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Are the new whip rules ruining horse racing?

horse racing announces new whip rules, start racehorses at 2

Last year, after a lot of workshops and time, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) decided to make some changes to the whip rules in horse racing. The announcement has created a lot of heated discussion and with the rules finally coming into place, there have been a lot of comments about how this is ruining horse racing. But is this really the case?

What are the new whip rules?

Initially, the BHA announced a few major changes. These included reducing the number of times the whip can be used in each race and banning the use of the whip in the backhand position. But after a lot of feedback from jockeys, the BHA decided not to ban the use of the whip in the backhand position.

The main and only real change to the rules is that the maximum number of times you can use the whip in each race has decreased by 1, not exactly a big change! This means jockeys can use the whip 6 times in a flat race and 7 times in a jump race.

Otherwise, the BHA have increased the penalties of existing rules around the use of the whip. Raising the whip above shoulder height, not giving the horse time to respond to the whip or hitting the horse in the wrong place all have higher punishments than before.

20 jockeys banned in week 1

There was a bit of concern about these new whip rules coming in amoung racing fans with some people calling it “racings ruin” and it appears these concerns were warranted. 20 jockeys have received bans in the first week of these rules being implemented.

However, when you start looking at why these 20 jockeys recieved bans, only 9 of them impacted by the new maximum number of times they can use the whip decreasing by 1. These 9 riders wouldn’t have broken any rules under the previous system.

Of the remaining riders, 7 used the whip more than the previous maximum, 6 didn’t give their horse time to respond and 3 used the whip above shoulder height. Some jockeys broke multiple rules. All of these are old rules, they are just being more strictly penalised for breaking these rules now.

It’s also worth stating that of the 20 riders who received bans, only 5 of them were full time, professional jockeys. The majority were conditional (apprentice) jockeys and there were also a few amateurs. So it could be argued that a lack of experience is partly due to the high number of breaches to the new whip rules.

Do jockeys have an excuse for breaking these rules?

I have seen a lot of noise on social media about how it’s not the jockeys fault, how it the BHA’s fault for implementing new rules. I don’t agree. I think the changes to the rules are miniscule. The majority of the rules have always been there, jockeys just weren’t really getting punished for breaking them.

These rules have also been a hot topic being heavily debated for months. Everyone knew they were coming. There is no excuse for not working to adapt your riding knowing these rules were coming in. I think we can all accept that accidents and mistakes happen. In the heat of the race you might lose count of how many times you’ve used the whip or might raise it slightly too high. But that is still a rule break.

So are these new whip rules ruining the sport?

I really struggle to understand the argument from people saying the changes are going to ruin horse racing. Yes it might result in horses getting disqualified from top races and jockeys missing big festivals. But in sport you play within the rules and expect to get punished when you break them. These changes should encourage the best horses to be winning races, not the one who receives the most smacks in the final straight.

I also think it’s really important to remember that animal welfare is becoming a bigger consideration to the general public. This is a great thing. But it does mean that all sports involving horses get looked at more closely. While those who work and live with horses will understand that the whip has it’s place, it’s use can look brutal to the public. We need their support to keep going. Having rules is one thing, but when they aren’t followed it makes the industry look like they don’t care about the welfare of the horses. Especially when winners of the most watched races break the rules are receive no real punishment.

Last Updated on 24/02/2023

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