The Whip in Racing

Excerpt from Chapter 6 of Monty’s textbook, From My Hands to Yours
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To do a dissertation on the whip in racing, I feel the first thing a horseman should say is, “It does not matter whether it’s racing or any other discipline, the whip is the whip.”

Equus, the flight animal, is about 50 million years old. If you accept the discovery by Dr. Louis Leakey of Lucy in the Olduvai Gorge, then humans are approximately 3.2 million years old. We must conclude then that horses got along just fine without human beings for 47 million years. We are quick, however, to use the term “problem horse,” a quite pompous statement from a species so junior.

A scientific fact is that horses are flight animals and, as the reader knows, they only have two goals in life (survival and reproduction). Horses do not often think strongly about reproduction during a race, which leaves us with only one facet of a horse’s existence, his goal to survive. Consider for a moment that we are human beings dealing with horses under circumstances extremely demanding and frightening to them.Knowing that they are vitally concerned with their own survival, we often conclude that the best course of action is to whip them and cause them pain in the hopes that it will get them to run faster.

I submit that this is not only a bad decision from a humane standpoint, but a worse decision where its effect is concerned. Horses are “into-pain” animals. Their natural tendency is to push into pressure, like a child does biting on hard bread when cutting teeth. We may frighten a horse the first few times we whip him in a race, but very soon he may resent the whip and back-up to it, actually causing him to run more slowly.

You so often hear the statement, “We need the whips for safety’s sake,” but, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth, because far more accidents are caused by whips than are ever averted by whips. In fact, if a jockey felt the need for a whip to guide the horse, why not use a spongy, Nerf whip so that no pain could be produced?

In a recent conversation with Trevor Denman (a race announcer at the Santa Anita race track), he said to me that he felt it would be a good idea if every time there was a disqualification, the newspaper should read that, “the horse ducked from the whip and interfered with the progress of another horse and was thus disqualified.” Trevor suggested that an extremely high percentage of disqualifications were caused by using the whip. Further, he said that if the bettors could understand that, they would be less apt to insist that jockeys use the whips to verify that they are trying.

Aside from whether it is effective or not, let us examine for a moment how we stand with the rest of the world on this issue. Nearly all the racing countries of the world are dealing with the issue of the whip in ways that suggest it will soon be obsolete. I believe Great Britain is down to five strikes now, while Sweden has restricted the use of the whip severely, and, I think, only in front of the girth. In Germany, it is interesting to note that all two-year-olds are ridden only with a soft Nerf whip, which is handed to the jockey as he leaves the weighing room. The United States is virtually the only country to fail to act on what has become an important issue to race fans the world over.

The third facet, and possibly the most important, is in the area of public perception. We, in racing, need to be pro-active. We need to realize that many potential race fans abhor the use of the whip and are turned off by our sport. What if we had whipless racing? Someone would be first, someone would be last and someone would be in the middle, exactly as it is with the whips. As for finding the genetic aptitude for racing, would you not prefer the winning horse to run out of a natural desire, rather than running from pain? And, wouldn’t we be more acceptable to our audience?

I believe the number of race fans would increase with a strong promotional program featuring whipless racing. As racehorse people, we often say we are giving the horse a chance to do what he loves best, run. I believe that is a true statement, but if it is what he loves best, why do we have to whip him to do it? We do not.

It is my opinion that the best jockeys would still be the best jockeys, and in fact, true horsemanship skills would come to the front if we were to eliminate whipping.

An Interesting Fact:
Barbaro ran the last 1/4 mile of the Kentucky Derby with the fastest time over that 1/4 mile since Secretariet without ever feeling the whip of jockey Edgar Prado. Click here for more!

Prado never touched Barbaro with his whip, never asked him to do anything more than was necessary. His gentle handling of Barbaro had more to do with humane rather than competitive considerations, Prado says. “If he’s running real hard, why should he be punished?” he says. “I’m a horse lover more than anything else.”

I sincerely believe that the buggy whips used at the starting gate cause far more trouble than good. I have spent a good deal of my life studying equine behavior at the starting gate and I am absolutely convinced that the elimination of the whip would actually make life easier for the starting-gate crews.

People love animals, and we are supposed to be a civilized species. Is it not time for us to consider changing some of our retained barbaric ways? We have stopped lashing prisoners and whipping small children. Is it not time that we stopped whipping our horses, flight animals, who have no intention to hurt anyone? My goal is to leave the world a better place than I found it—for horses and people too. Racing could lead the horse industry in this truly important area of humane treatment.

To obtain your own copy of Monty’s textbook, please CLICK HERE.