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What is the RSPCA position on racehorse whips?
The RSPCA is opposed to the use of whips in racing due to the unnecessary and unjustified pain and distress they inflict on horses. The RSPCA supports the introduction of hands-and-heels racing where whips are no longer used for performance but may be carried for safety purposes where proven necessary.
The use of whips in Thoroughbred racing in Australia is governed by Racing Australia's Rules of Racing. These rules set a limit of five whip strikes prior to the final stage of a race, but there is no limit on the number of times a horse can be struck with the whip during the last 100 metres of a race.
Research examining the effect of whip use on performance in racing has indicated that horses are whipped most during this final stage of the race, in an attempt to make them run faster when they are slowing down due to fatigue. Yet how the horse ran prior to these final stages was found to be the most critical factor in racing success. What this indicates is that whip use occurs at its highest frequency when horses are fatigued and have less capacity to respond.
In recent years the racing industry has made a series of changes to the Rules of Racing with regard to whip use. While these changes have ensured that both forehand and backhand strikes are now covered by the rules, they still only apply to whip strikes prior to the final 100 metres. In addition, the current version of the rules allow horses to be slapped down the shoulder with the whip an unlimited number of times, provided the hand remains on the reins. And in the case of jumps racing, State racing authorities can now set a higher upper limit on whip strikes (this has just been doubled from 5 to 10 in Victoria).
It is clear that jockeys are not adhering to current rules, as evidenced by over 100 Victorian jockeys breaking the rules over a three-month period following the inclusion of backhand strikes in December 2015. A 2012 study also showed that the whip rules were not being effectively enforced by stewards, and penalties were not acting as a deterrent. A further study which reviewed Steward Reports in 2013 and 2016 showed that the most commonly recorded breaches were forehand whip use on more than five occasions before the 100-metre (m) mark (44%), and whip use where the jockey’s arm was raised above shoulder height (24%). Whilst whipping continues, welfare could be improved by reviewing annual whip breach rule statistics to identify key areas to inform strategies to improve policy, education and regulation.
Australian Jockeys are now demanding a weakening of whip rules, claiming that horses that are whipped more will have an unfair advantage over those who are not.
How you can help
Racing Australia sets the whip rules - if you would like to make your concerns over whip use known, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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