The whip, of course, is an instrument of abuse; it motivates a racehorse to run faster through pain and fear. Anyone with a working set of eyes can see that. Even the pro-racing equine medical director of California, Dr. Rick Arthur, knows it: “There are those who argue that whipping doesn’t hurt horses, but that’s nonsense, and we all know that. Whips are noxious stimuli; they hurt, that’s why they’re used. Run fast or I’ll hit you again.” (International Conference of Horseracing Authorities, 10/7/19)

For its part, the industry tries its damndest to convince us that the “riding crop” – they refuse to use the word whip – is but a harmless guide, an indispensable tool that helps protect both horse and rider. But in 2021, rapidly evolving public sentiment – it’s more than just “optics” – is forcing their hand. The result is ever-more-restrictive strike rules and new designs – the “kinder, gentler crop,” like this one:

I don’t know, still looks like it packs a wallop to me. Anyhow, I quite enjoyed jockey McCarthy’s assessment: “The horses will respond to it but, you know, not get overabused as well.” That’s right, Mr. McCarthy, not get overabused, because your propaganda (“steering,” “encouragement” – love that word) aside, you know full well that, as I said at the top, whipping a horse, whipping any domesticated animal, is, at the very least, garden-variety, root-word abuse. Period.

Last month at Santa Anita, according to the Stewards Minutes, 19 horses were scratched prior to their races for sickness; 11 for injury; and 7 for “unsoundness.” Then this: On March 5, “Jockey UMBERTO RISPOLI was in our office to review his crop use in Sunday’s eighth race. Mr. Rispoli did not have an excuse, other than to say he simply miscounted. Unfortunately [italics added], this was his fourth offense in last sixty days.” So what did the Santa Anita sages figure was a reasonable punishment for 4 whipping violations in 60 days? A three-day suspension.

The “Essex Handicap” at Oaklawn yesterday was worth a cool $500,000, with the difference between 1st and 2nd $200,000. With that in mind, take a look at the beating jockey Ramon Vazquez administered to his mount, Rated R Superstar, down the stretch (Rated R is the 3 horse):

Folks, if this isn’t animal cruelty then what, pray tell, is?

“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 [italics added] to animals in Australia today, but most people don’t seem to notice it.” (Dr. Paul McGreevy, The Conversation, 10/28/14)

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 three above all:

First, Horseracing kills horses. Lots of them, every day. And this says nothing of the multiple thousands of recently “retired” who are bled-out and butchered each year.

Second, (daily) life for the typical racehorse is unfathomably mean: Locked – alone – in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day, racehorses, according to experts, suffer similarly to human beings kept in solitary confinement.

And third, the horserace itself exists, can only exist, through 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, and professor at the University of Sydney. Follows are some highlights from a McGreevy-penned article that originally appeared in The Conversation.

“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.

“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'”.