Animal Aid

A HIDING TO NOTHING : The whip

In this second section of A Hiding to Nothing we look at the whip itself, its specification and historical perspective, and whipping rules and their enforcement, including the Jockey Club's rules of use.

"I gave him six cracks, and I wouldn't like to lie down on that side tonight."

The rules and their enforcement

Hitting a racehorse with a whip of a specified design is regarded as acceptable by the racing authorities in Britain - namely the Jockey Club, which regulates and enforces the rules; and the British Horse Racing Board, which helps organise, fund and promote racing. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has 'no current position' on the whipping of performance horses.

Jockeys are instructed in the rules that govern their use of the whip, and there are measures in place that notionally ensure these rules are observed and enforced. Violations attract punishments - usually a ban of two or three days. Enforcement is in the hands of Stewards of Race Meetings.

The problem with the current self-regulating arrangement is a lack of clarity as to what the rules actually permit. The standard of enforcement is also thoroughly inadequate. Our survey found many stark and distressing examples of whip violence, yet no evidence of action having been taken by race stewards.

Formal specifications

The approved device is actually a plastic, narrow circumference rod that is used to beat rather than whip equine flesh. The Jockey Club requires that it should meet the following specifications:

  • Maximum length 68cms
  • Minimum diameter of 1 cm
  • If a flap is attached to the whip, it must fall within the 68cms total length and itself have a maximum length of 10 cms and maximum width of 4cms and cannot contain any reinforcements or additions.

Since 1st October 2003, it has been mandatory for National Hunt (jump) jockeys to use a whip with shock absorbing padding or cushioning throughout its circumference. This requirement does not apply to All Weather or Flat racing. The new 'Pro-cush' whip is the market leader in meeting the criteria for shock absorption.

The rules for new NH jockeys' whips also stipulate that there shall be no binding within 23cms of the end of the flap, and that the flap must have similar shock absorbing characteristics.

The overall weight of the whip must not exceed 160 grams.

The Jockey Club's rules of use

The following is taken from the JC website:

The whip should be used for safety, correction and encouragement only and [the JC] therefore advises all riders to consider the following good ways of using the whip, which are not exhaustive:

  • Showing the horse the whip and giving it [sic] time to respond before hitting it.
  • Using the whip in the backhand position for a reminder.
  • Having used the whip, giving the horse a chance to respond before using it again.
  • Keeping both hands on the reins when using the whip down the shoulder in the backhand position.
  • Using the whip in rhythm with the horse's stride and close to its side.
  • Swinging the whip to keep a horse running straight.

In its genteel, unhurried fashion, the JC goes on to state that:

[its] 'Stewards ...have asked Stewards of Meetings to consider holding an enquiry into any case where a rider has used his whip in such a way as to cause them concern and publish the following examples of uses of the whip, which may be regarded as improper riding:

Hitting horses:

to the extent of causing injury; with the whip arm above shoulder height; rapidly without regard to their stride, i.e. twice or more in one stride; with excessive force; without giving the horse time to respond.

Hitting Horses which [sic] are:

showing no response; out of contention; clearly winning; past the winning post.

Hitting horses in any place except:

on the quarters with the whip in either the backhand or forehand position; down the shoulder with the whip in the backhand position; unless very exceptional circumstances prevail.

Hitting horses:

with excessive frequency.

When examining cases of Excessive Frequency, the Stewards will consider all relevant factors such as: whether the number of hits was reasonable and necessary over the distance they were given, taking into account the horse's experience; whether the horse was continuing to respond and the degree of force that was used; the more times a horse has been hit the stricter will be the view taken over the degree of force which is reasonable.

It is emphasised that the use of the whip may be judged to be proper or improper in particular circumstances which have not been included above.

Horses will be subject to an inspection by a Veterinary Officer and he [sic] will report his findings to the Stewards; therefore trainers may be required to remove or adjust rugs or sheets.'

The JC statement goes on to conclude:

Stewards of Meetings have been asked to exercise fully their powers under Rules 15 and 153 of the Rules of Racing in all cases of misuse of the whip, which the Stewards of the Jockey Club regards as improper riding. Further, they warn owners, trainers and riders that severe disciplinary action will be taken against any person who is found to be in breach of this instruction resulting in serious injury to any horse.

Trade jargon

Much can be learnt about the true purpose and impact of the whip by considering the language used by those employed in horse racing, racing journalism, form reporting and sports commentating.

References to a jockey's use of the whip often include the following terms: 'Given reminders... Got to work on the horse... Forceful ride... Strong ride... Drawn the whip... Smack on the backside... Putting the hammer down... The jockey got to the bottom of him... The horse is being given a wake up call... The horse is being asked a few questions... Gave the horse a couple of cracks... Given the persuader.'

The following is a translation of abbreviated terms that appear in racing form:
rdn/rdn out- ridden, including use of the whip
hrd/- hard ridden, including use of the whip
drvn/drvn out - driven, forceful and use of the whip
hrd drvn/all out - hard driven, forceful and plenty of 'reminders'

When horses are not hit conspicuously, especially where two year old horses or National Hunt (NH) Flat races are involved (bumpers), comments include: 'Not knocked about... Looked after the horse'.

Historical perspective

The whip 
        is embedded as part of the jockeys' attire

In British racing history, the whip is embedded as a part of the jockeys' attire. This becomes evident when looking at historical equine paintings and writings of past centuries. An example is the 1758 painting by John Wootton of the famous horse, King Herod. Another is the 1780 portrait by Francis Sartorius of the first Derby winner, Diomed - appearing anxious with his ears back. Both pictures prominently feature their jockeys holding whips.

The French artist, Theodore Gericault, worked for two years in England and produced a picture featuring The Derby at Epsom in 1821. Set with the race in progress, whips are displayed beating the horses.

It is well-documented that Thomas French, a classic-winning 19th century jockey, was a stoic believer in the whip and ruthlessly beat the horses he rode. In more recent times, Ahonoora, a group-winning racehorse and classic-winning sire, was renowned for his resentment at being race whipped. Having been beaten during the King's Stand Stakes race at Royal Ascot, he returned to his stable and 'sulked' for weeks. During this time he never put his head over the stable door, but just presented his rear in quiet dissent.

Lester Piggott was infamous for his use of the whip and his 'rat-a-tat-tat' final strides drive for the line. This can be seen in his riding of Roberto and Commanche Run in their classic victories. In 1996, champion jockey Willie Carson spoke with admirable clarity about how he encouraged his mount, Alhaarth, to second place at Newmarket in 1996: 'I gave him six cracks, and I wouldn't like to lie down on that side tonight.'

Click here for part 3 of the report, in which we present the statistical analysis of the data, including whipping style and frequency, and the impact of whipping on young horses.

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