Breaking News: Whipping Hurts; Whipping Racehorses Is Animal Cruelty

“Last year more than 100,000 people attended the Melbourne Cup, with more than 3 million watching the race on TV in Australia alone. This would have to make whipping in horse-racing the most public form of violence to animals in Australia today, but most people don’t seem to notice it. …most appear blithely unaware that they are actually watching horses being whipped … and hard.” (Dr. Paul McGreevy)

As advocates, it can be easy to get lost in any number of Horseracing’s sordid aspects: 2-year-olds, drugging/doping, corrupt “connections,” negligent vets, claiming races, etc. But for me, focus should be trained on two above all:

First and foremost, Horseracing kills horses – lots of them, every day.

Second, the horserace itself exists, can only exist, through brute force – the primary instrument of which is a whip. A whip. On this, Racing’s age-old lie (painless “guide”) has conditioned otherwise decent people to ignore their very senses, eschew a common sense. Well, this is intolerable. So at the risk of insulting the intelligence of many of you, let me state (shout) what should be the clear, the plain, the obvious: Whipping a domesticated (enslaved) animal – any domesticated animal, for whatever concocted reason – is cruelty defined. Absolutely, unequivocally, beyond all doubt.

Sadly, though, some still ask for “scientific proof.” Enter Paul McGreevy – veterinarian, ethologist, professor of animal behavior/animal welfare science at the University of Sydney. Follows are some highlights from a McGreevy-penned article that originally appeared in The Conversation.

download (13)

Pain and distress may be difficult to evaluate in animals. Unless there is evidence to the contrary, it must be assumed that procedures and conditions that would cause pain and distress in humans cause pain and distress in animals. Given there is no evidence to show that whipping horses doesn’t hurt, I decided to find out whether having my leg struck with a racing whip, as hard as jockeys whip horses, would cause me pain and distress.

Well, the answer is a resounding “yes”, and the thermographic images I took clearly show heat at the site of impact. In the image below you can see white areas of inflammation in my upper leg 30 minutes after it was struck – only once. And a warning: this material is disturbing.

My view is that – because there is no evidence to the contrary – we must assume that, just as I felt pain and distress from the impact of the padded whip, similar whipping in a horse would also cause pain and distress.

Representatives from the racing industry will doubtless say horses have thick skin and are therefore immune to pain from whip impacts but there is actually no evidence of such pain resistance in horses. Indeed, horses can feel a fly on their skin such that it triggers a characteristic shake called the “panniculus reflex”.

As sports journalist Patrick Smith recently wrote: “If whips didn’t cause pain there would be no use to them.”


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  1. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Whipping a horse is cruelty as defined in every single state’s anti-cruelty laws. It’s obvious. It’s common sense. It’s incontestable. But despite clear statutory language, the whipping of racehorses has never been challenged in court, and racing regulators only infrequently address the issue of “excessive whipping”. Even the most egregious examples such as when a horse leading my several lengths is repeatedly beaten as it approaches the finish line are casually ignored by racing officials.

    Kudos to Dr. McGreevy for taking on the utter nonsense and contributory negligence conveyed by his peers in the veterinary community. Horseracing is unjustifiable cruelty in so many ways, but whipping a horse to perform ought to be clear and obvious abuse to anyone viewing a race without exception.

  2. DITTO to above comments.
    Thanks again Patrick for your very accurate comment supported by an outstanding vet, Dr. McGreevy, and his supporting thermal image evidence.
    There are 2 givens here: 1. Whipping a domesticated animal, as defined by law, is animal cruelty. Period. If any one witnessed a dog getting whipped in the dog park they would be reported, and fined for animal cruelty. Period. The tool of the trade, the whip, is not unlike the bull hook that is used on enslaved performing elephants. Any resistance to perform, be it an elephant or horse, is met with the sting of a cruelty tool such as bull hook or whip.
    PETA got the bull hook banned. I’m confident that they could get the whip banned in California for starters with the rest of the states to follow. Of course, the horse capital of the world, Kentucky would probably be the last to ban it, but they “care” so much about horses!
    If that isn’t a crock of bull (pardon the pun) I don’t know what is because Kentucky will bend over backwards to support this industry, and if that means beating horses then beat they will. To this day, Kentucky doesn’t have any law protecting the racehorse from excessive whipping.
    For example, the unimaginable cruelty, and beating of American Pharoah was a public flogging!
    Millions of people watched the Derby while AP was getting the sh*t beaten out of him, and they call that “family entertainment.” I call it cruelty – plain and simple.
    AP’s Trainer Bob Baffert is known to use jockeys who are heavy with the whip. It only stands to reason that he endorses the beating of his horses, but it’s not only him. The entire industry is a culture of beating when they allow the whip to be used in such a way. It’s cruelty to animals. End of story.
    Marc, you cite the examples whereby racehorses are being beaten even when leading by lengths. Great example. What I find equally disturbing is the racehorses running for their lives in claiming races. I provided a video of a poor mare losing by 15+ lengths getting the sh*t beaten out of her by the whip. A follow-up to this is that PETA filed a complaint with the District Attorney’s office in PA. Still waiting to hear about that one, but kudos to PETA for being the only animal rights organization to take the necessary steps to bring this cruelty into the courts instead of the protected racing commissions who protect this culture of beating among many other things.
    2. Being a former racehorse owner/trainer I also focus on the mental/emotional aspects of getting whipped. It’s not unlike children getting hit. Notable child psychologists have often stated that the most ideal situation is not to spank a child at all because there are negative impacts to this form of discipline.
    Racehorses are amazing animals. One thing I know about a horse they will avoid pain at any cost. They are peaceful, gentle giants unless ruined by prior experiences perpetrated by previous owners. They don’t like pain. So racehorses will try to run faster, not because they want to, but because they are running away from the pain of the whip.
    Horses have great peripheral vision and can see, and they anticipate the pain of the whip. In essence, a sore horse, will run from the pain of the whip instead of slowing down to protect the pain of their soreness which is a precursor to potential breakdowns. In other words, they are not protecting themselves because they are too focused on the beating of the whip.
    Most catastrophic breakdowns, prior to the finish line, are precipitated by a beating/whipping. Most catastrophic breakdowns, after the finish line, are a result of a steady whipping such as Eight Belles.
    So when you combine the doping, and whipping you have a recipe for disaster for both equine and human participant.
    As many of us know, this industry has been flying under the radar for so long now that they are used to getting their own way above, and beyond the law.
    They are a prime example of entitlement – entitlement to their racehorses to do what they want to them so that they can win races. They consider them property – their property; just like slaves were the owners property for them to whip, and abuse. This mentality permeates the industry. The industry claims that they “care” about their racehorses. They are living in a delusional denial stage. If they really cared, then they wouldn’t participate in this cruelty circus.

    • Absolutely the whip is painful. Horses have very thin skin, I have witnessed horses coming back with welts, and torn skin from their riders whip. I was whipped by another rider repeatedly in a race(in the forearm), was bruised and swollen badly. I cannot say this or explain this better than Gina did. As an ex-rider I can say all of it is true. How many times had I been reprimanded for not whipping enough (accused that I was the reason as to why their tired, sore horse had gotten beat.) How many times had I been told to keep horses away from the state vet in post parade. How many spills I have been in from horses breaking their legs. So many were cannon bones from trainers running young horses with hairline fractures in their cannon bones. (I could just go on and on..) But I have this to say now. I will attest to the thoroughbreds love of running, but how much of it can be called love, if they will not do it but under whip. Take the whip away, and the answer to that would be that, and a whole different picture would come to light. I don’t have the means or answers, but if legally the whip can be taken away, that would be all it takes to end racing. I always heard whispers and remarks about Baffart, so I did my own looking. Some would say that I am a coward for not coming out, but I have some extent at times, and it has gone very badly for me. I cannot even post a comment on facebook, for the fear of reprecussions. Trust me, it isn’t pretty. Honestly, it pisses me off, that a group of people can hold the truth hostage, out of fear alone.

      • Hi there, I have read with interest to what you have said about whipping a racehorse. I am about to write a submission to Racing Australia, can I use a bit of what you have stated to strengthen my opinion.
        Its a big draconian industry run by people who obviously sound like they no nothing about these beautiful beings and they should not be able to have this control!

  3. Sorry about the link. I just recently learned how to copy and paste…lol. But here it is

  4. I am starting to wonder if legal route for abuse is plausible? Start with accountability, as Peta has done in Pa. Organize and get the laws changed. Have this regulated on the outside, not the industry. Laws also that include vets that are also involved with bad tests. Many trainers drug their horses sound on their own, but the medication has to be bought , and usually that is right at the vets office or thru the vet themselves. Laws that include lifetime rule-offs for trainers with drug violations. Not just this slap on the wrist, and then they continue in another trainers name, during their suspension. And also, racing needs to regulated from the outside.

    • 20yr+ industry insider: thanks so much for sharing your views from a person who has extensive experience in the industry. I’m so happy that you exposed your previous position as a jockey. You know lots of insider stuff like I do, but from a jockey’s perspective.
      I totally get why you are holding back. There are repercussions. Absolutely. I use the potential for blow back, from the industry, as a fuel to speak out about the atrocities. I know you will too.
      I will not stand by watching the ongoing slavery of racehorses while they are being beaten, maimed, and killed for $2 bets. Nor would I stand by watching a child be beaten. Animals and children are the most vulnerable segments of our society.
      I have a social and moral obligation to speak out about these ongoing death camps called racetracks.
      I now know that racing commissions are nothing more than cover-ups and fronts for the ongoing maiming, and killing of racehorses. They legitimize the industry and make it appear okay.
      Therefore, it’s imperative for legal violations such as whipping, to be brought into our court systems. This is a critical point that you commented on as well.
      By the way, thanks for the link to Bob B. whom I classify as a sociopathic monster like most top/big name Trainers. In order to get to the top the potential for abuse, maiming, and killing is the same as everything else in the industry only much worse it seems.
      From start to finish this industry leaves a trail of dead horses, and the grand finale of their life could be the slaughterhouse which is an environmental disaster.

  5. Earlier in the week two of horse-racing’s patriarchal dinosaurs of the mainstream media in Sydney Australia whinged about the new whip rules and penalties handed down to jockeys. Horse Racing represents the most ignorant, outdated and worst form of horsemanship. Good horsemanship never relies on inflicting fear, pain and distress on an animal. It relies on subtle skills that include rhythm, straightness, suppleness, timing, balance and feel.

    Racehorses suffer an alarming number of musculo-skeletal injuries and bleeding attacks. Around 40 horses die on NSW racetracks per year mainly due to accumulated tissue damage that results in largely unpredictable catastrophic limb injuries. Fatigue is a major contributing factor to the occurrences of musculo-skeletal injuries so punishing a horse with a whip when he is incapable of responding due to muscle fatigue, is utterly ridiculous.

    While the culture of horseracing may consider it to be unreasonable to expect a jockey to pass up the opportunity of winning a race out of concern for the well-being of the horse, many opponents of horse-racing wonder how anyone can wallow in the glory of a victory that is gained at the expense of the horse’s welfare.

    If jockeys were beating their wives and girlfriends in the same manner they are permitted to beat racehorses, they would be doing gaol time. The similarities between domestic violence and horse-racing violence are striking. Both represent a perpetrator of violence inflicting harm on a vulnerable and defenceless being. Whether it is a woman, a child or an animal, it can always be described as an act of violence and cowardice by the perpetrator.

    It is now 2016 and animal justice is the fastest growing social justice movement in Australia. What is good for the horse is good for the future of the industry. Will the racing industry now view the everyday animal welfare challenges it faces through this lens, or will it realise too late that the business of horse racing has killed the goose with the golden eggs?

  6. Sandra, they went through this at Woodbine Racetrack in Ontario, Canada. There were the jockeys that responded well and those who bitterly complained, and tried to reverse the decision.
    However, Woodbine (Ontario Racing Commission) stood firm on its commitment to change things even increasing the fines to somewhat substantial amounts in order to deter this abusive behavior.
    It’s important to note that the whipping rules implemented here were a result of public outcry not an altruistic motivation on behalf of the slave masters. So I would be interested to know if the same can be said about Australia. Was it public outcry that changed the rules?
    Although I welcome these changes, I can’t support an industry whose fundamental business model is the exploitation of a sentiment being for profit and/or entertainment. It’s not entertainment. It’s a cruelty circus, and a death camp.
    No matter how good intentions are, it’s all the same in the end. It’s an animal being whipped, maimed, dumped, and killed in the end.
    A small percentage get very lucky, and get that grassy well-deserved retirement usually by people who had nothing to do with the exploitation.
    So for hundreds of thousands to die for maybe 10% is unacceptable, and the sooner this industry shuts down the better-off society as a whole will be.

    • I believe it was public pressure Gina although now they are watering down the rules just for jumps races. Racing Australia, the national governing body, has decided to bring the breeders under the rules of racing and I believe this is because of all the publicity that the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses has generated on wastage. They have been truly amazing. A trainer was found to have starved 40 horses, 30 odd died from starvation and the others were rescued. just two weeks ago in Victoria. Looks like breeding may be regulated soon. although the breeders are threatening court action they are so angry.

      • Sandra, I reviewed several articles and horrific photos of the fall out from over breeding specifically to fill horse races. I hope that it is regulated. It’s long overdue all over the world not just Australia.

  7. Patrick, thank you for sharing this report. Marc, Gina, 20-yr+, and Sandra, thanks for your contributions.

    How many times have we heard whipping being defended…”it tells the horse where to go” and other b.s.? Those jockeys aren’t gently tapping the horses’ sides. They are beating the daylight out of the horses and each other. I watched 3 videos of one of my rescues being raced. In every one of those films, I saw jockeys hitting other horses in the face while the victim’s own jockey was hitting him on the flank or shoulder. And my guy’s jockey whaling on HIM and other horses/jockeys. No violations called by the stewards. (Another whole st of issues there!)

    If the drugs and and other maltreatment of horses don’t offend the public, perhaps the abuse by whipping will stir some action. The Big Lick is starting to get some attention. Maybe the big whip is next.

  8. Faith, well said, and a sad reflection on how our society can be strongly influenced by well-financed public relation industries that not only buys politicians, but uses, and abuses horses whether horse racing or the brutal Big Lick industry.
    The fancy hats, mint juleps, and the image of a beautiful grassy paddock when they retire is just that – a well contrived image.
    It’s all the same when the fundamental business model is the exploitation of an animal for profit.
    The “tools” of the trade whether bull hook or the whip, the deprivation of habitat and natural behaviors, separated from their family, enclosed in inappropriate space relative to size for long periods of time, beaten/whipped to perform, maiming and possibly dying during performances for profit, developing chronic physical/mental issues directly related to their performance, dumped when no longer profitable or further enslaved for reproductive purposes to produce future profit slaves.
    If they are lucky enough to make it out alive then people like us, people who had nothing to do with their exploitation, has to step up to the plate financially to rescue, and re-home them.
    Yes, the multi-billion dollar horse racing industry does little (relative to profit) or nothing for their racehorses after they have generated billions in profit. Typical corporate greed at the expense of racehorses.
    Their only hope is a kind, and compassionate person who reaches their hands out to help them because global governments fail miserably when it comes to the protection of the animals with whom we share our planet.
    Abuses that seem so obvious are deliberately overlooked for jobs, and profit.
    So I continue to speak out, I continue to write, to comment to save my sanity (the little I have left).

  9. Tuesdays Horse wrote another good Post about this Website !!
    They have 10,333 followers.

    Snapped leg, broken back — two more kills at Los Alamitos
    Apr 13, 2016

    “Patrick Buttuello labors continuously to report fallen and dead racehorses across America. ”

    Thank you Mr. Battuello for calling them out on referring to horses as “its”. See Horses Are Not Its.

  10. Thank you to ALL who have commented here – Patrick’s post about whipping and everyone’s contributions are so well-stated and I appreciate them so very much! Mine won’t be so eloquent – why the HELL is a study needed to convince any reasonable individual that being struck with a whip HURTS?!? Wow.

  11. Why indeed! Common sense. Whipping is brutal and it pushes horses to extreme limits that endanger horse and rider.

    Any “sport” that enables and justifies cruelty ought to be abolished. I spent years trying to reduce drug abuse in racing before realizing that racing can never be made humane through piecemeal reforms, can never save horses from the certainty of painful exploitation.

    For horses to live, racing must die.

    • “For horses to live, racing must die.” Absolute truth, clear and simple.

    • Marc, what a brilliant rallying cry for equine (and canine) advocates!

      Do any of the readers have the capacity to create a meme to share? In the photo of AP above, he is clearly anticipating his jockey’s strike….I mean, guidance. I’m sure there are other usable photos that could be assembled to create a series.

  12. So true “For horse to live, racing must die.” Love it.
    The entire despicable industry summed-up concisely in one statement.
    Here’s a heartbreaking story if you care to read it.
    This story exemplifies the dumping of not only cheap claimers, but multiple stake winning mares, who get further exploited as a broodmare, then dumped by their rich well-connected Owner.
    So sad. Thank goodness she was saved.
    The Owner actually sat on the Racing Commission Boards for years. Talk about the hen watching over the hen house! Only in this case, it’s a slime ball watching over his slime activities. A hen is much too intelligent for this dude.

  13. Please will someone do something about Saratoga Springs racetrack!!! It is absolutely appalling what is going on there!!!

      • I would like to know more about this protest. When, where, and any other details. I just came upon this site because of the article in the paper. I would like to attend if possible.

    By Mary Carol McGlone

    They run like the wind with beauty uncompared
    The glory of rolling thunder beneath the hooves of despair
    They mesmerize with every movement of pure grace
    The heights of heaven flows through the ground they embrace
    They prance and they frolic through the plains with delight
    Inspiring our hearts at the awesome sight
    How great the creator of such wonder we behold
    How great is this gift of splendor He gave us to hold
    Why then are we unthankful and cold without care
    Of the wonder of God’s spirit that flows through the mare
    For how can we so unmercifully abuse and destroy
    These magnificent creatures, God’s awesome vessels of joy
    Their speed we trade for money we gamble their glory away for a dime
    And when the hooves begin to slow and the strength begin to pine
    Without mercy we end the life of the friend that God gave into our care
    Cruelly silencing the rolling thunder beneath the hooves of despair
    The pure spirit of God’s creation will in all eternity be with the giver of all life
    But I wonder the unrepentant heart who has sown for profit
    so much pain, misery, and strife
    So for money we abuse God’s precious beast
    And we are free to do so now as we please
    Truly there is a time when we shall all be made to repay
    Ponder carefully your actions and your heart before that day

  15. If I were walking my dog down the street..and kicked him along because he was walking too slow..I would be put in jail and accessed animal cruelty charges.

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