The Swiss jockeys voluntarily give up the whip

Switzerland is the first country where athletes have voluntarily decided to ban the whip. However, use in exceptional cases remains permitted for safety reasons.

At the start of the season, Swiss horse racing presented itself as a global pioneer in strengthening animal welfare: the racing riders, horse trainers and horse owners decided on March 9th at the general meeting of the Gallop Switzerland Association to forego the use of a whip in races in the future.

Worldwide, the whip has been part of a jockey’s basic equipment to motivate the horse to perform better at the finish and to keep it on a straight track. The use of the covered and shock-absorbing whip, which is not intended to cause any pain to the horse, has been increasingly regulated in recent years and violations punished. But Switzerland is now the first country where the athletes themselves are forgoing it.

A ban on whips was already suggested in 2016

Back in 2016, veterinarian and racehorse owner Annina Widmer submitted a proposal to ban the use of whips. “For me there is no reason to beat an animal, and there is controversy in research as to whether the use of a whip really results in an increase in performance,” said Annina Widmer, who has also ridden in races herself, explaining her proposal. Using the whip correctly at full gallop is also very difficult. Incorrect use could throw the horse off balance, which could result in injuries.

The ban could not yet be enforced at that time. But a working group subsequently worked out a new regulation, according to which the maximum number of whip operations was reduced from 5 to 3 and the sanctions were tightened. In addition to suspensions and fines, prize money was confiscated from errant riders so that there were no incentives to use the whip beyond the permitted limits.

The Scandinavian racing associations have jointly issued a new set of rules for the 2022 season. It stated that the whip could only be carried for security purposes. In Switzerland, Galopp Switzerland would also have had the authority to adapt the rules itself, but the board submitted a corresponding request to the meeting of the active members so that the decision could be broadly supported after a discussion. Switzerland is the first country in which the athletes themselves have spoken out in favor of a ban.

The veterinarian and former racing rider Michael Schmid also supported the acceptance of the application: “Race horses are model athletes who achieve top performance, which is why there is no justification for the use of whips.”

There has also been a change in thinking in society in this regard. While the horse was once a farm animal, today it is seen as a partner. “This step does not diminish the fascination for horse racing,” said Michael Schmid. He hopes that other countries will follow Switzerland’s example, although it is very important that this step comes from the active ones.

“The riders agreed that the use of the whip should be avoided,” said Sarah Leutwiler, President of the Swiss Racing Equestrian Association. Some riders had given up the whip for some time and continued to win races.

The racing equestrian association’s sole argument was that it should remain permissible to carry the whip as an aid so that it can be used from the wrist to the horse’s shoulder to avert an obviously dangerous situation, for example if the horse breaks out of its lane and there is a risk of a collision . Such use in exceptional cases remains permitted for safety reasons, especially since a jockey cannot provide any assistance from classic riding by shifting weight or applying pressure to the thighs due to his short stirrups and standing position above the horse.

At least three trained race management members will continue to monitor compliance with the regulations. Any use of the whip that is not done to avert danger will now result in a ban lasting several months. Sarah Leutwiler, who is also the president of the race management, explains that the new regulation makes the work of the race management much easier. Up to now, by viewing the racing films, it was necessary to count how often each individual jockey used the whip in order to then impose sanctions if necessary.

It was initially planned to implement the new rules on July 1, 2024, but based on the positive feedback, Galopp Switzerland decided that the rules would be introduced on the first day of racing in German-speaking Switzerland on Easter Monday in Frauenfeld.

Rule violations are most common in races with high prize money

In the leading racing countries England and France, the regulations on the use of whips have also been tightened in recent years. In England, for example, it can be seen that since the introduction of the stricter rules in the period from 2023 to March 2024, a violation of the rules had to be punished in only 0.77 percent of the over 87,000 rides.

However, it also became apparent that violations of the rules were on average two to three times more common, especially in the races with the highest prize money. So in a tight final sprint the jockey is faced with the dilemma of whether he should use the whip once or twice more in order to perhaps secure victory in an important race at the risk of a suspension.

This problem was addressed by disqualifying the rider with the horse in nine (France) or ten (England) whip operations. This regulation will now have massive consequences for the sporting outcome of a race as well as for a horse’s entire entourage. All of these subsequent problems in the search for effective punishment no longer arise in Switzerland when the whip is dispensed with. This is to be welcomed not only from the point of view of animal welfare, but also from a sporting point of view.

By Editor

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