There appears to be growing a movement which seeks to limit, if not, eliminate the use of the whip in horse racing as evidence comes to the fore to suggest that this historical practice may be unnecessary after all.
There are arguments that flogging of race horses contributes to the animal being overridden, overworked, abused, anxious, tormented, and terrified.
The whip as a tool of persuasion and control is believed to aid in keeping the horse and rider safe, even as broader discussions are being touted regarding its use in equine sport.
The regulatory agency of horse racing, the Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC), is very close to adding a new rule of racing that will limit the number of times a jockey can whip a horse in any one race.
Ruja Lahoe was the first jockey to be caught on the wrong side of the JRC while the whip regulation is being reviewed. The JRC fined Lahoe $8,000 on Saturday, December 23, 2023 for the excessive use of the whip on Inspired Miracle in the day’s fifth race.
Inspired Miracle finished second by a length and a half behind winner Fault Line over one mile (1,600m) in the $860,000 East Queen Street OTB Trophy, a three-year-old and upward Claiming ($750,000-$600,000) event.
According to Steward Antoine Nembhard, the commission is proactive in taking all necessary measures to preserve the animals and their well-being.
“The stewards have recommended to the board that no more than six strikes in the final two furlongs of the race be allowed. No more than six overhand striking. The amount of strikes that the animal received was way more than acceptable in the final two rounds as we counted approximately 21 strikes. In the final two furlongs of the race, it was way too much,” Nembhard explained.
Nembhard stated that the fundamental purpose of the regulation amendment is to modify the culture and habit of cracking the whip. He also stressed that the whip should only be used to encourage rather than punish or damage the animal.
“We’re waiting for the commission to give its approval. This is a step that most jurisdictions across the world have implemented. But locally, for our purposes, the main reason is to bring about some amount of change in the culture and the habit of the use of the whip,” Nembhard told the Jamaica Observer.
“For everybody to understand that the whip should be used in any way that seems like a punishment to the animal or harms the animal in any way, the whip should be used for encouragement only.
“Over the years, the culture in this country has evolved to the point where we’ve seen some extreme use of the whip and some extreme views of the whip being used. And it’s not very common. We get a lot of complaints from the public about it,” he further stated.
Lahoe expressed his displeasure at being punished for his behaviour as a rider who should have known better.
“I feel a way about the situation. The whip is for encouragement, but I am very disappointed with the situation. For a rider with overseas experience and knowing that the whip shouldn’t be used as much as I did, I am disappointed.
“It is a change, and we must at all times protect ourselves and the animals as well. While I am disappointed with the situation, I accept the fine for my action,” Lahoe told the Observer.
Lahoe must be thanking his fortunate stars, because Nembhard indicated that when the law goes into effect, there could be fines and suspensions for violators.
“When the rule comes out, there will be a combination of both fines and suspensions. For a lot of them [riders], when they go to North America, they see the standards there. Sometimes they’re taken aback because they’re coming from what they’re accustomed to: the constant use of the whip.
“Two or three strikes are allowed, but everybody conforms. So there is the ability to conform to other rules. And that is what we hope to bring about in Jamaica: a change in the mobile zone, a change in our culture. And we want a thought process at all times for the safety and protection of the animals,” Nembhard pointed out.
While the whip is vital in winning and losing races, Phillip Parchment, president of the Jockeys’ Guild, believes it is more necessary to encourage his teammates to be more creative in the saddle rather than relying on striking the horses.
“The excessive use of the whip is something that everybody has talked about. The six-strike rule has not come in yet, but they [JRC] have to do something to let the jockeys know that they have to adapt from now on.
“As a rider who has been caught in it as well, the change in rule is very good. It will do wonders for some of these riders to learn to more hand-ride the horses, as these jockeys we have here are depending on the whip too much and don’t know how to take and balance the horses during the race,” Parchment said.
According to Howard Hamilton, president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) of Jamaica, excessive whip use is indeed abusing the horses and jockeys to learn the proper method to use the whip.
“It is important that the JRC stop and put in some proper regulations so that the jockeys can know what the use of the whip is. The use of the whip is to spur the horses and not to damage them. They are using the whip excessively which is not right so I am hoping that jockeys will learn the correct use of the whip and move on from there,” Hamilton said.