Friday, September 11, 2009

Whipping Up A Frenzy

I’m sure it must seem strange to many people that under the recently introduced rules it is OK for a jockey to whip a horse a certain number of times in a certain number of strides in the space of the last 200 metres of a race, but a different number of times in the earlier part of the race. It certainly seems strange to me, although I will happily confess to being no expert on horseracing. Equally, it seems strange that while a padded whip must be used in a race, a more severe variation is permitted in training work. But it seems to me that even the horseracing experts are confused.

Jockeys, trainers, and many owners all seem to think that the new rules are nonsensical. The Australian Racing Board, along with animal welfare experts, believe that the rules are both workable and reasonable, and will ensure that horses are not mistreated. The dispute has led to jockeys taking industrial action, walking off the job yesterday, and considering doing the same again next week. They claim that not only are the rules nonsensical, they are unsafe. The jockeys believe that concentrating on counting the exact number of strokes of the whip is a distraction which could be dangerous in a hotly contested race. I would also imagine that in the heat of the moment it would be a simple matter to lose count.

What the jockeys have asked for is a small change to the rules to allow the jockey to use his own judgment over the last 200 metres and use the whip as often as they feel necessary. While some might feel that this would give a jockey licence to be cruel, surely it makes sense to think that a jockey isn’t going to win a race by inflicting harm to the animal. The truth is that most jockeys love horses, otherwise they wouldn’t be working with them in the first place. The truth is that jockeys are the ones putting their bodies on the line at about 80 kilomtres per hour amidst a pack of thundering hooves. You would think that they know what they are talking about and that their opinion should count for something.

I may be uninformed, but it seems to me that either whipping is OK, or it is not OK. How can it be OK some of the time, in some circumstances and not at other times in other circumstances? To restrict the number of times a horse may be struck on the grounds of prevention of cruelty would seem to imply that striking a horse any number of times at all should be considered cruel, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who do. But to introduce a regulation that says “this much and no more” is surely no different from saying that it is OK to smack somebody in the face three times but not four times.

If whipping horses is cruel, then it should be stopped altogether. Otherwise, common sense should allow the jockeys at least some discretion to exercise their own judgement, to protect both their own safety, and the wellbeing of their horses.

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