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Whipping Horses Doesn’t Work

New study shows racehorses don’t go faster when whipped

It’s official: Using a whip on a racehorse isn’t just cruel; it’s useless.

Two scientists have completed a study in which they used video recordings of horse races to compare the number of whip strikes to the outcome of the race.

Five thoroughbred races were recorded. Expert stewards who serve as officials at the races then counted whip strikes on 48 animals during the last 656 yards. Electronic sensors in the horses’ saddle blankets recorded the animals’ times and their places at the finish line.

The result: “Whipping does not increase the chances of the horse finishing first, second or third,” said Paul McGreevy, a veterinary ethologist at the University of Sydney and co-author of a new paper. “Ninety-eight percent of the horses were whipped in this study without, on the whole, influencing race outcome.”

The researchers found that jockeys began whipping their horses in the second-to-last leg of the race, and that they whipped the animals most during the final leg, when the horses were already tired and slowing down. By the time the whipping started, McGreevy said, whether or not the horse would finish among the first three was usually already settled.

“The highest speeds in these horses were achieved when they weren’t being whipped.”

McGreecy isn’t just a veterinarian; he’s an avid horseman and animal advocate. “Whipping horses is very difficult to justify under an ethical framework, especially when this is all being done in the name of sport,” he said in an interview.

Some people in the business of horse racing have complained about the fact that the study was funded by the largest Australian animal protection group, the RSPCA. But McGreevy brushes this aside. “The RSPCA want more information about whip use, and they’re entitled to pay for it,” he said. “The funders had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.”