The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) has updated their position on the use of whips on horses at competitive events, placing it at odds with the current whip rules of Racing Australia (RA) and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), which recognise the use of the whip for encouragement.

Founded in 1921, the AVA is Australia’s peak professional association, representing 8,500 veterinarians and advocating for animal health and welfare.

The AVA’s new policy, which was ratified in December 2022, states that whips must not be used to influence the result of a competitive event, and calls on all racing codes to work towards a framework where whip use for encouragement is not condoned.

It replaces their previous position that only ‘excessive or incorrect’ use of the whip was problematic.

The AVA’s position now aligns with the latest scientific evidence that shows whipping horses does not make horses run faster, straighter nor safer. Advocates of whip use, such as Racing Australia and the British Horseracing Authority, claim it’s necessary for horse and rider safety. They argue it facilitates the steering necessary to reduce interference between horses on the course.

However, since 1999, a form of whipping-free racing has been conducted in Great Britain via the “hands and heels” racing series for apprentice jockeys. In this form of racing, jockeys are permitted to carry whips but can’t use them unless under exceptional circumstances, such as trying to avert a collision.

Similar rules were used at three racetracks in the United States, when the state of New Jersey ran all races in the 2021 calendar under ‘whip for safety only’ rules that allowed whips to be carried but prohibited their use other than to protect the safety of horses and jockeys (e.g. in cases of lugging or interference with other horses). There were no safety incidents directly attributed to the whipping restrictions during three months of racing over turf and dirt. There were no whip rule breaches either.

In Australia, Racing Victoria (RV) has been the only jurisdiction willing to work towards a phase out of whipping for encouragement. They proposed a series of ‘whip for safety only’ race trials be run in 2021, but both the proposal and any debate on whip reforms at a national level were blocked and remain bogged down in an ongoing stalemate with Racing New South Wales.

The AVA are siding with science and have made the following recommendations:

  1. Currently, racing codes mandate their definition of correct whip use and associated penalties for misuse, based on the activities of the horse and likely proximity to other horses and people. Racing codes must work towards a framework where whip use for encouragement is not condoned (International Society for Equitation Science. 2018).
  2. All other equestrian authorities must define excessive or incorrect whip use and the specifications of an approved whip for their discipline, and any misuse, according to these rules, must be vigorously policed with severe penalties.
  3. Equitation science is encouraged to continue to undertake research around this issue, including investigating the need for whip use in specific situations, as well as how the whips should be used in those contexts. Better definitions could then be made that would benefit the rider and horse.
  4. Other factors in each equestrian code that could be modified to improve rider and horse welfare and safety should also continue to be investigated. A broader understanding of the numerous factors that can affect horse behaviour can lead to further improvements that may reduce the perceived need for whip carriage.
  5. Racing and equestrian industries should undertake education of their participants into effective training methods that minimise the use of training aids that intentionally cause discomfort, pain or fear to promote behavioural change.

References list

  1. Thompson K, McMannus P, Stansall D, et al. Is Whip Use Important to Thoroughbred Racing Integrity? What Stewards’ Reports Reveal about Fairness to Punters, Jockeys and Horses. Animals 2020;10(11):1985
  2. Pinchbeck, G.L., Clegg, P.D., Proudman, C.J., Morgan, K.L., French, N.R. Whip use and race progress are associated with horse falls in hurdle and steeplechase racing in the UK. Equine Vet J. 2004 Jul;36(5):384-9. doi: 10.2746/0425164044868387. PMID: 15253077.
  3. Parkin, T.D., Clegg, P.D., French, N.P., Proudman, C.J., Riggs, C.M., Singer, E.R., Webbon, P.M., Morgan, K.L. 2006. Analysis of horse race videos to identify intra-race risk factors for fatal distal limb fracture. Prev Vet Med. 74(1):44-55. doi: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2006.01.006. Epub 2006 Mar 2. PMID: 16513194.

Other literature accessed to inform the AVA policy

  1. Jones B, McGreevy P.D.. Ethical equitation: applying a cost-benefit approach. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 2010; 5:196-202.
  2. McGreevy PD, Corken RA, Salvin H, Black C. Whip use by jockeys in a sample of Australian Thoroughbred races – an observational study. PLoS One. 2012;7 (3): e33398.
  3. McGreevy P, Hawson LA, Salvin H, McLean AN, 2013. A note on the force of whip impacts delivered by jockeys using forehand and backhand strikes. Journal of veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 2013; 8(5):395-399.
  4. McGreevy PD, Oddie Holding the whip hand—a note on the distribution of jockeys’ whip hand preferences in Australian Thoroughbred racing. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research  2011; 6 (5): 287–289.
  5. International Society for Equitation Science. Position statement on aversive stimuli in horse training. 2018
  6. Knight PK, Hamilton N. Handedness of whip use by Australian Jockeys. Australian Veterinary Journal 2014; 92:231-234.
  7. Evans D, McGreevy P. An investigation of racing performance and whip use by jockeys in thoroughbred races. PLoS One 2011;6: e15622
  8. Deuel NR, Lawrence LM. Effects of urging by the rider on gallop stride characteristics of Quarterhorses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science1988;8(3):240 – 243.
  9. Noble G, Dodd J, Nielsen S, et al. Determining forces generated using a padded whip and impacts on the horse. RIRDC Publication No 14/075, September 2014.
  10. Australian Jockeys Association Statement on the Whip. 2019
  11. Williams J, Greening L, Marlin D, Randle H. Understanding whip use in riders in sports horse disciplines. In Proceedings of the 15th International Equitation Science Conference, Guelph, Canada. 19th– 24th August  Pp43.
  12. Thompson K, McMannus P, Stansall D, et al.  Is Whip Use Important to Thoroughbred Racing Integrity? What Stewards’ Reports Reveal about Fairness to Punters, Jockeys and Horses. Animals 2020;10(11):1985
  13. Tong L, Stewart M, Johnson I et al. A Comparative Neuro-Histological Assessment of Gluteal Skin Thickness and Cutaneous Nociceptor Distribution in Horses and Humans. Animals.2020: 10(11): 2094;

Other relevant AVA policies and position statements