Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Whipping racehorses WON'T make them run faster, say scientists

It's a vexed question in the racing world – whether or not it’s acceptable to whip a horse to get that last burst of energy out of the animal as it nears the finishing line.

Now science has come to aid of those worried about the welfare of racehorses.

Whipping them does not make them run any quicker, according to research

How a horse ran in the first part of a race, when it wasn’t being whipped, was the most critical factor in racing success.

The Australian research meant that ‘horses are being whipped in the final stages of a race, in the face of muscle fatigue, for no benefit’, Sydney University Professor Dr David Evans said.

The results should help end the debate over whether there was a place for whipping, added fellow researcher Dr Bidda Jones, chief scientist of RSPCA Australia. ‘This study has found jockeys use whips to try to make their slowing horse recover speed in the closing stages of a race in the hope they will get a place.

‘That’s not surprising. What is surprising is that whipping doesn’t make any difference.’

Whip happy: Riders face suspension if they are caught whipping a horse too hard

Study co-author and animal behavioural expert Professor Paul McGreevy said racehorses were bred and conditioned to give their best and, combined with a skilled rider, that was ‘all you need’.

‘We have evidence here that great horsemanship does not involve flogging tired horses,’ he said.

Sydney University’s Dean of Veterinary Science, Professor Rosanne Taylor, said the study was an example of science challenging traditional thinking.

‘In this instance, the wellbeing of Australian racehorses is looking brighter, because we better understand that horses give their

best when they are not whipped, before the 400-metre mark, positioning themselves for a win or place.’

In Britain, whip use has been debated for years. Many jockeys are in favour of the ‘persuader’ being banned.

The British Horseracing Authority enforces strict rules on whip use by jockeys.

Riders face being suspended for several days or even weeks for any infringement of the laws.

Rules state that the whip must not cause injury to the horse, must not be brought down from higher than the jockey’s shoulder and the horse must be given time to respond to one smack before being given another.

The animal should only be hit on the quarters or down the shoulder.

Horses may be subject to an inspection by a vet and they will report their findings to the stewards.

Andrew Harding, boss of the Australian Racing Board, which assisted the study, is reserving its opinion until its experts have to time consider the findings.

Source: Mail Online


Scott Ferguson said...

note that this study was funded by the RSPCA who are particularly militant against racing in Australia. I'd take anything they 'discover' with a rather large grain of salt.

Is there such thing as an independent survey anywhere these days??

Think about it - most of the horses which are hit with the whip in the latter stages are beaten anyway, only horses with enough energy left are going to be able to accelerate. Does the whip sustain the pace of a horse, on those coming to the end of their run, for longer? Whips aren't used at the start of the race when they are all accelerating, only at the end, so the headline, and probably the hypothesis behind it were flawed from the start.

Don't get me wrong, I hate seeing horses whipped incessantly when they are out of contention or it obviously isn't making a difference, but the RSPCA's mission is to ban all whips, even the ridiculously light ones used in Aus racing these days. The real issue they should get involved in is what happens to racehorses after their career has finished - being abandoned or sent off to the abattoir is surely worse than anything a whip can do? Oh, there's no publicity in that is there.....

HCE said...

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, it is a good point who funds research because it is often blatantly biased although tested in an objective manner.It is hardly surprising that a tired horse, whose muscles are fatigued, would not respond to the whip. However, it would be more interesting to study individual horses ridden at perhaps at a moderate pace to see if it does bring about greater improvement than without such use. I can only imagine that it does bring more improvement than not. The problem with such an experiment is controlled confounding variables - which is never an easy task. It is interesting to consider though.