Harness Racing Turns its Attention to Whips

Safety regulations have been at the forefront of discussions and regulation changes in the thoroughbred horse racing industry. Commissions have banned steroids, improved on rules and enhanced standard regulations to ensure the welfare and safety of the horses and jockeys. Now the harness racing world is turning their attention to various safety issues, to avoid injuries, prevent accidents and enforce rules that will bring positive change to the harness racing industry. They are focusing their attention on issues such as safety reins, injury reporting, therapy regulations, safety gear and the use of whips.

In Kentucky, the regulators of horse racing in the state are getting ready to address the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on the 22nd of September, to have the new rules in regard to whips and the use of them approved. It was found that some whips, especially those that have strips of material at the ends known as snappers, cause welts on the horses and this is a violation of the rights of horses and their welfare. Racing officials have therefore taken action, to curb the use of the whip and formulate new rules to protect harness racing athletes against the excessive use of whips.

From now on drivers are forbidden to use one hand to whip a horse. Drivers will be required to keep both hands out in front of them at all times while racing. As the state equine veterinarian Dr. Mary Scollay explained, it was not how the horses were being whipped that led to injuries and unnecessary pain, but the amount of force being exerted while whipping. Therefore, limiting the force amount will automatically alleviate the amount of pain suffered by the horse. Whips are supposed to be used to help direct the horse and as gentle encouragement, not as punishment for not being able to run as fast as other horses.

New whips have also been designed that have been given extra padding, the weight of the whip has been decreased, its length shortened dramatically and a longer popper has been given to the new design. Drivers will begin to use these improved whips and give their feedback to the officials. Spectator and public opinion surveys will also be done to hear the outside opinion on this issue. Once the updated rules and regulations have been approved, drivers will face fines of approximately US$13 000 and lengthy suspensions if found violating the regulations and drivers caught with snapper whips can be fined up to US$20 000 or face a year sentence. Harness racing is taking a no nonsense approach to the safety of its athletes, and is a move that is welcomed by all involved in the industry.

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