There has been a lot of talk in harness racing regarding the use of the whip. Many racing jurisdictions have tightened their rules; others have increased their fines; others have done nothing. Some voices in the industry have called for the outlawing of the whip; some called for the changing of the rules; others call for no new changes, just enforce the existing rules.
Well, this blogger calls for the outright banning of the whip. If we want to let drivers carry the whip in the event of an emergency that is fine, but the regular use of the whip needs to stop.
Attitudes towards animals in the United States have evolved over the years. In the past, animals were considered commodities that did not think and deserved little rights when it came to treatment. Nowadays, animals are considered to have the ability to think (not necessarily to the level of humans) and have feelings. Most believe animals are deserving of humane treatment and there is a growing animal rights movement. To survive, racing needs to recognize this changing attitude and adapt.
Will outlawing whipping bring many new people to the track? Let's not kid ourselves. Those who have already found horse racing distasteful will not be flocking to the track with the banning of the whip. However, those who have not yet formed an opinion who do come to the track will not not be turned off by the sight of whipping (don't think telling them the whip is only hitting the sulky shaft or saddle pad will change their opinion) so we will not be shooting ourselves in the foot. More importantly, we will show the general public we are concerned with the horses' welfare (yes, we have an issue with unwanted horses which needs to be addressed as well) which will help combat the anti-horse racing groups. Don't think those groups matter? Well, that is the same attitude the greyhound industry once had; look where they are now.
Will we loose gamblers by adopting this position? Initially, there may be some people who will turn away from the sport. However, once they see racing still is competitive and exciting, most of them will return. Considering many other forms of gambling have a better ROI, there is a reason why these gamblers are playing the horses; it is because they love the game as much as the gambling aspect.
Some people will argue whips are necessary; we have been using them for years. Just because we have been doing something for years is not an excuse to keep doing the same thing. People in the sport were complaining about the use of 'Indiana Pants' (pacing hobbles), trotting hobbles, and other innovations in the sport yet racing survived and flourished. People are afraid of change; the challenge is to overcome this fear. Norway does not allow the use of whips in harness racing, yet racing still goes strong over there.
The bottom line is whipping goes against current societal views and we need to adapt to the new reality. Ban the whip and educate the public as well as the drivers/trainers. Let's have some drivers and trainers from Norway come over and tour the country talking to the horsemen on how they manage to get the most out of their horses without whips. Once harness racing gets rid of the whips, we will be better for it.
What do you think?