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Whipping Doesn’t Make Racehorses Go Faster

Written by PETA | January 28, 2011
paul kehrer/cc by 2.0

Anyone who’s ever watched a racehorse being flogged down the home stretch can see the obvious: It’s animal abuse. Jockeys routinely strike thoroughbreds 15 to 20 times before they cross the finish line. Now, thanks to a new study from the University of Sydney, we know that whipping doesn’t even make the horses run faster.

This first-of-its-kind research into the effects of whipping, which was conducted by studying horses’ speed in racing clips, found that horses accelerate most during the periods of races when no whip is used. Down the final stretch, as jockeys whip mercilessly, horses either slow down or maintain the same speed.

And whipping, says the researcher, actually punishes racehorses for running fast rather than encouraging them to go faster. Are you paying attention, National Thoroughbred Racing Association?

PETA’s working toward the day when horse racing ends for good—and we’ve made huge progress, but until then, we aren’t letting the racing industry off the hook. We continue to push the racing industry to ban whips, enforce a zero-tolerance drug policy, dump dirt tracks in favor of softer grass tracks, and wait until horses’ third birthdays to use them in competitive racing. Learn more here.

Written by Jeff Mackey

Commenting is closed.
  • Angel Landes says:

    We own, breed, sell, and train racehorses and have for years. The crop used in raceing is not to “beat the horse” although, even I agree that there should be some improvements made, the horses a FAR from abused. This blog is incorrect. I would NEVER allow my horses to step foot on the track if I thought they were being “abused” just like the previous posters have said, the whip is not to beat the horse.

  • stealmyheartox says:

    Im 21 years old and I work on a racetrack. I have my own horses and grew up breeding and training racehorses. I can tell you as a fact that the horses are NOT mistreated and that if they dont want to run they wont. These animals weigh over 1000 lbs a whip that barely hits them barely hurts. When they are running their adrenaline is pumping so fast that they cant even feel it. If this sport is “dangerous” then all horse sports should be, jumping is just as dangerous as going fast. As long as you take care of them then there is no problem. We find homes for all of our horses after the seasons when they are done racing and trainers are NOT allowed to send their horses to slaughter, they can get into serious trouble if a racehorse is found in slaughter by their tattoo number.

  • Jesse says:

    While I do agree that horse racing could be much approved, I believe that this blog is incorrect. The correct use of a crop is to produce a sound to get the horses attention, not to inflict pain. In eventing, I do use a crop depending on the horse I am riding. With some of them, all I have to do is show them that I have it in my hand and that is enough to make them behave. For the slightly more stubborn jumper, I will hit my own boot to make a noise with it. Only with the most stubborn of horses will I smack them on the rump with it. And again, the sound is enough to snap them back to attention. Horses’ skin is much thicker and tougher than ours. They also have a fur coat. I smack on the rump with a riding crop does no damage to them.

    To take a horse away from racing, provided he is being properly raced and cared for, is cruelty to animals. These horses LOVE to race. They know when they win and they know when they lose. They know when it is race day and they couldn’t be happier. There are good owners and trainers out there. Racing doesn’t need to be banned. It needs to made a privilege. Those who cannot properly take care of their horses will not be allowed to race.

  • hyafa says:

    “It sends the horse a message, and now a much gentler message, due to the many changes that have been made regarding whips..the fact is we now can feel better about whips/crops. And, in the near future I believe any type of use will be banned altogether, it’ just a matter of time. 🙂

    Just over a year ago three states – Kentucky, Indiana, and South Dakota and now even more have followed – they have mandated use of the new, more horse-friendly whips. California has a proposed state rule, and jockeys there already are riding with new crops, a change mandated by Del Mar and Hollywood Park racetracks. Santa Anita, Delaware Park, Monmouth Park, and Philadelphia Park have “house rules” requiring the use of new crops. In New York, jockeys at the Saratoga meet took the lead, electing to use new whips beginning Aug. 16. New whips are already fully in use or being phased into tracks operated by Churchill Downs Inc. Canadian venues require new whips, and stewards there scrutinize the number of times jockeys strike their horses, handing out fines for overuse of the crop.

    The new equipment feels and works differently than the old. The popper on the end of a traditional riding crop is about two inches long and made of solid leather. Used too vigorously, it can raise welts and draw blood. Not so the new whips, which are tipped by a popper about six inches long. Sewn inside a soft pad of woven fibers made to look like leather is a piece of foam. When it strikes horseflesh, the lighter, thickly padded whips make an impressive pop while delivering their cushioned message.

    Horses used to being encouraged by the whip’s sting may no longer feel compelled to respond. Riders accustomed to whaling away in the stretch may discover they’re wasting energy.

    Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux said during last years Keeneland fall meet. “The whip is not a whip,” “It’s a noisemaker.”

    A few days earlier, at Hawthorne in Chicago, veteran rider E.T. Baird had said: “If I had to make a comparison, the old one, it’s ‘pop,’ and the new one, it’s like you’re hitting with a marshmallow.””

  • Hanny says:

    Dont you think the horses slow down at the end of the race because they’re more tired? Obviously they aren’t going to be as fast as they were in the first stretch of the race…

  • Rebecca says:

    I certainly agree that the horses should be older befor they are brought to the track. But the horses are not always whipped, they run from the sound more than they run from the feeling, they are running so fast and so hard that they probably dont even feel it. I do agree that some of the tracks should be banned, sll facilities should be checked to make sure that the animals are treated correctly, I’ve been to many race tracks. Some make you a little nervous. But some of the tracks are so well maintained that it wouldnt make any sence to close them. To take this job away from these animals would be cruel to. because they would rot in a pasture somewhere.

  • Barbara Noon says:

    Makes sense – whipping is like punishment and they would go slower. I used to ride horses for fun, playing capture the flag and tag with friends on horses, and the horses loved to run! No whipping necessary.

  • chesterfierce says:

    This is great stuff — great to have some research to back up my argument 🙂 I love horses so it can be difficult to explain my point of view to other horse enthusiasts who think horse racing is “pleasant” for the horses taking part in it… I think Sweden banned whips in flat racing a couple of decades ago already and it doesn’t seem to have hurt the horses none 😉 From what I’ve understood, in all the Nordic countries thoroughbreds and standardbreds may not race until their 3rd year (calculated from 1st January) either — this is due to the slower growth process in northern climates (reduced nutritional content in grazing).

  • Donny_n usuMoss says:

    are even more dangerous than usual for the horsnkes, then why should we think that they are enforcing humane law on an average day? (see link)

  • RunRuffian says:

    Higher speed is NOT the main reason for jockeys to use whips. They are used more as a saftey tool than anything. Jockeys cannot reach the sides of the horse to be able to cue them, and pointing their head in the direction you want them to go doesn’t always mean they will go that way. Whips are used to keep them straight while running as not to interfere with other horses which could cause them to go down. They also help the rider cue the horse to switch leads, which is very important for safety and horse welfare. One more point…who funded this study? Many “results” of studies are in favor of the one with the largest wallet.

  • lover of my 3 horses says:

    I never whip any of my horses, I only lightly tap their shoulder with a crop and they are trained to know that means they are doing good. My oldest guy is almost 25 but still loves to gallop and is the fastest horse I own, even faster than my 3 1/2 year old who has just started being trained, and I have never used a whip on him.

  • Seamus McCartney says:

    I think they reason they whip the horse is in order to deal with their own frustration, always did.

  • Lora says:

    Why are you sssooo ignorant??? Horses SHOULD NOT be raced for the almighty buck once angain. See where all end up after not being able to run anymore races??? My husband and I rescued a racehorse a year ago and this horse loves my 2 yr. old grandson. She would not hurt a soul. Lady is ridden with a HACKAMORE! NO BITS allowed. NO WHIPPING!!!! GO FIGURE. All it takes is love and understanding to ANY animal.

  • Averie says:

    I work at a rescue stable, and there are two racehorses there. Those horses are sooo skittish and one even has blown out knees! They were going to be destroyed because they didn’t WANT to or LIKE to race!

  • aperson says:

    There was already a study done on this published in the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racehorse Owner magazine back in 2005, and it showed the same results. Also Monty Roberts has written a very good piece in regards to whips being used in a race, which in my opinion, is worth reading.

  • Joan Hinchclffe says:

    I have a former Thoroughbred racehorse that I got from a rescue. He is a huge, loving, sweet boy. The idea of whipping this gentle horse is unimaginable. The industry is cruel in many, many ways. I know my horse was pulled away early from his mother and raced at a very early age. After the track, he was turned into a Grand Prix Jumper — evil, evil, evil. Now I take care of a wonderful horse with huge hoof and skeletal issues thanks to the greedy bastards in both industries.

  • Toby says:

    Even if it made them go faster on average it would be bad & should be illegal; the same goes for hitting children, dogs or anyone else… it has a pernicious effect on healthy development but even if it didn’t it shouldn’t be allowed then either because it is abuse; contrary to what Machiavelli claimed, the ends do not justify the means.

  • Valerie says:

    I could have told them that when I was a mere child. Some people never connect with animals and their feelings and never will, much to my disgust.

  • Linda Joyce says:

    It’s a no-brainer. Whips are weapons, old age weapons that are used as such. They should never be used on any creature of God. To use one, in the name of enterainment, brings to mind the gladiators of ANCIENT Rome. Ancient times, mind you. Theses weapons have no place in an advanced society.

  • youngmanwhocares says:

    i like this because me and my family own standardbred race horses….we never whip our horses….one time a driver of our left a cut on our horse and my brother was very mad

  • eliese says:

    It hAas taken many years of involvement in horseracing for me to come to the realization that it is a very cruel sport for most of the owners. For many owners, getting the horse on the track by the time he/she is two years old is important financially.  I have seen owners shove pingpong balls up horses’ once they no longer want the expense of caring for them at the end of their career.  Unfortunetly, horseracing continues to be portrayed a glamorous sport, with a rich payoff.  

  • jockey says:

    they don’t always hit the horses. everyone were i ride just snaps at the air to scare the horses into running faster.

  • Jean Hernandez says:

    That is why tho I love horses,I prefer not to watch horse racing because of those whips & the possible fatal accidents that can happen during the races. They have the natural ability plus their spirit to win to run faster, so please stop using those cruels whips!

  • Rosalie says:

    Are you paying attention, National Thoroughbred Racing Association?