The long awaited BHA review into the use of the whip in UK horse racing was finally published in July, 15 months later than planned. It was the first major whip review in over 11 years since the 2011 that brought in the original guidance and penalties for horses and riders. Despite calls for the BHA to dump the whip entirely, as is the case in Scandinavia, they opted to keep the whip as a form of encouraging the horse but with greater punishments for riders who overuse it.
Rules around how much you can use the whip have not changed, these remain at 7 times for a flat race and 8 times for a jumps race. What has changed is how you can use the whip and what happens if you overuse it.
Prior to the new rules if a rider used a whip four times more than allowed they would face a fine and a suspension from between 2-9 days, depending on the race. Now riders that overuse the whip will face longer suspensions of 7-28 days, depending on the grade of the race, and horses that are now overwhipped can be disqualified.
Had the new BHA rules been published earlier as expected it would have meant that the 2022 Grand National winner Noble Yeats would have been disqualified. Amateur jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen, received a 9 days suspension and a £400 fine. Now he would have received a 28 day suspension and the horse would have been disqualified and chalked from history.
What Are The New Rules On Whip Use?
Despite the new rules in 2011 that limited whip usage the application of those rules was not seen as robust. It was also clear that jockeys would occasionally overuse the whip to try to win knowing that the worst they could face was a small fine and a short ban.
This was exactly the case in the 2022 Grand National where Sam Waley-Cohen overused the whip but ultimately faced no real sanction given he was retiring after the race anyway. Had Noble Yeats have been disqualified for overuse of the whip it probably would have stopped it from happening or at least would have sent a serious message had the horse been stripped of the title.
The new rules although late have been welcomed. The first aspect is jockeys will now only be allow to use a ProCush whip in the backhand position in a way to encourage horses without hurting them. Critically horses can now be disqualified if a jockey uses the whip four more times than allowed, that would be 11 times in flat racing and 12 in jumps racing. This should act as the biggest deterrent to whip overuse.
What Are The New Punishments For Jockeys?
Riders will now face a minimum suspension of 3 days, up from 2, with increased fines for amateurs too. All class 1, class 2 and major races will carry twice the level of ban to discourage jockeys using the whip too much just to win big races.
Jockeys will now face a standard ban of 14 days following a disqualification, increased from 7 days, or 28 days for a major race (increased from 9 days).
It is not just overuse of the whip jockeys can face disqualification, fines and suspensions for. If they use the whip in a forehand position, especially regularly, they will also face punishment. The use of the whip in the backhand position only is designed to ensure excessive force is not used. Not that jockeys intend to hurt the horse but obviously in the adrenaline rush to the line in a big race there is a tendency to use more force, which should be mitigated by only using the whip in a backhand position.
Will The Whip Continue To Be Used Forever?
The report also highlights there needs to be more focus placed on improving standards of use through education and this will be monitored by a new whip panel of stewards who will assess offences. This isn’t the end of the story wither as regular research and consultations will be maintained on use of the whip in the future.
Ultimately the end goal for many campaigners and groups like World Horse Welfare is for the whip to be phased out entirely. This has been done in other countries and does not significantly detract from the racing or the speed of the horses. Roy Owers, CEO of World Horse Welfare said:
“We simply do not believe its use is justified, especially in light of what we now know about what makes a good horse-human partnership”
Others feel the whip needs to be maintained for safety reasons. The logic being the whip can be used to focus a horse and that can prevent collisions and falls.
Whatever side of the fence you come down on most people agree at present the overuse of the whip is too common with punishments not a sufficient deterrent. All sides welcome the new rules on the basis it should decrease the worst offences but what the future holds for the whip is currently unknown.