The Whip Ban Changes the Game

Horse racing in Sligo, Ireland

Image via Wikipedia

UK racing’s whip ban has ignited a storm of controversy as riders are suspended left and right for breaking the strict new rules on smacking a horse with the stick.

Yesterday, sitting on a bus that wasn’t going anywhere fast, I had some time to sit and think about the whip rules. And here is what I concluded:

Banning the stick would be good for the horse racing game.

Now, I’ve always carried a whip on a racehorse, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before. When you don’t have the benefit of your seat and legs, a tap (or a smack) with the whip to make a request is a huge deal. It’s a reminder to stay straight, a request to swap a lead, or a demand to stop bucking and concentrate! Whips on the training track are a safety issue.

Once I had to breeze a horse without a stick. Ours had gone missing and no one in the barn had an extra one I could borrow. He was a fast little horse that was full of run and I thought, okay, we can manage this.

But the work went so slowly, it was embarrassing. I held the horse tightly in check until the three/eighths pole, as instructed, and then let him go and asked for run. He gave me a little but soon petered out when he felt like he was finished.

This should have taught me that he didn’t want to run. It didn’t, though. It taught me that I needed to carry a whip every time I breezed, to get the run out of him.

From the Sydney Morning Herald: Click for an excellent Opinion piece on whipping from 2009!

Now I wonder about this strategy. British racing has just changed the game. By limiting the number of times a jockey can hit the horse, they change who will win the race. Now, races won’t always be won by the fastest horse with the best trip. They’ll be run by the fastest horses with the best trip who want to win the race.

That’s significant.

“Horses want to run” is the most commonly-used and most skeptically-received explanation when a horse-racing aficionado is speaking to a concerned bystander. “If horses want to run,” the bystander invariably replies, “Why does the jockey have to hit them?”

In training situations, then, yes, a whip is a safety issue. A whack here or a whack there, to straighten out the horse in a race, then, might be a safety requirement.

But when it comes to the push in the homestretch?

Forget the whips. Let the horse that wants to run, win the race.

As for the little horse who was always so eager to run, but when finally asked to breeze without a stick, went nowhere?

He’s still never won a race.

He doesn’t want to.


Filed under Racing

24 responses to “The Whip Ban Changes the Game

  1. Most of our conversations at my yard have been about safety vs everything else as well. As an eventer, I carry a whip because sometimes you need it for both of you to get over a fence safely, and we already have rules in place to take riders to task if they over use that aid, but this new rule is really stirring stuff up over here. (I’m in the UK).
    I’ve got an ex-racer (that little “Hey Up There” mare), and, trust me, even WITH a whip and a prevailing wind, she just didn’t want to be there and never came even close. I wonder if this will see horses cycled out of training faster and into new careers (hopefully)?

    • Jennie, that would be my hope as well! I think we will see horses with the heart for racing continue in successful careers, and the horses who don’t care for it can be transitioned into careers that they do love.

      I mean, a showjumping horse that had to be smacked before every fence wouldn’t be kept in showjumping! He’d be sent to be a dressage horse or something. It just makes sense to me.

      I think jockeys should carry whips for the same reason you do, because sometimes occasions arrive where you need to send a horse forward or risk injury.

  2. Wonderfully said! Thank you for the perspective!

  3. jim culpepper

    If stirrup irons were at a sane level, jockeys could leg a willing mount forward, with the added benefit of maintaining a balanced “seat” and thus preventing many injuries and deaths for horse and rider.

    • Jim, good point! I have seen some exercise riders get bullet breezes with stirrups long enough to satisfy a pony club instructor. It can be done.

      • Nicholas

        Interesting post and great comment Jim. That would have never crossed my mind. Thanks for the info.

      • I wish I had a picture of one of Tony Dutrow’s old exercise riders, before he pulled out of Aqueduct and went to Oaklawn a few years ago. (He was my hero, always called me ‘Rider.’ As in “Hang on there, Rider,” when one of my horses went into a bucking fit. Anyway.)

        This guy rode the best of Tony’s horses and he did it with either his feet hanging out of the stirrups, or with them so long he looked ready to ride a dressage test. He did shorten them for breezes but more like hunter-length, not ever jockey-length.

        It was the feet hanging OUT of the stirrups that always got me. How was he so good…!?

  4. Natalie, this is awesome!


  6. ratherrapid

    I’d avoid the hyperbole except that such nonsense needs for good of horse and horse racing to be responded to. there are numerous too many to count instances where whipping is necessary get performance out of horses for any of a large number of reasons, not least of which that it is the natural instinct of the horse to quit immediately when headed. has the OP ever watched ’em race each other in the wild or in a paddock. i thought not. Maybe she should watch the Preakness won by Tank’s Prospect a horse that never would have won any races, but for the whip. Horses’ don’t want to win races. they run for other reasons.

    • Are you really questioning whether or not I’ve ever seen horses run in the wild or in a paddock?

      Thanks for your two cents.

      • ratherrapid

        no disrespect intended. if u have, what did you see? many many horses will run all out only with urging. only a select few will run on their own. some horses love to run. other very talented horses are naturally lazy. you’d also see that almost every horse in the riderless run is merely content to maintain position instead of gain ground. there are other means of urging besides the whip. they are, however, mostly ineffective in the heat of battle. I have had a rider myself that refused the whip named Paul Feliciano. He’s now dead. He won Secretariat’s maiden and was leading rider several times at Fairmount Park. Feliciano had also the irritating characteristic, if ur an owner, of time after time losing with horses that could win because he refused the whip. What you posted is simply wrong, and imho misleads, and therefore a response.

  7. I appreciate your following-up, since most people who leave negative comments don’t bother. However, what I posted is NOT wrong. It is not wrong to say, “If horses are not being whipped, a different horse will win the race.” And that is the entire point of my post —RACING WILL LOOK DIFFERENT. How is that wrong? It will look different.

    (Incidentally, regarding how horses gallop in fields, horses gallop like a flock of birds, in a pack, with individuals sometimes neck and neck, sometimes pulling ahead, sometimes falling back and swinging in to bite a neighbor, sometimes swooping in a different direction. It is not quite the same as how a horse is ridden.)

    First, I disagree that the only way to urge a horse to try to his utmost is to use a whip. There are plenty of beautiful hand-rides that confirm this.

    I get the impression that you believe a race without whips would see every horse stop, mosey to the infield, and start grazing, without any input or influence from his hapless rider. I don’t think it goes quite like that.

    Second, this statement in your first comment is simply playing into PETA and the ASPCA’s hands:

    “Maybe she should watch the Preakness won by Tank’s Prospect a horse that never would have won any races, but for the whip. Horses’ don’t want to win races. they run for other reasons.”

    They don’t want to win races? My natural conclusion to this is that we’re… FORCING them to win races?

    WHY IS HORSE RACING DIFFERENT THAN HORSE SPORTS? Can someone please explain this to me, because I am exasperated beyond belief. Why do so many people in the horse racing biz believe they have some sort of entirely different animal, really a MACHINE, that can’t be and shouldn’t be and never will be treated with the same level as respect for personality and talent, both physical and mental, as show horses and sport horses?

    The answer to “He doesn’t like to race,” isn’t “hit him with the stick until he wins or dies trying.” The answer is “We need to find what this horse DOES like.”

    It’s the twenty-first century. The majority of horses in North America are pleasure horses. The owners of these horses have voted with their pocketbooks and their time for decades now, saying they’re no longer impressed with horse racing and its treatment of what they consider pets.

    You can evolve or you can line up for unemployment. It’s coming. It doesn’t have to.

  8. Don’t listen to ’em, Nat. You have a great point there, and your antagonist isn’t worth the steam. If racing doesn’t change it’s stripes, and soon, it’s doomed anyway. It’s about time we said, Hey, stop that. Stop beatin’ on that horse. Just stop it.
    VERY rare is the horse that keeps running/winning because it’s being beaten.
    It’s heresy, to those that think beating is training.

    Abusive methods have to be placed carefully into the history books. The sooner, the better, for the horses.

  9. You’re RIGHT.


  10. Natalie, you should watch a few races by a horse I know named Forrest View. Actually, you shouldn’t watch them, your friend up there should watch them.

    Every time Forrest got smacked with the whip he SLOWED DOWN. He made it very, very, clear that he didn’t want to run and nobody, no way, no how was going to make him.

    My horse, in several of his races, wanted to run–and you can tell which races those were. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I guess that’s why there are odds-makers, right?

    You make a deal with 1,200 pounds. It’s not that you can’t beat a horse into submission, it’s that it only goes so far and–just like with kids–then they just stop listening.

    Keep at it, Natalie. You bring a much-needed strobe light into the world of racing. Wanna talk about over-breeding sometime, too? 🙂

  11. ratherrapid

    Ms. Reinert–i’m skimming through this instead of reading closely and so i may miss something. but on cursory glance ur posts indicate zero experience with racing horses, as do most of the other comments. Whip use, aids, etc. for the racing horse are different than in OTB disciplines. Horses love to compete. If u watch ’em in the fields u know that, and ur bird flock comparison is excellent. However, different story when you put ’em in a paddock and have them race against each other. “Not getting the lead” is a herd thing, as is getting ur neck in front of your opponent and slowing down and doing a little dance for joy. I will leave it at that. Whip use in racing is a complex subject best left to the jocks and the whip rules as they are. Jocks get penalized all the time for excessive whip use, though no one bothers bringing that up. My position is: needs to stand up against the nonsense, which is why I am posting here, and
    2. Horse racing needs to get in partnership with the animal rights groups including PETA as we all have the same interests.
    As to whips–horses don’t care. Try smacking yourself with a tooth brush and you’ll get the same sensation.

    • I assume you came here via the Paulick Report, in which you may have noticed he uses the words “draws on her experience as a rider.” You may also have noticed within this particular blog post, which is rather shorter and more brief than most of the essays I write, in which I make specific mention of horses I was galloping on the track.

      If this isn’t enough to convince you that I am experienced with racehorses, feel free to “skim” through my blog, which goes back nearly two years, to find that I have worked in all aspects of Thoroughbred horse racing, including breeding, starting yearlings for top Ocala consignors, sales, and exercise riding. I have been a licensed exercise rider in New York state and have been on hundreds of Thoroughbreds over the years.

      The aids in horse racing and regular riding are not that different. Horses change leads, horses trot, horses canter, horses gallop. They halt. They walk on. They turn left and they turn right. They have bits in their mouths. I’ve proven that I ride Thoroughbreds; what other disciplines are you familiar with? I have ridden dressage, eventing, hunter/jumper, western, and driven.

      If horse racing needs to get into partnership with PETA, they are going to have to start addressing animal abuse concerns, rather than calling them nonsense, as you do.

      If horses are as affected by whips as you are by toothbrushes (and I’m not sure why you’ve smacked yourself with a toothbrush; that’s odd) then I’m not sure how they have any influence on horses at all, going forward or sideways or anything. If they don’t care, why do they run out? If they don’t care, why do they bolt forward? If they don’t care, why do they stop running? If they don’t care, why do we bother with them at all?

  12. jim culpepper

    My personal filly was smart enough to remember that “git up!” meant go faster as a non negotiable term. Most thoroughbred colts are smart enough to be controled by a snaffle, with nothing but a minature, often malnourished rider, whilst running headlong in a thundering herd, while “calmer” breeds seemingly require curbs, whips, and spurs for less exiciting pursuits. A few reminders of previous training is one thing, but appearing to be “killing flies on a picnic table covered with water melon rinds” indicates either a poor trainer, lack of characther in the colt, or a silly jockey. Regardless of wins, why would you breed a plug that had to be flogged to the wire?

  13. “Whip use, aids, etc. for the racing horse are different than in OTB disciplines.”

    yeah, TB’s are TOTALLY different. Another species entirely. Just the other day, they did a DNA check, and BINGO! TB’s are NOT horses, at ALL. They are from another planet!

    “As to whips–horses don’t care. ”

    wow. Just, wow. I guess when welts are raised, that’s just a strange allergic reaction the horse’s skin has, to being gently caressed with the whip.

    Talk about nonsense..

    • ratherrapid

      i am without reply to this except to suggest u get on a few horses. same deal to the OP. possibly leave ur whip in the barn more than once before reaching the conclusion that only horses that want to win should, and therefore “no whips”. Unfortunately, as indicated above, the general public takes this sort of nonsense as gospel. The bottom line is this–horses need “jobs” or their destined for the meat wagon or the horrors of OTB. by the OP those that fail to want to, that’s their destination. As another e.g. of the myriad of ways the premise of this OP is incorrect is the relation in every race horse between fitness and “want to”, etc.

      • I didn’t say “should.”

        I said “will.”

      • Good thing you chose not to reply. Your reply made no sense. Go beat on your horse though, I’m sure he’s a winner!
        Mayhaps you haven’t ridden any horse with the right fitness level. Just a guess on my part.
        Many of the horses I re-trained through the years had to get over their fear of whips. I carried one, always. No more than a bat, a noise maker.

        I am all for horses having jobs, that is why we domesticated them, isn’t it? Would you pick out a clydesdale for racing, or a QH for puissance? No. In racing, the horses that really do want to run, WILL, as Nat said. Funny, how incredibly condescendingly snide your comments are, rather-not-rapid. Typical of the faux horseman, so common today.
        OH, and just a BTW, TB’s & QH’s are the overwhelming majority of horses going to slaughter, so I think your argujment is pretty specious.
        You already slaughter them when they don’t want to run. Or had you conveniently forgotten that fact?

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