The Executive of Harness Racing Australia (HRA) has reaffirmed its commitment to the removal of the use of whips in harness racing, but announced this week it would not implement such rules by the previously-stated September 1 date.
“The Executive is committed to the concept as unanimously endorsed at the HRA Annual Meeting last October,” Chairman Geoff Want said after a June 6 meeting in Sydney. “Despite some objections from participants, this is an important animal welfare issue and we will continue to consult with the broader industry on the implementation date and procedures and to determine how to address their concerns”.
Want said that from the work already undertaken, the original implementation date of September 1, 2017 was not achievable and alternatives will be examined in the weeks ahead.
"The HRA executive remains committed to achieving real progress this year. To that end, we will focus on implementing on September 1 an even more rigorous rule restricting the use of whips during harness races, to be accompanied by severe penalties for those unable to comply," Want told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"This is likely to mean that only an extremely limited wrist action will be allowed in racing," continued Want. "That would make the use of the whip in Australian harness racing among the most controlled in the world, and we will impose some of the heaviest penalties for misuse."
Trials had been conducted at tracks in May under draft rules with the use of the safety device 'Prototype 1', a device of approximately 160cm in total length including a long padded end. This prototype was tested for the first time at Carrick and feedback from drivers via conversation and the feedback form, in addition to steward comments and vision analysis, it was concluded that the Prototype 1 was unwieldy, too long and heavy. It was caught in the wind and drivers had trouble "turning the whip around in a timely manner."
In response to the feedback, a lighter and shorter device was used with a flap on the end was used. The drivers preferred the use of the lighter device as it provided greater control, safety and finesse.
In being allowed to use the device for safety purposes, the drivers did not report any safety issues that they were unable to mitigate with the use of the safety device. Drivers were also interviewed in respect to the ability of their horse to "find the line," with differing views received predicated on age and experience.
(with files from HRA)