Today is the Great National Day.
A time when all eyes, from those cheering the TV on their sofa to those dressed to the nines in the packed stands, are on Aintree Racecourse’s annual National Hunt horse race. For many, it’s about who wins and how much.
I also watch with bated breath, but for me, it’s just about the welfare of the horses. Will they make it round? And will the tired candidates be flogged to the last?
Over the years, attitudes towards animals have thankfully changed, and concern for the welfare of those with whom we share our lives and enjoy so much has grown.
As far as we at the RSPCA are concerned, this is a good thing. It has undoubtedly resulted in increased scrutiny of the many ways we interact with animals, including the use of horses in racing and other equestrian sports.
In animal-loving Britain, I would imagine that most, if not all, would say that hitting an animal, under any circumstances, is wrong.
But if that’s the case, then why is whipping horses allowed to run faster, openly, at racetracks across the country?
I imagine there will be some who will argue that it is okay to use a whip, that it is painless to horses, and that it is in fact safer for riders to carry and use it. Contrary to the claims of these ‘whip advocates’ in the industry, studies have shown that hitting horses with a whip in the form it is used in racing causes pain.
However, this is not just common sense. Video studies showing horses whipped during races have shown deformation of the skin and muscles, and it is likely that this deformation is detected by pain receptors in the skin.
What’s more, even though the bottom of the whip is supposedly designed to absorb energy, the aforementioned videos have shown that the unpadded part makes contact with the horse in two out of three strokes, making the padding completely Irrelevant.
The whip doesn’t need a PR makeover: it needs to be consigned to the history books.
Simple logic suggests that the horse must also feel the blows of the whip: if horses cannot feel or react to them, then why use the whip?
If the whip is not associated with pain, the sound it makes would have no meaning to the horse, so it would most likely not respond to it.
A Japanese study revealed that of 34 horses observed sustaining catastrophic injuries such as bone fractures or joint dislocations on video captured at racetracks, 38% of these were observed to be whipped immediately prior to injury.
Furthermore, a study looking at 109 fatal incidents involving racehorses in the UK over two years showed that those who were whipped within 10 seconds of the incident were more likely to suffer a fatal fracture.
Far from making things safer, with jockeys believing that whips keep them safe by giving them more “control” over their horse, scientific evidence actually suggests that whip use during racing can increase the risk of injury for horses. and horsemen.
Finally, a tired horse heading for the winning spot is likely to be flogged more as jockeys fight for the winning spot, but one study also suggested that use of the whip was no more likely to lead to greater safety or better finishing times.
Worryingly, in an effort to address the concerns of animal welfare groups and the public, there has been talk in the media of changing the whip’s name to ‘the entertainer’.
A disappointing approach, to say the least.
We don’t think people concerned about the whip’s impact on racehorse welfare will simply fall for changing the name of the whip in an effort to deflect public concern; sorry for the pun, but that’s not a good start.
The whip doesn’t need a PR makeover. It needs to be consigned to the history books.
Fortunately, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) opened a public consultation on the use of the whip in British horse racing last year, and we submitted a response that sets out our opinion and indicates the science behind this.
Our position is simple. We believe that any effects of the whip are likely to be due to inflicting pain and suffering on the horse, and may expose the horse to an increased risk of injury.
Therefore, it should not be used to propel a horse forward, or to ‘cheer’ it up as the BHA puts it. We also believe that more research is needed to assess whether or not it is necessary to retain the whip for ‘safety purposes’.
Racing industry action on this extremely important issue is frustratingly slow.
We are disappointed that recommendations to the BHA from the consultative steering group are delayed, and we are still awaiting a response.
As far as we at the RSPCA are concerned, it’s about time we saw the end of tired racehorses making it to the finish line.
Sadly, we will continue to witness this horrific spectacle today, even during the 30-jump, four-mile Grand National Steeplechase, and look forward to seeing exhausted racehorses being flogged to the finish line.
Based on all the evidence, our call to the British Racing Authority and everyone in racing is simple: it’s time to get rid of whipping horses so they can run faster.
More research is needed to identify whether it is necessary to carry the whip.
It’s time for the whip to be removed from the race for good.
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