British Horseracing Authority announces adjustments to whip rules

Jockey carrying a whip.

Jockey carrying a whip.

LONDON (5 March 12) — The revised rules governing use of the whip will be introduced tomorrow (Tuesday 6th March). While retaining the existing threshold for a rider’s use of the whip in both Flat and Jump races, in future stewards will be able to exercise discretion when reviewing a rider’s use of the whip throughout a race.

The Directors of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) approved the proposal for the change to the rules at their last Board meeting on 21st February. Since then further discussions have taken place with the Professional Jockeys’ Association (PJA) to keep them abreast of the changes to the regulations and the accompanying penalty structure. A summary of the revisions to the rules and penalty structure is attached.

The BHA will ensure that all interested parties, including Irish based jockeys, have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the changes, ahead of next week’s Cheltenham Festival.

Paul Bittar, Chief Executive of the BHA, said:

“The focus over the coming weeks should be on Cheltenham and Aintree, the climax to what has been a fantastic Jumps season and then on the start of what promises to be another vintage year for Flat racing.

“As has been evident in recent months, the subject of the whip and how its use is regulated remains an emotive subject; not only for those who make their living from the sport but also for the public who come racing and those who watch our sport on television. For the future long-term health of British Racing it is vital that our sport’s customers and viewers have confidence that the welfare of racehorses is not being put at risk by a rider’s use of the whip. I am confident in our ability as a sport to manage welfare issues and I believe that taking account of the design together with the lower thresholds for use of the whip we have effectively removed the potential for use of the whip to be a welfare problem.

“Together with everyone in racing, we at the BHA have a role to play in increasing understanding of why the energy-absorbing whip should be considered an acceptable and important tool of a jockey’s trade. Our communication is key to this, but ultimately the level of public confidence on this matter will depend on the jockeys abiding by the rules.”

In his capacity as Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation, Jamie Stier will be working with both jockeys and stewards on the implementation of the new rules and the monitoring of their effectiveness. He said:

“The revised rules give jockeys the opportunity to use the whip sensibly, and the stewards now have discretion when reviewing a rider’s use of the whip. Their focus will rightly be on the manner in which the whip is used. I have confidence in both the jockeys and stewards to apply their judgement judiciously in this matter.

“It is important that riders do not misinterpret the ability of stewards to exercise discretion as a reason to use their whip more than they do at present. The changes are being introduced in order to remove the occasions when a rider was given a disproportionate penalty on account of the lack of flexibility within the rules. The objective is to maintain the improved standards of riding which have resulted from the significant efforts made by riders to abide by the reduction in the threshold levels regarding use of the whip, while applying discretion where it is warranted.

“We have worked closely with the PJA and the jockeys and will continue to do so.

“Arguably the most demanding challenge in relation to framing the rules on this subject is finding the balance between a proportionate penalty and one that also acts as an effective deterrent. In approving the changes, the Board asked that we continue to monitor penalties from this perspective. An achievable objective should be the removal of clear and serious breaches of the rules, the kind of which bring the sport unwanted attention.”

A proposal is being prepared for the Board of the BHA for the money accrued from the forfeiture of jockeys’ prize money following whip offences to be used to promote horse welfare in racing, including education regarding both the design and the use of the energy-absorbing whip.

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Source: Press Release

The initial whip review and subsequent amendments made can be found at

Marcus Armytage weighs in on use of the whip in horseracing

Whipping Racehorses. Getty Images.
When you smack a horse with a whip this sends a message to the flight or fight part of its brain and the horse either runs away from the hit – forwards – or it retaliates which, I imagine, is the rare horse that stops trying when hit. Either way, the whip is likely to increase the production of adrenalin, says Marcus Armytage. GETTY IMAGES.

In an article entitled, “Only talking horses can solve whip issue,” for The Telegraph Marcus Armytage weighs in on the use of the whip in horseracing.

The subheading states, “A ‘scientific’ study, funded by RSPCA Australia, has found that using a whip in the closing stages of a horse race is futile and does not make any difference to the outcome. What is it – April Fools day?”

Armytage states:

To put this viewpoint into perspective it is, perhaps, worth giving you some background to the form regarding the animal welfare lobby and their effects on Australian racing.

Four decades ago steeplechasing in Australia was probably third only to Britain and Ireland in size and importance, when horses like Crisp were commonplace.

Then the animal welfare lobby stepped in to have their say. The authorities caved in and made the jumps easier, which meant that the horses went much faster during the races with the unhappy consequence that more were killed and the sport effectively ate itself.

Jumping is now all but extinct Down Under and, last December, renewed calls were made for whips to be banned from use in races for two year-olds.

As far as I can gather, the theory behind the use of the whip in a race is to provide an external stimulus to make a horse go faster or, when tiring, to prevent it slowing down as quickly as it might.

When you smack a horse with a whip this sends a message to the flight or fight part of its brain and the horse either runs away from the hit – forwards – or it retaliates which, I imagine, is the rare horse that stops trying when hit. Either way, the whip is likely to increase the production of adrenalin.

That is why jockeys hit them behind the saddle and not across the head or, now, down the shoulder. When hit, the majority of horses give a bit more and the whip rules here have evolved accordingly.

That is why a jockey is expected to give a horse time to respond between hits and why after say 10 hits, an 11th can be regarded as pointless and punishable. A number of horses are not natural leaders and are also reluctant to pass the horse in front in the closing stages of a race without the flight stimulus.

Armytage goes on to cite Tony McCoy, who is well known for his aggressive riding style, as an expert on brandishing the whip noting McCoy has “persuaded well over 3,000 horses to pass the post first.”

To me it seems pretty obvious that if a racehorse is “lazy” and cannot be counted on to give his best, or has to be frightened into an adrenaline charged last gasp attempt to cross the finish line first, he either does not like racing, or is simply not good enough on the day. Horses are not machines, poor performance or slowing down, can be attributed to any number of things, including worst of all, injury. This immediately brings to mind Eight Belles, who was whipped past the winning post in the Kentucky Derby where she collapsed with two broken front legs and put down.

I say for the sake of the horses competing, let the horse who has the speed, stamina and courage win, without brutal or artificial incentives. And if you think the whipping of a tiring horse to scare him into running faster is not brutal, you need to check the dictionary and your compassion index.

I am not against jockeys carrying a whip. Some horses do need a reminder “tap” to get their minds back on the job when idling, or straighten them up when they start to hang. Whipping, however, is cruel, unfair and should be banned.

If horses could talk, how many would say, hey, if I slow down during the race, you have my permission to give me a right old thrashing?


Eton-educated Marcus Armytage won the Grand National in 1990 on Mr. Frisk to a threequarters of a length victory over Durham Edition in a time that beat Red Rum’s 1973 record by almost 14 seconds. Armytage got every ounce out of Mr Frisk on the run-in, using just hands and heels on his father’s advice.


Read “An Investigation of Racing Performance and Whip Use by Jockeys in Thoroughbred Races”

A National institution that is neither grand nor great (UK)

The Grand National is not real racing, it’s only sold that way to get millions of irregular punters interested, argues Paul Haigh (The Guardian)

Every year we are invited to believe that the Grand National provides a wonderful shop window for racing, an advertisement for the sport that money on its own simply could not buy. Here, we are told, is the essence of the game, the distillation of courage, skill and endurance which annually explains to the uncommitted observer exactly what horseracing is about.

In fact, it does nothing of the sort. The National actually offers a contradiction of racing’s essence, which, for the punter anyway, is the business of working out through the application of logic which horse is likely to finish in front of which other horse.

The once-a-year punters approach the National with the belief that it’s just a kind of raffle – the name of the famous race’s first winner, Lottery, is often trotted out as a confirmatory joke – and every year the vast majority go away from the nine-minute experience with their prejudices about racing confirmed, with their belief that victory can be achieved just as easily by the use of a pin or by reference to their auntie who always picks the winner (“It’s uncanny. I don’t know how she does it”) as by the use of mathematics. What fools they must think us who waste our time on a regular basis trying in vain to predict the unpredictable.

In recent years, as Greg Wood pointed out here last week, the race has been modified to make it less unlike other races: to make it less of a lottery and more of a contest in which the best horse wins, or at least the horse with the best chance at the weights, because it is only a handicap after all.

Paradoxically, though, these modifications, undertaken primarily to satisfy those of its PC critics who see it as an unacceptable piece of anachronistic barbarism, only serve to point up its pointlessness. There are no other races run at 4½ miles over 30 obstacles. Therefore there can be no relevant form study – and if there is no form study how can the race possibly be an advertisement for a sport that depends on the conviction that form study is worthwhile?

The race’s huge, but steadily dwindling popularity (the days are long gone when it could attract a TV audience of around 20 million) was based on its very freakishness, and also on the danger involved in asking horses to negotiate fences of a type they never normally see, particularly the drop fences which were cruel practical jokes that resulted in the deaths of many animals. But now the drops have gone, and the freakishness diminished. So why do we still bother with it?

“Oh lighten up”, say the race’s defenders, many of them bookies who, we should not forget, have a vested interest in promoting the race’s image as a national institution, “it’s just a bit of fun”. Well, yes it is, although try explaining that to horses who have to be put down after injuring themselves. Explaining it to jockeys horribly injured is less difficult as they have to a man (and occasional woman) bought the macho package and see the risk of crippling as an inherent part of that fun.

It is fun, but it is not real racing. If you were advertising the sport of football, would you do it by staging a game with 40 players that went on for about four hours on a field 300 yards long, and in which tripping was permitted? No ad agency who pitched that would get another second’s time. Let’s not pretend the National is racing’s shop window when it’s the opposite. If it’s anything, it’s an annual warning to the poor fools who live their dreary lives without racing’s consolations that they should continue in their deprived condition.
Note from Vivian: When I was a racing photographer in England, I covered the Grand National 6 times. Photographers draw for position, and one year I “won” the most coveted of all, The Chair.

If you have never seen this spectacle and wonder what it is all about, here is the 2008 Grand National uploaded on YouTube.

I never saw one horse put down at the Grand National, although I knew a few who were injured and had to retire from racing. However, I did witness at least 12 horses killed at Cheltenham, maybe more. Jockeys fare much worse. Many have had their health and careers ruined from falls at these meetings.

There are usually animal rights protesters every year at the entrance, and stationed in smallish groups around the course. There is such bedlam on the day of the Grand National, they are drowned out but sometimes get a small mention in next day’s news.

2008 Grand National

Congratulations to winning trainer David Pipe, following in your dad, Martin’s, footsteps. I was there when Richard won on Minnehoma in 1994. You were but a lad!

1994 Grand National