Animal Aid

A HIDING TO NOTHING : Introduction and background

In this first section of A Hiding to Nothing, we introduce the background to the whipping investigation, give a brief overview of the findings, and outline the background to the horse racing industry itself.

Animal Aid makes no secret of its opposition to commercial horse racing. The evidence points to an industry that systematically exploits its principal resource - the Thoroughbred horse. It does so from the breeding yard to the slaughterhouse - where many a commercially-spent equine meets his or her end.

In addition, hundreds are raced to death every year, while the incidence of disease and injury is now a cause for fraught contemplation by the practitioners themselves.

Animal Aid's case against the industry was set out in our 2003 report, Riding For A Fall: the genetic timebomb at the heart of racing. This was based on industry and scientific data, as well as the published observations of leading owners, trainers and other racing insiders.

Just as Riding For A Fall was rooted in fact rather than rhetoric, so this new report is grounded in a statistical analysis of the use of the whip. In fact, we believe A Hiding To Nothing is the most comprehensive analysis of whip use ever published. (This report contains the key overview tables. The full data can be viewed/downloaded here (PDF)).

It is based on a meticulous investigation of 161 races that were run during October and November 2003, involving 285 jockeys and 1500 horses. We have produced nearly 200 tables setting out how often and when in a race a whip was used. The whip rate of individual jockeys is tabulated and we also give data showing which branch of racing (All Weather, the Flat, National Hunt) resorts most often to the whip. Crucially, we assess the impact whip use has on the outcome of a race.

While opposition to the whip arises from the physical and mental hurt it imposes upon racing animals, the pro-whip lobby has always argued that whips are useful for 'guiding, encouraging and correcting' horses. In other words, the whip allegedly assists horses to perform better and run more safely, while also providing helpful chastisement for when they behave 'badly'.

Our survey results comprehensively dispose of these supposed justifications. The visual recordings of races show that whipping horses is more likely to drive them off a true line and even cause them to fall. The same evidence shows that whipping horses is less likely to produce an 'improvement' in behaviour. Animals frequently became 'soured' by the whip. They become fearful, hesitant and less likely to perform to their potential. But the aspect of our survey most devastating for the industry itself is that whip use is shown clearly to be counter-productive in terms of producing winners.

The data show that the more often horses are whipped, the less chance they stand of winning their races. Horses whipped at the start of a race almost never win, and that pattern holds until the finish line. In the final part of a race - where the whip is most often used - jockeys who use it least win more frequently. In fact, 40 of the 161 races (around 25%) were won by horses who were not subjected to any whipping at all. More startling for racing traditionalists is the finding that more than 70% of winning horses in our survey would still have won had the whip been entirely absent. And many of the remaining 51 winners may also have triumphed had they been spared the whip.

How does it feel for a horse to be whipped?

Some people, when seeing the whip in use, are comforted by the thought that such a large animal cannot possibly be seriously distressed by a comparatively small implement wielded by a comparatively small human being. The reality is best exemplified by the testimony of Jasmine Chesters, the Braunton-based owner of a young Thoroughbred filly. In a Winter 2002 letter to the Racing Post, Ms Chesters wrote: 'When she came out for her first race this year, the only words I can use are that she was thrashed. Not by other horses but by her jockey. She was hit at least 12 times inside the last furlong and a half and finished third. Her rider was suspended for two days but the harm he did to my horse is incalculable. She has never run the same since. She breaks well but on reaching about the four-furlong pole, when she is nearly always in the first four or five, as soon as she is smacked to push her on, she drops herself out. Her emotions must be in turmoil. She must be expecting to be thrashed again. We have nursed her all season but to no avail. Now I have to make the decision as to what to do with her.'

Our survey details the whip being used on young horses during their first ever race. Horses in a state of total exhaustion, their tongues hanging from their mouths, were also beaten. Animals out of contention were whipped - apparently due to frustration or for punishment. The guilty riders included apprentices as well as champion jockeys. We recorded them with their hands off the reins and beating down on neck and shoulders. Horses were commonly whipped ten times as they approached the finish line. And horses being whipped 20, even 30, times during a race was observed.

Official pressure to use the whip

Rarely was there any reproach from the course stewards. Rather, it was riders who were sparing of the whip who risked coming under official scrutiny. This is thanks to the recent wave of fevered media coverage of race-fix allegations, whereby jockeys in favourable positions come under suspicion of throwing races if they are seen not to be trying hard enough. Trying hard inevitably equates with whipping their mounts.

Confusion over the rules

'Failing to ride out to the line' attracts comparatively severe penalties, as do other infractions that are assessed as potentially distorting the outcome of a race and thereby robbing a punter of his winnings. Beating horses, by contrast, typically attracts a two or three day ban - with the race placings unchanged. Not that the rules on whipping are seriously enforced; or that there is clarity as to precisely what those rules permit. This is because much of the Jockey Club's rulebook is framed in ambiguous terms, with prohibitions on the use of 'excessive force' and whipping with 'excessive frequency' but no explanation as to what constitutes 'excessive'.

As to the term 'whip' - even that is inappropriate. It is actually a narrow plastic rod, up to 68 cms long - hard but pliable and capable of raising wheals. The handle is slighter wider and about half the length of the business end. The trade's own slang terms for it are powerful indicators of its purpose and impact: the persuader, the hammer. Horses are said to have been 'given reminders' or to have been 'asked a few questions'.

There are many industry defenders of the whip. But none that we know of has yet volunteered to be subjected to the kind of thrashing routinely meted out to Thoroughbred horses.

A new cushioned whip has recently become obligatory for National Hunt (jump) racing - though it is not required for the Flat or for All Weather events, where, our survey shows, whips are more frequently used. The 'Pro-cush' whip is an improvement on the traditional model but its purpose is the same as before: to coerce and intimidate.

Given that our survey shows that the net impact of whip use is to compromise horse and jockey safety, damage the mental equilibrium of horses, and reduce a jockey's chances of winning a race, it is clear that the new model whip remains as useless and redundant as the more familiar version.

Background to the horse racing industry

A neglected 
        retired race horse and her foal at Last Find sanctuary.

The welfare of race horses is compromised in many and varied ways as a result of extreme patterns of in-breeding, training and competition. Animal Aid's 2003 report, called Riding For A Fall: the genetic timebomb at the heart of racing, was based on a comprehensive analysis of industry data, reports in scientific journals and commentaries by leading racing insiders. It demonstrated that the modern Thoroughbred is buckling under increasing and relentless pressure. The report's main findings were that:


  1. 5,000 'new horses entering racing every year is the commonly-touted figure within the industry. Weatherbys statistician, Guy Lindley, told our researcher in a March 13, 2003 phone call that 3,500 to 5,000 new equine entrants every year 'sounded about right'.
  2. As reported by Mike Parkinson, the TV producer who unmasked the Brian Wright horse doping scandal in his 1993 BBC programme in the On The Line strand.
  3. 'Research says racing early can lower injury risk', Tony Morris, Racing Post, October 31, 2002
  4. Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage (EIPH), Dr David Martin, Centre for Equine Studies, August 2000, Animal Heath Trust website
  5. 'Factors Associated with gastric lesions in thoroughbred horses', Murray MJ, Schusser GF, Pipers FS, Gross SJ. Equine Veterinary Journal 1996 Sep 28(5): 368-374

Click here for part 2 of the report, in which we look the whip itself, the rules and regulations and the historical perspective.

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