Whipping under Scrutiny

On Tuesday, 14 June 2011, Royal Ascot week kicked off in full swing. Even though the festive atmosphere and thrilling live horse racing action has captured spectators’ undivided attention, there is a cloud looming in the form of surveys and debates on the excessive use of whipping being under scrutiny yet again. It has been a controversial issue in the sport for years, and even though the British Horseracing Authority has gone the extra mile in regard to this point of contention, it seems they will have to do more.

There was a massive outcry at the Grand National over an incident that saw the overuse of a whip yet again. Even though Ballabriggs won his race, he was so exhausted from his event that he needed to be put on oxygen. His jockey, Jason Maguire, had a ban imposed on him, but the entire scene horrified many spectators. And while Royal Ascot tries to ignore the memory of the Grand National, its three hundredth year celebration is not able to sway the focus of the public or the British Horseracing Authority in calling for more action to be taken in regard to whipping.

Together with the RSPCA, the British Horseracing Authority designed a soft whip that would not leave any marks on the horses. Even though the pain of being whipped has generally been overcome, a survey showed that most spectators are discouraged to support horse racing and horse racing events as the sight of horses being whipped is too devastating for them to watch. Jamie Stier, who is the director of regulations and raceday operations of the British Horseracing Authority, said that the support of the public is essential to the survival of horse racing, and that a survey showed that almost all women used in the survey did not want to attend events due to whipping. Not only was the sight of whipping disturbing to them, but they shared the same concerns as the World Horse Welfare, and that is the fact that tired horses are being pushed way beyond their capabilities. Kevin Ackerman, general manager of Towcester Racecourse, located in Northamptonshire, said that even though they had the potential of attracting approximately five hundred thousand spectators, they only average approximate seven thousand, and they therefore conducted the survey revealing that most view whipping as cruel and will therefore not support the sport.

Stier said that the integrity of horse racing was at stake, and if public opinion of the sport is negative in any way, the sport will be negatively impacted. He also said that they would have to look at stronger punishment for jockeys misusing their whips, as many are not discouraged to make excessive use of it. Some racecourses in Scandinavia have banned whips and Towcester is looking at following suit. The BHA is also not ruling this possibility out, as well as taking away jockey’s prize money for overuse of the whip. Either way, it is being looked into, and the BHA is prepared to do what it takes to save the sport and its image.

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