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Are whips used in horse harness racing?

Harness racing

Concerns regarding the use of whips in Thoroughbred racing have increased in recent years but there has been less focus on their use on standardbred horses for harness racing. Compared to Thoroughbred racing, harness racing authorities have been more active in tightening their whip rules to help improve animal welfare and have supported an eventual phase-out of whips for performance purposes. Although improvements are welcome, the RSPCA continues to advocate for an end to the use of whips for performance in all horse racing.

The harness racing industry has permitted the use of whips in training and racing on the basis that they encourage horses to perform their best, to improve race times and for drivers to safely control their horse. In relation to concerns that tighter whip rules will reduce race times, an Australia study showed that this did not occur and that the findings suggest that reduction or even elimination of whips may improve acceptability of harness racing to the public, which is becoming increasingly concerned about the welfare of racehorses [1].

Since 2010, several whip rule changes have been introduced by harness racing authorities, including an intention to ban the whip except for emergency use for safety reasons, in 2017. However, the proposed ban was overturned due to opposition from some trainers and drivers. Since then, the main thrust of the rule changes, including the latest requirements, has been to minimise the force with which the whip is used. From 1 September 2020, all drivers are to use a flicking action of the wrist with a restriction on raising the arm, and the whip must not be used in a jabbing motion.


[1] Wilson B, Jones B, McGreevy P (2018) Longitudinal trends in the frequency of medium and fast race winning times in Australian harness racing: Relationships with rules moderating whip use. PLoS ONE 13(3): e0184091.

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Updated on December 7, 2020
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