Should The Crop Be Banned?

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The TDN Topic

The TDN Topic is a new feature for the Thoroughbred Daily News, designed to examine a topic in racing from several different angles, and then to open the subject up to commentary from our readers. In each TDN Topic, we ask eight people with different perspectives in racing and on the topic—from both inside and outside the sport—to comment on a hot-button issue.

Today, we start with whipping.

I See Someone Hitting an Animal

Much has been made, here and abroad, about Victor Espinoza's ride on American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby, and the fact that by most counts, he hit the horse 32 times with his whip through the stretch.

2015 Kentucky Derby - American Pharoah

For the past few months, we have been collecting essays, both written and video, for a discussion we have been preparing to present on whipping. We asked eight people from different walks of the industry to give us their opinion on the question of rider safety, whether or not it hurts the horse, and even if it doesn’t, whether it's the image we want to project of our sport.

By most estimates, the Thoroughbred racing industry employs about 100,000 people on a full-time basis.

Most, if not all of them, would look at the photos above, and, if asked what they see, would say something like, 'the thrill of a good horse race.' Or 'two fierce competitors locked in battle, coming down the stretch, giving their all.'

But we wondered what would happen if we took the same pictures and asked the people who would make up the future of our sport, if we are to have one.

So we sent our intern to a college campus and asked them what they saw when they looked at the pictures above. And here's what they said.

Is this what new fans feel when they see horse racing?

"Too violent."
"It does not look like the horses are having fun."
"I feel bad for the horses. I don’t like that they are being hit or used for sport."

As an experiment, we also posted it on Facebook. We heard some positive things from industry people. And we heard this from casual fans.

"As I was going through the pictures, I started to tear up. And not in a good way."
"Leave that horse alone."
"Success in racing only comes at the end of a whip."
"You don't need to use the whip. They can't run any faster."

In short, the photos that our industry sees as thrilling competition are instead perceived by the very fans we hope to attract to guarantee the existence of our sport as something very different.

They see what everyone sees in this picture: they see someone hitting an animal.

If we're going to survive, we're going to need the support of a lot more people than the 100,000 industry employees.

Maybe it's time we all looked at these images with fresh eyes.

--The TDN

For a Sport Struggling with Its Image, Whipping Must Go

By Bill Finley

The reasons why whips should be banned in horse racing? Whether it hurts the animal or not, whipping a horse conveys a terrible image of the sport to the general public. The public at large has become less and less tolerant over the years of anything it believes to be animal abuse and the sight of jockeys thrashing their horses is just one more thing that leads a lot of people to believe that racing is inhumane. A sport that even a minority of Americans think is cruel to animals is not going to be a successful sport.

The reasons why whips should not be banned in horse racing? I am still waiting to hear one. At least a compelling one.

Imagine, if you would, a sport without whipping. What exactly would happen that would be so terrible? With every horse playing on a level, whip-less playing field, no one would have an advantage over anyone else. The only horses that might be affected are the lazy sorts that might need some encouragement. Too bad. A lazy horse should be at a disadvantage because they weren’t made with the same heart and fighting spirit as some of their competitors.

In Norway, jockeys don't carry a whip except in 2yo races.
With the older horses
it is not any problem
at all to ride them
without the stick.
—veteran Norwegian jockey Marie Fretheim

Over the years many states have taken steps toward limiting what riders can do with their whips, how many times they can hit the horse, where they can hit the horse. It’s not enough. As long as jockeys are allowed to carry whips and strike the animal in any way a cloud will hover over the sport. And with PETA focusing on racing, with breakdowns an all too familiar part of the game, with drugs a raging controversy, that’s a cloud the sport needs to have go away.

Actually, you don’t need to imagine a sport without whipping. It already exists, in Norway. The whipping of horses was banned there way back in 1982. This wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction to appease animal rights activists but a well thought out plan that seems to have all the bases covered.

Jockeys are allowed to carry whips in 2-year-old races, but they are not allowed to use them in an attempt to make the horse go faster. They can only be used to make sure that green horses mind their business and keep a straight course.

"The 2-year-olds are the horses that need a little bit of help around bends, and that could make for trouble sometimes when they go into the bends without a stick,” said Marie Fretheim, who has been riding in Norway for 20 years “We can have the stick with us when we ride 2-year-olds, but you can only use it when you are trying to avoid accidents.” When it comes to riding older horses Fretheim says she gets along just fine without a whip. “With the older horses it is not any problem at all to ride them without the stick,” she said. “The horses run fine on their own. There are the lazy horses that might be helped by the stick but it’s still not a problem riding them without one."

Fretheim also rides in Sweden, where whipping is allowed. She said more often than not she won’t use one in a race there.

"We had one horse who was very lazy so we decided to send him to Sweden where we could us a whip on him, thinking that would help,” she said. “He didn’t go any faster. The stick was no help."

Actually, there is a reason why whipping has not been banned in this country. It’s not because it’s a bad idea. It’s because horse racing is never proactive. It’s because, ultimately, no one is in charge. It’s because there aren’t nearly enough people willing to do the right thing.

Ban whipping tomorrow and the sport will get along just fine and it’s image will improve. Sometimes things really are that simple.

Bill Finley

About The Author: Bill Finley is an award-winning writer who has covered horse racing for over 30 years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, the New York Daily News, New York Post and the Thoroughbred Daily News, among others. He writes a weekly column for ESPN and hosts a weekly radio show, Down The Stretch, on Sirius/XM Radio.

Is the Whip Painful for horses?
Some surprising revelations from researchers in Australia.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

By Mark Johnston

Bill Finley, in making his case for the banning of whips in racing, opens with the argument that ‘whether it hurts the animal or not’ there is no place for the whip in horseracing because it portrays a terrible image. I have heard the same argument, many, many times before in this country. They tell us that this is all about public perception and that racing without whips will attract a greater audience but I am not prepared to accept that view. I recognise the importance of public perception but I am not willing to put it ahead of horse welfare itself. Bill says he is still waiting to hear a compelling reason for the retention of whips. Really? Has nobody on your side of the pond been able to explain why whips, sticks, riding crops, or whatever you want to call them, have been carried for as long as man has been riding horses and, before that, since the first animals were domesticated and herded. They are an essential tool for the purpose of controlling a horse.

No Need To Reinvent The Wheel
They are an essential tool for the
purpose of controlling a horse.
— trainer Mark Johnston

Bill's other main point seems to be that, if you take them away, it won’t change the nature of racing. ‘With every horse on a level, whip-less playing field’, he says, ‘no one would have an advantage over anyone else’. That’s correct. And currently, with every jockey carrying a stick, the same applies.

If the reason for carrying a whip on a racehorse was simply to make the horse go faster, then Bill would be absolutely right, nothing would change if we removed them. But that isn’t the main reason for carrying a whip. I firmly believe that my horses are less at risk of injury when ridden with a stick.

In breeding horses to race, over centuries, we have selected for and greatly enhanced the flight response which is inherent in all horses. That response, part of which is driven by chemicals such as adrenalin and endorphins, can be initiated quite easily in a fit, trained, racehorse by the very excitement of being at the races but it must be maintained throughout the race. There are many physiological changes taking place as part of the flight response and, together, they ensure that the mechanical components of the body are fuelled to capacity and can work up to maximum output but with natural limiters in place to try to ensure that the body is not pushed to breaking point.

However, as the horse tires, many of the components of that physiological response wear off. The excitement wanes, the stride shortens and weight distribution alters with the head and neck lowering and more weight being thrown onto the vulnerable front limbs. At this point, it is in the best interests of the horse to reinforce the flight response and get the horse to the end of the race in a fully alert state. The strokes of the whip, which even Bill might agree will cause no lasting damage to an animal of that size, initiate a new ‘injection’ of adrenalin and endorphins.

Streamlined Process for Graded Stakes Races

My apologies if you have heard me make the comparison before but I like to compare this tiring state with a boxer about to come out for the last round of a gruelling fight. The jockey’s use of the stick is like the second slapping his man’s cheek and telling him to get his wits about him, keep his chin in, and look after himself.

It is generally accepted that whips are required for ‘correction’ but I do not think that is their principal purpose in a race. To my mind, that argument has been over used and it is now all too common to see young jockeys attempting to use the whip to prevent a horse veering off a straight line and forgetting that the principal aid for steering is the reins.

Whip use in Europe has greatly altered over the last couple of decades in an attempt to change public perception and that has already been to the detriment of the horse. Jockeys can no longer lift their arm above shoulder height as would be required to use the stick high up on the rump where there is maximum muscle cover and the skin is relatively thick. Instead, they must keep the arm low, back-hand use is encouraged, and, inevitably, most strokes are between hip and stifle where there is very little muscle and the skin is thin. Thanks to public perception.

And, if you are not yet convinced that our policies on horse welfare should not be driven by public perception, then try looking at it from the opposite angle. Have a look at dressage. It is the epitome of equine elegance, gentleness and grace. But look a little closer and you will see that the rider is equipped with a long, thin, sharp, whip – which makes the stick carried by jockeys look like a feather duster – and spurs to boot (excuse the pun). Again, these aids are not intended to punish, hurt or damage the horse but they initiate a very natural response which has been honed and reinforced by training.

We shouldn’t be looking to reinvent the wheel or alter horsemanship that has evolved over many centuries, when the horse was the principal mode of transport, in order to fit a modern-day perception which has evolved in an era, and in countries, where only a tiny minority have any association with horses at all.

Mark Johnston
Racing Post

About The Author: Mark Johnston is a racehorse trainer and licensed veterinarian based in Yorkshire in northern England. Long one of Britain’s leading trainers, he was the first Flat trainer to send out more than 200 winners in a season (2009) and repeated the feat the following year.  He has trained more than 100 winners for 19 consecutive seasons, achieving success in Classics and numerous Group One races.  Born in Scotland in 1959, he became nterested in racing through his father’s ownership of horses. At 14 he knew he was destined to become a trainer, but decided to study first as a vet and after qualifying, worked in veterinary practice for three years.

Can We Do Without the Whip? The Simple Answer is Yes

By Graham Motion

We live in a time when public perception is very important to any business and people are very sensitive to anything they believe is animal abuse. There is no doubt in my mind that whipping is something that can discourage people from liking horse racing. Considering this, I believe that the whip is something the sport could do without.

Racing Post photos
Graham Motion visits Animal Kingdom, whom he trained to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup, which Joel Rosario won with a hand ride.

Watch the video here:

If the industry isn’t ready for something that drastic a starting point would be to enact stricter rules like they have in Europe, limit the number of consecutive times a jockey can hit a horse, something they are trying to do in California.

When you consider how important it is for a jockey to carry a whip look at some of the top riders in the sport, past and present. You will find they are the ones least likely to use the whip excessively. On the other hand, I think the whip has become a crutch of sorts for plenty of riders and that far too may overuse it.

No one would say
it's ok to hit a
dog with a stick.
—trainer Graham Motion

I have a problem with people saying that a jockey wouldn’t be able to ride without a whip, I might let my exercise riders carry a stick in the morning if they have a particularly naughty colt that needs to be reprimanded but I certainly don’t like them to hit the horse in the morning during a workout so why would I be fine with letting them hit them in the afternoon?

I have some owners that are offended by over use of the whip. Most horsemen are animal lovers, one of the main reasons they get involved in the sport in the first place, and if you really are an animal lover it’s hard not to have some negative feelings about a horse being hit with a whip. No one would say it’s ok to hit a dog with a stick.

At the end of the day there is a fine line here, do you want to make a horse do something they don’t want to do and if so how do you go about it? Is the stick the best way to accomplish it? I think they manage the situation well in Europe.

I do have sympathy for the position the jockeys are in. You’ll often hear a handicapper yell ‘hit him again, hit him again.’ That’s what they want the jockey to do, repeatedly strike a horse? As a horseman it makes me cringe when I hear that. Jockeys are in a tough spot because they’re stuck between the handicappers yelling at them if they are not seen to be doing everything to try to win and the sensitivity of some horsemen saying not to beat up on the horse.

When I look at what we do with the whip in this country I do believe that it is overused and it is something we’d be fine doing without, frequently it is used from the very beginning of a race. If there is a question of the safety of a jockey riding a race without the aid of a whip, I would be in favor of regulations on whip length and amount of use during the course of a race.

Graham Motion

About The Author: Graham Motion is a racehorse trainer based in Fair Hill, Maryland. He was born in Cambridge, England in 1964 and was raised at Newmarket’s Herringswell Manor Stud operated by his parents Michael and Jo. The family moved to the United States in 1980. He worked for six years with trainer Jonathan Sheppard, traveling with the three-time Eclipse Award-winning steeplechaser Flatterer. He later worked for trainer Jonathan Pease in Chantilly, and took out his training license in 1993. He trained the 2011 Kentucky Derby and 2013 Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom, this year’s champion older horse and turf male Main Sequence, and the winners of nearly $100 million in purses.

Streamlined Process for Graded Stakes Races

Don't Ban The Crop: Just Use It Judiciously

By Chris McCarron

My views on the crop have changed dramatically over the years. I started out as an eager young rider trying to impress people and was “whip happy.” Over the years, as I matured and grew as a rider, I began to see the other sides of the issue, that hitting a horse did not always result in the desired effect, that too many riders overuse the crop and that the sport needs to consider the public perception problem that comes from jockeys striking an animal.

But as my beliefs have evolved I never have-and likely never will-conclude that the crop should be banned from American racing.

I still believe that the crop is necessary to get the best out of most horses. One example is when you have a colt who is really playful like Alysheba was when he was a 2-year-old. He would get to the lead and pull himself up. He’s well-bred and he’s going to be worth a lot of money if he goes through the stages they expect him to go through. A lot of horses will not give their best unless they are firmly encouraged and it if you took away the crop some horses would never reach their full potential, and that would be unfair to the owner. For that reason I believe the use of the crop is necessary.

That said, I also believe that the crop is overused and that the sport needs to find sensible ways to make sure jockeys use it on a limited basis and only when its use is productive.

Early in his career, Chris McCarron
was known as a "stick" rider.

I was known as a strong stick rider, particularly when I was younger. When I look back on my career I regret a lot of the times I would hit a horse unnecessarily. I’m not talking about horses that were well beaten but in the heat of battle I would put that stick in my left hand and go rapid fire. I thought at the time it was necessary and best method to use to get the most run out of a horse.

I was trying so hard to impress the people I was riding for, whether it was owners, trainers or the betting public. I always felt in order for me to put forth the best effort I would have to resort to the stick and that was whether or not the horse was finishing first, fourth or eighth.

I was already starting to think about things a little differently at the time when I had a particularly troubling incident in the mid-nineties. I was riding a horse named Letthebighossroll for Bob Baffert and the thing about him was he was like a bicycle. If you weren’t pedaling he wasn’t going forward. He was a horse who would run from the crop but that didn’t justify what I saw afterward when I saw the photographs that the vet had taken. I was literally sick to my stomach when I saw his flank. He had several welts and he had two places where he was bleeding. I couldn’t sleep that night.

It's a lot more
difficult and
physically more
strenuous to get
run out of a horse
with just a hand
ride than it is using
a stick.
—Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron

But through maturity and through gaining knowledge and experience I realized there was a better way and the better way is to use the crop judiciously, use it in fashion that will get the best out of the horse and won’t even come close to abusing a horse.

It was actually Trevor Denman who first helped me realize I could be my own worst enemy when it came to the use of the crop. Trevor would often notice that a lot of horses were running freely and running well for riders who were not as quick to go to the stick and during his call of the race he would emphasize the fact a horse was being ridden under a beautiful hand ride, a polished hand ride. Laffit (Pincay) is the first one who comes to mind. Then there was Gary Stevens, Eddie Delahoussaye, (Bill) Shoemaker. I was always impressed with how those guys could get run out of a horse with just their hands but I was even more impressed when it was noticed by more than just me. It was noticed by the track announcer and then noticed by a lot more people since it was brought to everyone’s attention. That these race riders could get so much run out of a horse without using their stick benefitted their reputations, their business and careers. So I tried to emulate that. I found it difficult doing that. It’s a lot more difficult and physically more strenuous to get run out of a horse with just a hand ride than it is using a stick. So I gradually was able to improve my skills at doing that but it took some time.

I came to realize there is another way. It turned out for me to be the better way and I still firmly believe today that the better way is to allow a horse an opportunity to respond from the stick, respond from the urging that the crop creates. But if you’re not getting the anticipated response then, most likely the horse has already given you everything he’s got. Maybe that particular day the horse might not be at his best. I might be on a 4-5 shot and I’m thinking the horse is much the best but it might not be his day and that doesn’t mean you have to come down the stretch whacking away just to impress people or just to make it look like you are doing your very best when in actuality it is probably counter-productive.

Racing has struggled with how to deal with riders that misuse the crop but there are practical ways to assess when riders have crossed a line and how to punish them. My proposal would be to have racing commissions instruct the stewards that if in their judgment a rider is misusing the stick they must be reprimanded. The rider needs to be brought before the stewards and admonished and reprimanded and if they continue to misuse the crop they should be fined and/or suspended. It may seem that I am simplifying this, but it shouldn’t be that difficult for the stewards to do this. They are professionals and can determine when a violation occurs, what is and isn’t abuse of the animal. We have fantastic resources with the cameras, slow motion and, in many cases high definition televisions. The stewards have the authority to seriously punish offenders and I think that will go a long way toward improving horse racing.

Chris McCarron

About The Author: Chris McCarron is one of the most successful jockeys in the history of the sport. Inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1989, he won five Breeders’ Cup Classics and six legs of the Triple Crown. He retired in 2002 as the all-time leader in purse earnings, $264 million, and rode the winners of 7,141 races.

Breeders' Cup Classic: Chris McCarron was under instructions from trainer Charlie Whittingham to not use the whip on Sunday Silence, and won the 1989 Breeders' Cup Classic by a neck over Easy Goer under a hand ride.

Breeders' Cup Sprint: Earlier in his career, McCarron rode Precisionist to a win in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, hitting him 16 times from the top of the stretch home.

Kentucky Derby: Chris McCarron cites Alysheba as a horse who needed the whip. Here is an isolated view of his run in the 1987 Kentucky Derby.

A Fan's Perspective

By Drew Rauso

The argument is an ancient one in racing: do the whips hurt the animals, and are they effective in producing better results on the track?

As an outsider to the sport, I cannot comment on the science or history of the disagreement. What I can discuss is how the action makes me feel, as well as others in my position. I am a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, a classic 22-year-old who enjoys his now-dwindling free time, and will occasionally fill that free time by going to the track. Racing’s struggle to attract my demographic is well-documented, and we all know that won’t change overnight. To me, racing is an excuse to be outside on a nice afternoon with some friends and some drinks. I have written in the past how I believe the racing community needs to swallow a little bit of pride and accept that marketing ploy to attract people my age. In writing this piece, I still feel the same way, and aim to try and reflect the opinions of my peers in this argument.


So, I understand that the whip may hurt the animal. While I also understand that whipping is generally accepted in the racing community, I do have my qualms with it. On an incredibly basic level, I know that if I was running and someone was bashing me with a whip, it would hurt a lot and I would not be a happy camper. Sure, it would probably make me run faster, but there’s something in the back of my mind--morals, I think they’re called--that tells me I shouldn’t approve of the action.

Whipping seems to be
simply a part
of the sport.

But at the same time, I understand that whipping is just another part of the sport, like fighting in hockey or diving in soccer. I’ve read many of the articles and seen the sports documentaries on animal abuse in racing, and the whipping is not what sticks out in my memory. Rather, it is the administering of drugs and poor handling of horses that hurts them, or causes breakdowns. Whipping seems to be simply a part of the sport. Yes, some sports have a dark side, but that doesn’t mean that they should have no fans. I am caught in limbo, where I see the “wrongdoing” but am not strongly affected personally (or emotionally, for that matter), so I continue to indulge in the sport.

I asked some friends about their opinions on the topic, with rather simplified results. One friend summed it up in two short words: “It’s mean!” When pushed and prodded to think about the topic of this discussion, she came to the realization that she had in fact never really thought about it. She had known it hurts the animals, but the opinion sort of stopped there. This became the pattern for my questioning of several others, where whipping was seen as bad right away, but after this was established, very little else was.

A friend who is deeply involved in the racing community (his father is an owner and he works at Monmouth Park), offered a different opinion. While most jockeys probably overuse the whip, he said, the tool should definitely be allowed in the sport. He also offered that there could be harsher punishments for whipping infractions.

Maybe this is more of a cultural look at my peers than at first glance. We are the “selfish generation,” after all. As I said before, since the whipping didn’t personally affect me in any strong way, I lost interest after coming to a very basic decision (it’s immoral). The relatively similar opinions of friends back up this belief.

Racing needs to attract younger fans in order to sustain a strong fan base in this country and increase revenue and profit, that much is certain. The case is closed. When it comes to basing decisions off of the opinions of that same demographic, though, that one is still is very much up for debate.

Drew Rauso

About The Author: Drew Rauso is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. A lifelong racing fan, the Monmouth County, New Jersey native has contributed several feature articles to the Thoroughbred Daily News from a fan’s perspective.

Comments from retired jockey Richard Migliore

Much Ado About Nothing

By John Velazquez

I believe there is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to the use of the whip in racing and whether or not it hurts the animal. I don’t think the whip is overused or that it hurts the horse or that it could contribute to a horse breaking down.

Racing has bigger problems to deal with and an on-going debate about whipping shouldn’t overshadow them. I would rather the sport spend more time trying to deal with the many challenging issues we face with medications, what you can and cannot use, when you can use them, when you can’t.

I think a lot of what has been done with changes to whip rules has been done for the media and for public perception. You cannot have a guy get fined for hitting one time too many down the stretch when he wins by a nose. All that does is give the public the idea that we really are abusing our horses, which we’re not. When you do that you are telling the people who don’t understand horse racing that we are beating our horses.

I hear very little, if anything, from fans about whipping the horse. It’s not like people come up to you and say why did you hit that horse? It never happens. I will have dinners with people who are friends of friends, people who don’t know much about horse racing, and they will ask what the whip is for. I tell them sometimes you need it and sometimes you don’t and it’s there so the horse can give you their very best for that particular race. Many times you don’t need to use it, like when you can see that they are going to win easily. Sometimes, there is a much tougher race and you have to encourage them to run as fast as they can. That’s the best way to explain it. It’s not to beat up the horse, it is to get them to run their best at that particular time.

It's not like
people come up
to you and say
why did you
hit that horse.
It never happens.
—Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez

Though I think there has been a lot of overreaction to the whipping situation, I do think there are some things that should be changed and situations we need to look at.

When you are one, two, three, four in the stretch and in contention and you are trying your best to get the best out of the horse you should be able to use the whip as you see fit. But when you start backing up at the three-eighths pole or quarter pole and everybody is passing you then there’s no sense in using the whip. I see way too many jockeys doing that and that really, really bothers me. You have asked the horse for everything he has and he has nothing left and you are still hitting him. That looks bad.

Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby aboard Animal Kingdom with five taps of the whip.

We have to teach our younger riders and let them know when the horse is done to stop hitting them. That’s the reality. When the horse has given you everything he can why hit them? It doesn’t make any sense. Not only do you have to educate the young riders it goes back to the trainers as well. I can go back and tell Todd Pletcher I stopped hitting the horse because he had given me everything he had, so I put my whip down and hand rode down the stretch. Young riders in the same situation will keep using the whip again and again because they think that’s what the trainers want. When I see that I do get angry. It looks bad and it not good for the game.

There are always ways to improve things, and with the whips we have done a good job of that in this country. We already changed the popper of the whip. It is 90 percent softer than what we were using before and it does not hurt the horse. We used to just have a little leather piece at the end of the whip and it was hard. It really spanked the horse and I know they felt it. Sometimes they don’t even respond to the new whip because it is very soft. But you get the attention from it. Some horses need it. Some do not need it.

I like the new rules in California, where you can only use the whip three times in a row before pausing to let the horse respond before you can hit them again. When you hit the horse six, seven, eight times in a row it can look bad.

What I don’t like is what they came up with in the UK, which is complete nonsense.

(Editor’s Note: In 2011 The British Horse Racing Authority instituted a rule whereby jockeys could only strike a horse seven times in a flat race and no more than five times inside the final furlong. Within four months the rules were changed and fines and/or suspensions are now based not on the number of times a jockey hits a horse but on the manner and frequency with which the whip is used).

We can change things little by little and modify things but not to the extent of what they did in the UK. They’ve gone way overboard. We have to be careful with the policies and rules that we implement. I think what we have now is adequate but we can tweak it. Still, I don’t believe this is a big problem or that riders over use the whip or abuse horses.

John Velazquez

About The Author: John Velazquez is the all-time leading money-winning jockey in North America and the first jockey in history to surpass $300 million in earnings. He has been elected to the horse racing Hall of Fame in his native Puerto Rico and in the U.S., and serves as the Chairman of the Board of the Jockeys’ Guild.

How Do You Make Horses Run Faster? Whips Are Just One Part of the Puzzle

By Pat Parelli

Everyone wants their competitive horse to jump higher or run faster, and achieving that goal involves numerous factors. If your only focus is on the use of the whip to make the horse run just a little bit faster in the stretch you’re short-changing yourself and your horse.

No matter what we do, horses will primarily run faster and jump higher out of heart and desire, which means we must use psychology with our horses. We’ve got to be able to know what motivates a horse, what makes them tick, and we’ve got to know how they feel, think, act and play. There’s no doubt in my mind that racing is a game for both the horse and the human. So if we want the horse to play our game, what we have to do is to be able to give him the needs he has within his basic nature. The nature of horses is that they are prey animals, are herd animals and are a precocial species, which means they are full-faculty learners at birth. The number one dysfunction for equine athletes is the same with humans; it is tension. What we have to do is counter tension by the horse gaining more confidence. Once we have confidence, we have responsiveness and then exuberance. Exuberance is when the horse does what we want and does things our way. In other words, he puts his heart into.

Since you can't
use the legs as a
motivating tool
I like to think
that the stick
can accomplish that.
—Pat Parelli

To get a horse to a point where he really wants to be the first one across finish line is often a matter of the horse being mentally, emotionally and physically fit. Oftentimes emotions run away with the horse and we have a horse who is out of control because he is not being communicated with properly. He runs his race before he gets to the track emotionally or he will disregard or not be obedient to the jockey and do what they want.

What we have to learn to do is use not only horse psychology but to learn equine sports psychology. How do we get our horse to run faster and jump higher out of heart and desire?

So where do whips come in?


First of all, the question of whip-less racing has been around a long time and I see no reason why that wouldn’t work. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If no one had whips, everyone would be a on a level playing field. But if the sport decides it wants to use whips there are right ways and wrong ways to go about it.

Horses are fairly primal-thinking animals and what we need to be able to do with horses is to get him following our suggestions. There is nothing more powerful than the power of suggestion and the power of suggestion comes through our will power. There’s no doubt that the greatest jockeys in the world have had something special going on inside of them that sends a message straight to the horses and urges them on, usually without the need of the whip. When it comes to striking the horse it often comes down to when, how, how hard, the timing and the placement. In the end, if we want that horse to lengthen or heighten his stride we have to make sure we don’t put our ambitions in front of our principles. In other words, we need to do things with the horse and for the horse and not to the horse.

The inhumane way always comes when you ask a horse for something he is not capable of doing. We cannot make him run faster if he doesn’t have it in him. There’s no reason to hit a horse that has already given you everything it has to give.

The real secret is that we learn to be in synch with the horse’s movement. In racing one disadvantage is that we cannot use our legs. In all other equine sports we can use our legs to motivate and communicate. What we need to understand is how to get a horse motivated so that he wants to run the race we want him to run instead of the race he wants to run. Since you can’t use the legs as a motivating tool I like to think that the stick can accomplish that. It can be used as an extension of our body, which can be important since you can’t use your legs.

Human beings are tall-bodied animals and horses are long-bodied animals. For them, zone 1 is the head, zone 2 the neck, zone 3 is from the point of the shoulders to the hips, zone 4 is the hips and zone 5 the tail. The reason that using an extension of our arms, in this case the stick, is because it is something the horse understands. As we motivate our horses in zone four and five it’s going to push zones three, two and one ahead.

The most important thing is the timing and not necessarily the velocity. The time when they are asking, the message to urge the horse is more important than the velocity or sharpness of the whip. The idea is to get the horse to think, ‘I get it, you want me to give you more.’ If you look at the study of the natural social behavior of horses, if a stallion is going to motivate the herd he is going to come from behind the horses and nip the mares on the butt and say ‘you need to get it going, I need to get you out of here and I am the leader, even though I’m pushing from behind.’ Properly done, the use of the whip can send the same message.

But you have to consider the horse, as each one is an individual. Every horse has his own personality based on unique characteristics, learned behavior, environmental influences and spirit. The more introverted horses, what we call left brain introverted horses, and Tiznow is an example, they are the kind that will prop against the whip.

Is striking a horse with a whip painful to the horse? It depends on who is doing it and how. Are you doing it to the horse or are you doing with the horse and for the horse? Are you causing your body to be understood because the horse has a long body and the human has a tall body? Are you using the stick to lengthen your body? There is a way to do it where you are in harmony with the horse. The goal is not to make it painful but for it to be understood so that it can be effective.

I’m neither pro whip nor negative whip, nor do I have any problem with whip-less racing or keeping the whip in racing. To me, the real issue is how do people better understand their horses. I am in favor of teaching people horse psychology and equine sports psychology. Do that and you’ll get a lot better results out of your horse than you could ever get from just using a whip.

Pat Parelli

About The Author: One of the world’s leading equine behaviorists, Pat Parelli operates Parelli Natural Horsemanship centers on three continents and has instructed hundreds of thousands of students around the world. His experience with Thoroughbreds includes work with Bobby Frankel and Bill Casner’s horses.