The New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC)’s proposed new anti-whipping rules for Thoroughbred racing were published in the State Register Dec. 2. This triggers a 60-day public comment period before the board is eligible to vote on the new regulations, which would set a standard as the most stringent in the nation.
The main thrust of the new rules, which were first proposed at an Oct. 23 NJRC meeting, reads as follows:
“No jockey or exercise rider may use a riding crop at any time, or for any reason, except when necessary to control the horse for the safety of the horse or rider. If a jockey or exercise rider uses the riding crop in a manner contrary to this section, 1) The jockey or exercise rider may be suspended and/or fined by the stewards; and 2) The jockey’s share of the purse shall be forfeited if, in the opinion of the stewards, the unauthorized use of the crop caused the horse to achieve a better placing.” (Read the full version here.)
In a “Social Impact” explanatory section that accompanies the proposal in the State Register, the NJRC wrote that “The prohibition of the use of riding crops, except when necessary for the safety of the horse or rider, will be perceived in a positive light by the general public [and is] of the utmost importance in adapting the industry to avoid the currently negative public perception of whipping a horse.
“It is possible that members of the industry will initially be resistant to such change,” the NJRC statement continued. “However, the proposed repeal [of the old rule] and [the adoption of] new rules will apply equally to all competitors, such that all race participants will be adjusting to the proposed repeal and new rules at the same time. Moreover, the public is essential to horse racing, and the industry must learn to adapt if it is to survive.”
The existing state statute allows the use of the riding crop to encourage the horse. The proposed repeal of that rule and its replacement with a new section would ban whip usage, with an exception for allowable whipping only in emergency instances where safety is at stake.
“Protection of the equine participants is of the utmost importance,” the NJRC wrote. “The riding crop can be an important tool in controlling a horse’s focus and running direction. The Commission has the responsibility to ensure the safety, health, and welfare of all human and equine racing participants, and, for that reason, the proposed repeal and new rules must allow the use of a riding crop when necessary to control the horse to avoid injury to the horse or rider.
“The former industry practice of encouraging a horse to run faster through use of a riding crop is no longer in the best interests of the sport,” the NJRC continued. “Jockeys and exercise riders will need to encourage horses by means that do not involve actual or perceived harm to the horse.”
Within those safety-centric parameters, proposed new rule subsections would “prohibit the use of the riding crop on a horse’s head, flanks, or any other part of the horse other than the shoulders or hind quarters [and prohibit] the jockey or exercise rider from contacting the horse with any part of the riding crop other than the soft tube portion.”
Another proposed subsection “prohibits a jockey or exercise rider from striking a horse in a manner that causes any visible sign, mark, welt, or break in the skin of a horse, or striking a horse in a manner that is otherwise excessive.”
The riding crop “shall be shown to a horse before its use whenever possible,” and regulators will be charged with performing “a visual inspection of each horse following each race for evidence of excessive or brutal use of the riding crop.”
New riding crop specifications would require softer, tube-style construction and added padding that is “intended to minimize any possible exposure of the horse to harm,” with maximum whip length proposed at 30 inches.
“The shaft, beyond the grip, shall be smooth, with no protrusions or raised surfaces, and the shaft shall be covered by shock-absorbing material that gives a compression factor of at least one millimeter throughout its circumference,” the NJRC explained.
“The soft tube [must] be made of shock-absorbing material with a compression factor of at least five millimeters throughout its circumference [and] be composed of a waterproof, ultraviolet, and chemical-resistant foam material that is durable and preserves its shock absorption in use under all conditions,” the NJRC explained, noting that all riding crops would be subject to inspection and approval by the stewards and the clerk of the scales.
Public comments may be submitted via email before Jan. 31 to the racing commission at [email protected].