Whipping a racehorse is the most conspicuous form of animal abuse this side of bullfighting and basically every rodeo “competition.” No need for undercover cameras here. Because of this – or to be more accurate, because of Santa Anita thrusting all things racing into the spotlight – the industry is desperately scrambling. What to do about something that has been a fundamental part of racing since time immemorial.
For most in racing, however, whipping is but a problem of perception. Indeed, at the monthly CHRB meeting just two days ago, new board member Wendy Mitchell said this: “The optics on it [whipping] are bad.” The “optics.” Not that we agree it’s cruelty, mind you; it just looks bad. Well. Back in ’15, the ABC (Australia) ran a piece on this very subject. The whole thing (below) is worth watching, but a couple quotes stand out.
Dr. Lydia Tong, veterinary pathologist, on the relative skin thickness of horses and humans: “The really interesting part is that right up in the epidermis, which is the top layer and that’s where the pain-sensing C fibres are, in the human specimen that’s thicker than the horse’s. So by the old argument of horse’s skin is thicker and they feel it less, actually you could argue human’s skin is thicker.” So have someone take a horse whip to your leg (which was done in the show) and report back.
Then this on horse nature: “If a prey animal shows its pain very overtly, they are more likely to then be noticed and picked out by a predator. So actually often prey animals they kind of shut up and put up.”
And finally, this from Australian Racing’s Peter McGauran: “That [not shifting from pain] would have been learned behaviour, agreed. Under the old days [prior to new whip/whipping rules] I concede that the horses learnt to absorb the punishment afforded them.”
The “old days”? 2009. Yes, that’s right, here we have a prominent racing executive admitting that as recently as five years prior, his jockeys inflicted “punishment” on his horses – punishment, by the way, seemingly well-“absorbed” due to learned helplessness. Imagine that. Yet I wonder, Mr. McGauran, does this mean that back in the “old days” you were sharing that opinion far and wide, or were you, like the rest, singing that decades-old industry line of the whip as “painless guide”? Please.
Oh, and one final note, Mr. McGauran: There is no past tense about this (“it was broken, so we fixed it”); as the piece (science, common sense) makes abundantly clear, a whip in the hands of a racehorse jockey will always be an instrument of intimidation, conveyor of pain. Put another way, your kinder, gentler whipping is a lie. To steal a line from Clinton ’92, it’s animal cruelty, stupid. And ever it will be.