Jockeys will no longer be allowed to use whips in UK jump races
The British Horse Racing Authority has announced that as of January 9, 2023, British jockeys won't be permitted to use whips during a jump race in the traditional forehand stance.
Instead, they will be required to use the whip in a backhand grip. Once this change is in effect, penalties will be imposed starting February 6. The same change will apply to flat races starting February 27, 2023.
Why is this happening?
In the UK, many people are shocked and disturbed by the idea of a “sport” in which horses are whipped to make them run faster. As a result of concerns about animal cruelty, racing authorities have recently introduced stricter rules on the use of the whip.
These rules, which were implemented on September 1, 2021, prevent jockeys from taking the whip to a horse in consecutive strides in the UK.
Likely, New Zealand's racing authorities will also adopt these changes, given their previous restrictions on jockeys' use of the whip and their focus on animal welfare and community perception.
The latest rules on whip use in New Zealand racing prohibit the use of the whip in consecutive strides and limit its use to five times before the 100-metre mark.
The details of the new rules
According to the rules of racing, namely 638(3)® and 638(3)(f)®, jockeys are prohibited from using their whip excessively, unnecessarily, or improperly during a flat or jumping race, certification test or trial. Specifically, they are not allowed to use their whip in the following ways:
In front of the horse's shoulder or near its head
In a way that raises the jockey's arm above shoulder height
When the horse is out of contention
When the horse is showing no response
After passing the winning post
In a manner that causes injury to the horse
When the horse is winning
When the horse has no chance of taking on a lead or falling back in its position
Furthermore, according to rule 638(3)(g)®, jockeys aren't allowed to strike a horse with a whip more than 5 times before the 100-metre mark, except in a slapping motion down the shoulder while keeping the whip hand on the reins.
They are also not allowed to strike a horse in consecutive strides at any time throughout the race. The last clause in rule 638(3)(f)® provides an “accidental” excuse for non-compliance in cases where the jockey was not acting intentionally or recklessly.
How New Zealand's rules compare
Based on the above, there are clear rules for the British racing industry. They specify that the whip can be used seven times during a flat race and eight times when jumping.
New Zealand's rules on the use of the whip only apply prior the race's last 100 metres. Therefore, this allows jockeys to use the whip five times during the that time, after which it's up to the jockey based on the rules mentioned previously.
This standard is weaker than the British one but is in line with the NZ racing industry's rationale for whip use, which is based on two questionable arguments: that it's necessary for safety and integrity.
The idea that whipping a horse is needed for its safety is questionable, as it may startle the horse and cause it to collide or fall.
And the idea that whipping a horse is necessary to encourage it to run faster by causing it pain and fear is unacceptable.
What the research says
Research has shown that horses experience pain when they are whipped. A possible solution to this problem would be to ban the use of the whip altogether.
Instead, the jockey will be required to rely on what is known as “hands and heels” riding. The strongest riders can control their horses using their body and core strength, without the need for a whip.
However, some owners continue to pressure jockeys to use the whip. This is seen as a way of demonstrating that they are doing everything they can to win. Additionally, the use of the whip during the final stages of a race is still seen by many as an exciting part of the spectacle.
It'll be interesting to see how quickly Britain's latest rules on whipping will be adopted in New Zealand. In the meantime, it's up to the jockeys and horse owners to reduce the amount of whipping in a race.