THE RSPCA has expressed “extreme disappointment” at the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) decision to allow jockeys to continue to use the whip in racing for so-called “encouragement”. 

New rules, which have been unanimously approved by the BHA, keep the whip for ‘encouragement’ (an attempt to make the horse run faster) despite significant evidence showing that its use is likely to cause pain to horses.

Under the plans, jockeys can continue to use the whip ‘backhand’ for encouragement purposes – though not ‘forehand’ – denoting the style in which the whip is held.

Emma Slawinski, RSPCA director of policy, prevention and campaigns said: “This is an extreme disappointment and a real missed opportunity for horse welfare; and there will be complete disbelief from countless animal lovers by this news.

“The BHA has missed the chance to improve the welfare of horses in sport – and get rid of the whip for encouragement – something that is long overdue and being demanded by the public.

“By just tinkering with the rules, and allowing the whip to still be used for encouragement, the wellbeing of the horse is depressingly absent from these changes.

“It’s difficult not to conclude that these rule changes are about ‘optics’ not welfare. There’s no evidence that switching to ‘backhand only’ whip strikes will reduce pain for horses – it’s just an attempt to try to make the sport look better.” 

Horse welfare experts at the RSPCA highlighted research that indicates the use of the whip in races increases the risk of injury to horses and jockeys, as part of the BHA’s consultation into whip use.

The new rules, announced today, will disqualify horses from races where a jockey exceeds the number of whip strikes by four or more – and increase penalties for rule breaks; but the RSPCA says such small changes have “totally missed the mark”.

Emma added: “There seems to be a real confusion as to the purpose of these small rule changes. If the intention is to improve welfare for the horses, then they have totally missed the mark, as evidence for ending the use of the whip is clear.

“The science is clear, and several other countries including Norway and Sweden have moved away from the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’, and indeed some BHA races are already successfully run in this way in Britain.

“After such an important review, and given the mountain of evidence of the harm done to horses, it is astonishing that the BHA could conclude that it is acceptable to continue to allow the whip in racing for purposes of so-called encouragement. It amounts to a failure of leadership by the regulatory body.”

The BHA’s report also calls for further research concerning the use of the whip – but the RSPCA says clear scientific evidence has already been ignored.

Emma continued: “The RSPCA’s new Animal Kindness Index reminds us that a majority of the public in the UK are animal lovers – and we know they will share our disgust at this news; and the missed opportunity to prioritise the welfare of horses taking part in this sport.

“We urge the BHA to rethink these proposals; and better protect jockeys and horses by ending the use of the whip for encouragement once and for all.”