Whip use in Thoroughbred racing: Is it necessary? - DVM
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Whip use in Thoroughbred racing: Is it necessary?
New research into this training tool brings insight—and controversy


DVM360 MAGAZINE


Concerns and questions

The response of horses to being whipped is not well understood. Whether frequency, intensity and location of whip strike on the shoulder or on the hindquarters are beneficial to increase acceleration and affect the race outcome is unclear.

Although the whip is a standard tool of communication, there are other ways to let a horse know it's time to pick up or sustain the pace. If a jockey is trying to encourage a horse to go forward, not only the whip but also postural changes, shaking the reins, nudging at the withers and vocalization (a cluck or chirp) may be used to encourage the horse to move faster.

"Many of these more subtle techniques are just so much more respectful—a more refined level of communication with the horse," says Sue McDonnell, PhD, a behaviorist at New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine. "Talking with several world-class jockeys, many of them will say 'I just use the whip as a guiding or communicating tool to let the horse know it's time to go.' I reply, 'Then why don't you use more subtle signals?' The common answer is that they do not normally exercise those horses, so unless everyone gave up their whips and went to fairly standard alternative signals, you'd never know whether you're getting the most out of the horse in a given race—getting the message to the horse."

There are different styles of using the whip on racehorses to encourage them, some of which are more aggressive. Jockeys who use the whip from side to side and cross over the neck might hit the horse in the eye, which is an infraction.

"When I look at jockeys going crazy with the whip, I can't help but wonder if it is really more for the rider than it is for the horse, because at that point—down the stretch—the adrenaline is so high that it is likely not really that effective," says McDonnell. "Going through a race in slow motion, frame-by-frame, you'll see that in many cases the whip seems to be more of a distraction to the horse. The horse's ears are coming back—they have to orient to that whip."

Recent research

A recent study in Australia was aimed at examining whip use and racing performance.1 The study measured whip strikes and sectional times during the final three 200 meter sections of five different races. The researchers concluded that "under an ethical framework that considers costs paid by horses against benefits accrued by humans, these data make whipping tired horses in the name of sport very difficult to justify." It was suggested that "Thoroughbred racehorses are capable of producing their highest speeds in the last 600 meters of a race without whipping." In addition, "urging by the rider had no detectable effect on the average velocity. However, rider urging did cause a significant increase in stride frequency and a decrease in stride length."1

The study results showed that "jockeys in more advanced placings at the 400 and 200 meter positions before the post in races whip their horses more frequently."1 To get an advantageous placing at 400 meter positions, no horses were whipped, and when horses were between the 400 and 200 meter positions, only half were whipped. On average, the horses achieved highest speeds when there was no whip use, and the increased whip use was most frequent in fatigued horses. The researchers concluded that "whip use was not associated with significant maintenance of velocity as a predictor of superior race placing at the finish of the race."1


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Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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