10 Reasons to Just Say Neigh to Whips

By Sandra Jorgensen


The use of pain and restriction to manipulate the horse is all too common in every discipline. Pain-inflicting devices include chain shanks on the face, leverage bits, leverage hackamores, spurs, whips (also known as crops and bats), hoof devices, and more. Here we will discuss horse racing (mounted or otherwise) and the controversial use of the whip as a pain-inflicting tool. Unfortunately many people believe that it is necessary to whip horses to cause pain in order for them to be competitive in the tough world of racing- this belief is unfounded.

As Andrew MacLean writes in his magnificent work, The Truth About Horses: In racing, jockeys frequently use the whip when the horse "cannot" go any faster: they sometimes stop the whip when the horse has "not" gone faster, or they continue to use the whip when the horse has "already" gone faster (offered the correct response) - small wonder that whips can be ineffective for some racehorses. However, if whips were used as a light signal for acceleration, and were clearly trained so that the jockey used it only to obtain clear acceleration responses, and removed it immediately when the horse accelerated, then the whip would be effective. Moreover, if race trainers clearly knew the potential of trial and error learning in training acceleration, there would be little need for whips except during training with the use of whip-taps to reinforce the leg signals.

Maximum acceleration could be trained from the rider's "hands and heels" action.

This is a concept that is rapidly evolving, considering the explosion of knowledge about horses and the revolution in horsemanship that has occurred over the last 10 years, here in Australia and in the rest of the world. The use of communication rather than coercion, and the use of a 'stick' or 'wand' as an extension of the arm, rather than a whip or crop, has become more widely understood and accepted. Still, racehorses are whipped.

Here are 10 good reasons why racehorses, and any horses, should not be whipped, while performing and otherwise:


1. Senate Select Committee wants whips eliminated.

In 1991 the Senate Select Committee appointed by the Australian Federal Government held an inquiry into cruelty in racing. After lengthy consultation with many groups, their recommendations included: "it is essential to distinguish between the whip as a guide or control and the whip as an instrument of pain to make a horse run faster" and "competent riding of a horse using only hands and heels to urge the horse on should provide just as exciting a race and may also encourage more emphasis on improving horsemanship. The Committee would like to see the use of whips as a means of making a horse run faster eliminated from horse racing." This recommendation is a logical conclusion because the present rule pertaining to the use of the whip by jockeys cannot monitor the force with which it is applied.


2. Good horsemanship gets good responses.

The standard of horsemanship in the world today is judged by how little the rider does and how responsive the horse is in return. Horse whispering was a name given to describe a person achieving a high level of communication and co-operation with horses. If an animal experiences pain - and finds that no response results in relief (from the stimulus) it may gradually habituate to the pain. This phenomenon is known as "learned helplessness" (The Truth About Horses - Andrew McLean, Director, Australian Equine Behaviour Centre)


3. Whipping instills fear and causes excessive tension.

Being a herd animal, a horse's most basic psychological need is to feel safe. A high degree of fear and tension must have a negative effect on a horse's performance. Horses possess wonderful goodwill towards humans and we should all wish to see them perform out of heart and desire rather than force, fear, intimidation or pain. We create the environments for them to perform and we have a responsibility to help them feel confident, comfortable, and secure. Our goal should be to achieve a high level of harmony in our relationships with horses.

Fear also triggers a fight/flight response from the horse, which may be why trainers think whips make horses go faster, but in actuality they can be counterproductive.


4. Whipping negatively affects the muscles.

Muscles deserve absolute consideration because they create the movement and convert chemical energy into mechanical energy. Horses already carry tension in their bodies because they are prey animals and the whip creates more tension in muscles which may affect their ability to function smoothly and rhythmically. It is the horse's ability to nourish his muscles (primarily through inhaling oxygen) which is vital to his performance and his stride must be rhythmical as it is intrinsically linked in a 1:1 ratio with his respiratory rate (a phenomenon which is referred to as the locomotor-respiratory coupling).

Why would anyone hit a horse on the very muscles (in the hindquarters) whose function is to propel him forward and cause them to tighten to the trauma when muscles need to stretch (like a rubber band) to nearly twice their length to function correctly? Dr. Deb Bennett, a leading authority on equine biomechanics, states that the engine of the horse is the hindquarters but the gas pedal is on the ribcage!

"Any excess degree of muscle tightness, any spasm, adhesion etc. that interferes with the free flow of oxygen into tissue and the flow of toxins out of tissues must have an effect upon total performance" states Jack Meagher, a renowned muscle therapist.


5. Whipping contributes to mental stress.

Horses are powerless to control the stress we place on them. Stress lowers willingness to perform, and negatively affects the body in any number of ways, subtle to obvious, limiting their physical ability to perform well. Instincts that must be overridden to live a domestic and competitive lifestyle will take a minute-by-minute toll on the horse's well-being. Added to that stress is the infliction of pain when he does perform, and when he is already doing what he has been asked to do, the best he can. Do we improve a horse's attitude to racing, his confidence, or courage by whipping him? We must identify all forms of stress and change things for him.


6. Whipping contributes to physical and physiological stress.

The high incidence of bleeding in the lungs, musculo-skeletal injuries and more recently stomach ulcers must surely pose the question: "Are racehorses being pushed beyond their physical and mental limits and is the whip a contributing factor?" Like all elite athletes, pain is no stranger to racehorses. Horses are all individuals; some are stoic and will keep trying in spite of pain, but many others become dull, resentful and non-responsive.


7. Whipping negatively affects the nervous system and may cause injury.

Sensory nerves relay messages instantly back to the brain informing the horse of where his limbs are and recording sensations such as pain and pressure. The brain processes this information to protect the horse so that he can make the necessary adjustments to avoid injury. The function of this system is affected when the whip is used to cause pain or fear - either releases excess adrenalin, violating nature's warning system to 'ease up or further exertion could cause injury'.


8. Whipping is a safety issue.

Interference and possible catastrophe, caused by horses changing course, pigrooting and veering sharply, do occur as a result of using the whip. Whether it be merely the distraction of being struck (expectedly or unexpectedly), the anticipation of being struck, or the pain and unreasonable force behind the strike, it can suddenly change the horse's direction and rate of travel. Sudden changes use up more energy and can cause the horse to hurt himself and others; also whipping can disrupt the locomotor-respiratory coupling, reducing fuel to the muscles and predisposing the horse to musculo-skeletal injury, risking the safety of others nearby.


9. Whipping is a horse welfare issue.

Racing at all levels creates pressures on participants, authorities, and more recently companies, which may conflict with the welfare of the horse.

"Effective and humane training requires an understanding of learning processes, the influence of motivational forces and natural horse behaviour. Welfare may be compromised due to stress placed upon the horse, because it is required to tolerate innately aversive or threatening stimuli" and "welfare problems can also arise when (we) place unrealistic expectations upon the horse. The use of positive reinforcement in training is likely to enhance horse welfare and produce fewer "problem horses"." Recent Discoveries in Horse Training and Welfare - Carly Smith

http://vein.library.usyd.edu.au/links/Essays/2003/smith.html 30.8.2004


10. Whipping is a moral issue.

Is it morally wrong to whip a horse to cause pain for our own selfish reasons? Ex-champion-jockey Roy Higgins admitted he was selfish when he whipped Light Fingers to win the Melbourne Cup when interviewed on the ABC series "The Track".

A four-way test used by Rotary Clubs to guide the process of moral decision-making is:

Is it the truth?

Is it fair to all concerned?

Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

Will it be beneficial to all concerned?


We must ask ourselves "Isn't training and racing punishment enough for the delicate horse without the added stress of the whip?" The racehorse is an extraordinary athlete, possessing a tolerant, gentle, and generous nature. They give us strength, power, and beauty and it is up to us to respect, honour, cherish, and understand them. The moral status of animals should be of concern to all civilized human beings, and it is clear we cannot justify the continued use of the whip as an instrument of pain.

About the author:

Sandra Jorgensen, a New Zealander living in Sydney, Australia, is a former racehorse trainer, now studying equine muscle therapy. Sandra is preparing to set up a horse welfare foundation to improve the welfare of horses in the racing industry and in other disciplines. sandrajorgensen@hotmail.com.