Australia To Ban Whips

Published: December 10, 2016 01:28 pm EST

In a move sure to spark much discussion, Australia's harness racing industry has announced that the country will ban the use of existing whips in 2017.

The announcement, available below, was made Saturday (Dec. 10) by Harness Racing Australia.

Australian harness racing is banning the use of whips in training and racing from September 1, 2017 in a world-leading animal welfare initiative that improves the industry’s image and enhances its sustainability.

The decision sets the pace in animal welfare and for the long-term support and sustainability of the industry. It aligns with high expectations of the community, fans, and industry participants in harness racing.

The announcement which followed the jewel event on the Australasian harness racing calendar yesterday -- the Inter Dominion in Perth -- makes Australia the first country in the world to voluntarily ban the whip.

The whip ban broadens Harness Racing Australia’s (HRA) world leadership position in the industry, which is already established through a wide-ranging welfare agenda, including zero-tolerance to prohibited substances in racing.

The Chairman of HRA, Mr. Geoff Want, said today: “The whip ban decision was not taken lightly, but was made on our own initiative because we believe it is the right decision at the right time.

"We have been moving down this path for six years by limiting its use with a strong focus on health and welfare of horses," Want continued. "We see the ban as a vital way of demonstrating our responsibility as an industry, and to earning and maintaining the social acceptance and sustainability of harness racing”.

HRA Executive meeting yesterday unanimously agreed to the implementation details of the ban, following the proactive initiative of members at the Annual General Meeting of Harness Racing Australia last October.

The Executive also gave detailed consideration to the likely effect of the ban on harness racing audiences and the punting public.

“We are strongly of the belief that the improved image of our sport will add to the appeal of our racing product and be broadly welcomed by fans,” said Want. “We are confident that wagering turnover will not be impacted and indeed a number of professional punters have indicated support for the ban”.

The implementation of the ban from September 1, 2017, will allow for a program of awareness, education, and research and monitoring to be undertaken across the industry.

The program will embrace the education of drivers and horses. It will also include a major research task to ensure safety is maintained when drivers do not have a whip to control unexpected horse movements.

Want said many drivers were concerned that control over a horse would be curtailed without a whip, especially when horses shy (leap sideways) or back up. He said HRA Executive accepted the challenges the ban presented for ensuring safety was maintained for drivers, people, horses, trainers, stablehands, and people nearby.

“Between now and the implementation of the whip ban, we will consult widely in the industry, especially with drivers and trainers, and with animal welfare advocates, such as the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals),” Want said.

“Whatever tool evolves from this process it will only be allowed to avoid or guide a horse out of a dangerous situation to itself, other horses, drivers or anyone nearby.

“It will definitely be banned from use to urge a horse to better perform, and strict penalties will apply for any breaches of its use.

“Undoubtedly, some people may resist change, or feel the decision limits competitiveness in harness racing. We are confident they will be proved wrong and will eventually see the merit of banning the whip,” he said.

"We know some drivers are concerned about safety issues, but we feel the process of developing a tool to maintain safety will allay concerns.

“There is ample evidence the whip is not needed in our industry and that its use to enhance racing performance is questionable,” he said. “If no driver uses a whip then no driver has a perceived advantage -- each race will be conducted on a level playing field, have a fair winner and horse welfare will be enhanced”.

Want said animal welfare would continue to be addressed during the transition to banning the whip, and the industry would seek input from the RSPCA going forward.

CEO of the RSPCA Australia, Ms. Heather Neil, commended the HRA’s leadership, and said: “This is a powerful sign that the harness racing industry is both listening to its stakeholders, and acknowledging the concerns of the wider community.

“As Harness Racing Australia has recognized, racing should celebrate quality horsemanship, breeding and training -- whips shouldn’t come into it.”

Want said: “Our members have a considerate and ethical equine welfare agenda and rules, and we do a great deal to enforce rigorous animal welfare protocols. The whip ban is part of continued improvements.

“For example, we have just appointed our inaugural Equine Health & Welfare Coordinator to benchmark states, review policy, manage disease and quarantine, and clear international horse movements”.

Australia’s leading driver –- and 11-times winner of the national drivers’ championship –- Chris Alford said he supported the ban.

“Drivers are very sensitive to their horses and appreciate and support moves to ensure high standards of animal welfare that are aligned with community expectations,” he said.

“We also know that a shying horse is a danger to itself, drivers, people and other horses nearby. I fully support the decision to ban the whip, plus maintain safety for all involved.”

(with files from Harness Racing Australia)



I thought banning full arm whipping would be bad for racing. I was wrong. I had a top WEG driver on my horse in Georgian. He was told NOT to hit the mare with the whip. She was 2nd at the 1/4, pulled to take front and the driver hit her, she instantly dropped to 4th. Put the whip away, she made front and set a new lifetime mark. Whips are not needed in the race to make a good race. However, there is a place for them to ensure the horse behaves (balking, rearing up, etc.) prior to racing, that would need to be addressed. I took new patrons to KD and watched races from the paddock area, they were horrified with the slashing from that close to the track at the head of the stretch.

It's about balancing/satisfying the needs of all concerned parties. The majority of the time you may not need a whip. But there are definitely times when you need it to guide a horse. Consider a green maiden on the front that its chronically starting and stopping causing confusion. A better idea would be to develop a whip that cannot hurt a horse. That should satisfy all parties - bettors, owners, trainers, drivers and animal rights activists. And most importantly, as noted, would be consistent enforcement of the rules. Finally, how about banning the blood curdling screaming and shouting sometimes evident. It used to be a violation (never enforced) until the line in each hand rule was implemented. Stand outside and listen to that and then talk to me about optics and the new generation. No wonder horses have ulcers.

I don't see much difference in current rules and the old rules of whipping except that a driver as his hands in the handholds and the perception is still awful. Drivers can still cause a lot of damage the way the rules are today. Only time a whip is warranted is when baby's are being broken and at that they are only little taps to get their attention and focus. The industry won't miss the whips, those lines being shaken and used like a whip can keep a horse honest.

Whips are needed for SAFETY reasons during the race. There is no advantage to anyone as suggested as all carry whips. What is not needed is the abuse of the whip and what is needed is more strict enforcement of the rule and more severe penalties for repeat offenders. Just because one jurisdiction has a no whip rule does not means all should. The bettors would be complaining about lack of effort even more. It may be better optics for animal rights people but they will not be attending racing if the whip is removed.

Chris Stranaghan-- you say it's not okay for a driver to whip a horse if he is not advancing but by your very statement you are suggesting it is okay for them to whip the horse if they are advancing. In this day and age excessive use of the whip is unacceptable under any circumstance. Whether people in this industry like it, or don't like it, times are changing and this industry in all aspects is so slow to accept change they have become their own worst enemies.

The industry better ban whipping or PETA and others may well be the impetus that bans racing completely. They were successful in stopping the TV series 'LUCK' directed and acted in by Dustin Hoffman, from being filmed using racehorses!

If Australia got it wrong, then please explain Mr Henriksen's post. It has been done before elsewhere, and to answer your question.....

If a driver needs to get out, he needs to figure it out, just like every other driver in the race does. There is no advantage here as all are in the same position. A better answer to your question, is how do they do it in Norway where this has been in place for years? Rather than knock it, and say it won't work, why not look at how it has been done in places that already have it?

Stupid Move --- The Horse Racing Industry is trying so hard to please the spectators and animal rights activists(that don't even go to the races) that their forgetting about the safety of the drivers and horses themselves

If a Driver is being an idiot and whipping the hide off a horse that isent advancing and backing thru the field,,,, by all means fine and suspend him... And make it a suspension he wont forget


What if a driver needs a whip to get out and around someone or is in danger or a horse is putting in steps and you need to drive him thru it... Their are many instances where a driver needs a whip and its useful..


Hopefully the stupidity stays in Australia

Australia is not the first country not to use whips in races. It was banned in Norway 1978 and is still in effect. It works fine horses go as fast and you have no more aksidents because of it, it's only what you are used to. And be prepared one of this days the animal rights people will demand it, just like they' stopped dog racing in some states in U.S. And it looks better to the average man or women on the street, and that's the folks we are trying to get back to the track. It's not that long ago the lines in both hands was implemented and drivers screamed bloody murder. IT won't work. Well it works fine.

Per Henriksen

“There is ample evidence the whip is not needed in our industry and that its use to enhance racing performance is questionable,” he said. “

You ever see a jockey/driver use a whip to SLOW DOWN a horse in the stretch?