Why Do Jockeys Hit Horses? Does Whipping Make It Run Faster?


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Recently, we had a group discussion concerning why jockeys hit horses, and if it makes them run faster. Although the conversation was thorough, no consensus was reached, so I did some research to learn more.

Jockeys hit horses during a race to encourage them to run faster to win their race. But a recent study of the effectiveness of whipping horses indicates that horses don’t run any faster when hit; however, horses are individuals, and some may increase their speed when encouraged with a whip.

Horses have been raced for thousands of years, and their riders have encouraged them to run faster by whipping them. But is it necessary?

Picture of a jockey whipping a racehorse during a race.

What is the whip used for in horse racing?

Obviously, horses are whipped in a race to motivate them to run faster, but sometimes I see a jockey move the whip without ever striking his horse. This made me wonder if there are other purposes for whips besides hitting the animal.

Jockey use whips to motivate horses to run harder and focus their attention on the race. Whips are an essential aid to horsemanship and safety when used correctly.

However, most horses run their best without hitting them. But holding a whip does prompt some horse to pick up the pace even without striking them.

If a whip were only used as a safety tool to prevent accidents and injuries in racing, most people would agree on its utility. However, whipping to encourage a horse to go faster is frowned on by many observers.

The use of the whip in racing should only be used for safety, correction, and encouragement. When the whip is used to encourage, it is used only to activate and focus the horse.

Whips typically aren’t abused but are actually sparingly used by jockeys. But some riders resemble a madman beating the devil out of a horse. These types of jockeys leave a horrible impression on many racing fans.

In the general public’s eyes, repeatedly beating a horse during a race is often perceived as animal cruelty, especially when it seems the horse is giving everything it can muster to win the race.

Picture of a jockey holding a whip while sitting on a racehorse.

How many times can a racehorse be whipped?

During the last few years, there have been many discussions on setting a limit on the number of times jockeys can strike horses during a race. No national law has been enacted, but it did make me wonder if any regulations are in place for local tracks.

The California Racing Board, with the urging of Governor Newsome, passed regulations that limited the number of times jockeys can strike a horse to six, and then only in the underhanded position.

Other countries such as Australia have had striking limits in place for some time. Recently they amended the rules down from 10 hits per race to five; however, there is a caveat; jockeys are allowed to hit them without regard to count in the last 100 meters of the competition.

Great Britain has limits as well; a whip can be used a maximum of seven times in a race. If a jockey exceeds the threshold, the ride will be promptly reviewed by the stewards.

Besides striking limits, most tracks regulate the use of the whip in other instances. For example, a limit on the number of strikes in succession, whips must conform to specific standards, horses can’t be whipped when they’re not in contention or able to respond.

Jockeys often use various methods to hit their horses to avoid detection. The most common way is to strike a horse with an underhanded swing. This still applies the pressure but is often unseen by racing stewards.

Does whipping a horse hurt?

When racehorses make their final turn and head down the home stretch, the jockeys are wildly striking the contenders to get that final push to win the race. Watching this surely makes me think that the riders are hurting the horse, but is this a fact?

Modern whips used in horse racing are strictly regulated to cause the least amount of pain possible. They are designed with shock-absorbent foam padding surrounding a composite spine with a thick outer covering. However, there remains a lot of controversy surrounding how harmful these whips are.

Today’s whips are much less harmful than the crops used in the past. However, some organizations still believe the strikes continue to hurt horses and point to the horses’ flanks’ whelps as proof.

Jockey’s whip doesn’t hurt horses

The whips used in horse racing are lightweight and made with soft foam. Jockeys strike their horses to encourage them to run, and hitting them with the whip creates a popping sound that makes a horse focus.

The modern whip is designed to create noise, not pain. Recently a reporter from the Guardian allowed a jockey to hit him with a whip as hard as the rider hits a horse and found it wasn’t painful. Click here to read his article.

Picture of horses during a race with jockeys holding whips.

Sometimes a jockey’s whip does hurt horses

A study of horse jockeys’ use of whips conducted in Australia determined horses were hurt when whipped, and they found the use of padded whips to be ineffectual.

They examined 350 races and found that more than 80 percent of the hits left an indentation on the animal. This number is in stark contrast to a study of British horse racing. In their review, they found only one horse marked out of 93,000 runners in 2018.

The Australian study also noted that the whip’s unpadded section struck the horse body over 60 percent of the time. Some animal rights activists believe jockeys intentionally strike horses with the whip’s unpadded part to inflict more pain.

And often, riders hit the horses in the abdomen. The problem with hitting horses in the stomach is that it’s likely more painful than a strike on the hindquarters because there is little muscle in this area to absorb the whip’s impact.

Picture of a jockey sitting on a racehorse.

Perception of whipping horses during a race.

For most of the general public, watching horses being flogged around a track leave a poor perception of the entire horse racing industry. If whips are harmless, this information must be widely disseminated.

If, on the other hand, whips are painful and cruel, then the practice should be stopped, especially since there seems to be reliable science that supports the proposition that it does not add any value to racing.

Conclusion

Whips are a part of horse racing and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. They do aid in the safety of racing and can encourage some horses to focus; however, some jockeys flaunt the current rules.

Stricter national standards should be enacted and enforced for the horse’s well-being. Most individuals that work in the horse industry, including jockeys, love animals and have no desire to abuse them.

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Miles Henry

I love animals! Especially horses, I've been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn't make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines. Miles Henry

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