, What an excellent post


What an excellent post with all that super information making such interesting reading.

You know Karen, this whipping of horses kinda makes me reflect on WW2 where the Japs did the same to their POW`s yelling "Speedo !" and the Germans did the same to their Concentration Camp inmates yelling "Schnell !". Funny that eh ?

I reckon the new whip laws will reduce horses deaths through having heart attacks by being forced beyond their capacity with painful smacks of the whip.

Remember "Best Mate" ? They had him checked before the start of the race for a suspected heart murmur. The Vet finally passed him to race and the owner agreed. Guess what ? The poor horse dropped dead of a heart attack after being pulled up near the end of the race.

For all those who just love the Sport of Kings, take a look at this, just copy and paste it in your URL box :-


and just think what those enjoyable "days at the races" cost in horses lives.