Australian Veterinary Association strengthens policy against the use of whips on horses

The updated policy states that whips ‘must not be used to influence the result of a competitive event’

The Australian Veterinary Association has spoken out about the use of whips in equestrian sports, saying the whip must not be used to “influence the result of a competitive event”.

In an updated policy, released in December, the AVA said that horse racing codes should “work towards a framework where whip use for encouragement is not condoned”.

Other equestrian sports – which include the Olympic disciplines of showjumping, dressage and eventing as well as western disciplines and pony club – must “define excessive or incorrect whip use” and introduce rules which are “vigorously policed with severe penalties”.

It also recommended all equestrian codes educate their members about “effective training methods” to “minimise the use of training aids that intentionally cause discomfort, pain or fear to promote behavioural change”.

“It is understood and respected that horses feel pain and that the use of a whip inflicts discomfort,” Dr Hadley Willsallen, the president of AVA subgroup Equine Veterinarians Australia, said.

“All equestrian sports need to adopt to this scientific knowledge and evolve accordingly.”

Racing Victoria, which has been vocal about reducing whip use in Australian horse racing in order to maintain the sport’s social licence, said the organisation acknowledged and appreciated the view of the AVA but did not believe whips were a welfare issue.

“Our view is that the padded whip does not represent a welfare issue when used appropriately in thoroughbred racing, but we accept that community expectations have evolved and that its use has become less acceptable for racing’s customers and the community,” a spokesperson said.

Under the Australian Rules of Racing jockeys may use the whip five times in non-consecutive strides prior to the final 100 metres of the race, with no limits in that final stretch. They also state that whips must not be used “in an excessive, unnecessary, or improper manner”.

That is out of step with the UK, Ireland and parts of Europe and the US, where whip use is limited for the length of the race. From February whip use in British racing will be further restricted.

Defenders of the whip say it is necessary for safety – in racing it is used as a steering aid; in other equestrian sports, such as eventing, it is used to prevent a horse from hesitating before a jump and potentially taking a fall.

The Pony Club Australia chief executive, Dr Catherine Ainsworth, who is also a vet, said whips did have a place however in most cases they should be carried but not used. Pony Club rules limit whip use and type.

“If a horse is running off and it’s about to run into another horse then, sure, having a whip in hand and being able to use it effectively, I think that has merit,” Ainsworth said.

But as a training tool, she said, hitting the horse with the whip – as distinct from using it as an extension of the rider’s arm or leg, which involves either no or very light contact – is of little benefit. “The whip is really used as a tool of punishment and horses don’t understand punishment,” she said.

Willsallen said it was important that anyone using a whip was educated about its correct use.

“There are certainly times when the use of the whip is appropriate and this needs to be at the discretion of the informed rider or handler,” she said. “The policy does not condone the use of whips; it looks to encourage appropriate use and type and encourage investigations into alternative techniques. As knowledge and alternatives improve, so will the alternatives for all equestrian sports to modify whip use.”

Equestrian Australia, the national governing body for Olympic disciplines, currently penalises the excessive use of whips but allows them to be carried in training and in some competitions.

Ainsworth said while using whips had become accepted wisdom in the horse community, riders and trainers who misused them could expect a public reckoning. In April, the UK Olympic gold medallist Sir Mark Todd accepted an adverse ruling from the British Horseracing Authority after video of him striking a horse with a tree branch began circulating on social media.

“If people are going to continue to ride and enjoy horses, then we need to ensure that our horses are trained humanely and ethically,” Ainsworth said. “Otherwise it will be a dying sport.”


Calla Wahlquist

The GuardianTramp

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