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”

Whipping beaten horses barbaric (AU)

Cross-posted from The Australian

By PATRICK SMITH | October 21, 2008

NONE of what follows is criticism of jockey Craig Newitt. But it is a savaging of an industry and sport in which Newitt is prominent and the welfare of animals plays a secondary role in the pursuit of prizemoney and gambling. We should all feel ashamed.

On Saturday Newitt rode Pre Eminence to victory in the Norman Robinson Stakes, a significant lead-up event to the Victoria Derby in two weeks’ time.

The horse won the race, run over 2000 metres, by 2.3 lengths. Newitt, a strong jockey who uses the whip in his left hand, struck the horse with his whip at least 25 times from just beyond the 200 metres to the finish. Down the straight no horse got closer than within a half length of Pre Eminence.

Newitt said after the race that once Pre Eminence got to the front – and it did that just after the jump – his mount was never going to lose.

On returning to scale it was obvious to the eye where Pre Eminence had been whipped. On his rump the indents of the whip’s flap could be clearly seen. A spread of the hand would not have been sufficient to cover the area of the marks. The previous week Newitt had driven Alamosa to victory in the Toorak Handicap using the whip as often and as vigorously.

Newitt was not criticised for his riding nor sanctioned by stewards because it did not breach the Australian rules of racing. Under rule 137, racing controls the use of the whip thus:

(1) The Stewards may punish any rider who in a race or trial, or in trackwork, or elsewhere uses his whip in an excessive, unnecessary or improper manner.

(2) Without affecting the generality of sub-rule (1) of this Rule, the Stewards may punish any rider who in a race or trial uses his whip: (a) forward of his horse’s shoulder or in the vicinity of its head; or (b) when his horse is out of contention; or (c) when his horse is showing no response; or (d) when his horse is clearly winning; or (e) when his horse has passed the winning post.

Jockey Craig Hewitt whips eventual winner City of Ruins at Cranbourne. Photograph in Matt527's photostream on Flickr. January 21, 2008. Copyright protected.
Jockey Craig Hewitt whips eventual winner City of Ruins at Cranbourne. Photograph in Matt527's photostream on Flickr. Copyright protected.

These are broad rules that all but encourage jockeys to thrash their horses if the jockey believes they have a remote chance of being competitive. It is made worse now with the practice – under the industry’s encouragement – of paying horses in major events down to eighth and even 10th place.

In the Caulfield Cup the eighth-placed horse earned $75,000. So there were plenty of reasons for horses coming ninth and 10th and beaten by more than four lengths to be punished with the whip. In the VRC Derby – a prestigious race for mostly immature three-year-olds run over the controversial distance of 2500m – money is paid to eighth place. Last year horses beaten by more than 11 lengths and utterly spent remained in the hunt for $30,000 which was paid to the eighth placed horse.

In last year’s Melbourne Cup – run over 3200m – 10th place earned connections $110,000 so horses more than 10 lengths off the winner Efficient could be whipped until they dropped because there was moolah to be won.

If whipping exhausted horses coming 11th and beaten mentally and physically is a sport, we need to be utterly ashamed as a community.

Damien Oliver Photo by SportsTalk AUWhile it is legal it is also barbaric. It cannot be justified on any level – that whipping does not hurt a horse is outright nonsense and leading jockey Damien Oliver (left) has said they are not required for control – and it is incumbent on the Australian Racing Board to stop the abhorrent practice.

That opportunity comes in December when the ARB will consider a series of strong recommendations by Australia’s chief stewards on the use of the whip.

The Australian understands that one of the stewards’ recommendations is the brave but contentious demand that jockeys be limited in the number of times the horses can be struck by the whip.

There is little doubt that it will be vigorously opposed by sections of the racing community. Other recommendations, including the use of padded whips, might prove acceptable because they are less confronting but in 2008 lashing horses in the name of prize money or the punt is unspeakable.

Whip use in the UK is monitored far more humanely and precisely while French authorities have considered but not acted on a belief whip use should be banned completely. It is not an idea ahead of its time.

Racing has a small window of opportunity to broaden interest in a sport that outside spring is becoming more marginalised in the media by the year. People coming to racing for the first time would no doubt be horrified to see that the men and women in power in the racing industry apparently condone the brutality that is whipping.

It is a sick, misguided industry that spends millions a year on veterinary expertise, research and drugs so horses remain fit and sound enough to be whipped countless times in the name of a good time or a big payout. That’s every day of the week, in every state and territory in the country.

If the ARB does not act in December then the sport and industry face the humiliation of animal welfare organisations exposing how cruel the sport actually is and forcing the changes that must be made.

Racing is hypnotic and addictive without the punt. Horse racing is thrilling and absorbing without the whip.

The stewards recommendation to restrict the use of the whip must be accepted by racing’s controlling body. And that can only be the start. If the point of whipping a horse is to hurt it – which it is – then one strike is as cruel as 100.

The End.

Note: Photographs not part of original article. Added by Tuesday’s Horse. Craig Hewitt, (c) Associated Press photo; Damien Oliver, Sport Talk AU. ~ Editor.