The language around use of the whip

I received a message last week from someone saying “Have you seen that a jockey has received a ban for not hitting his horse. That’s right – for NOT hitting his horse! 🤯”

Jockey Robert Havlin banned for 21 days for tender hands riding

I was all ready to get on my soap box and be enraged, not surprised but definitely enraged. However, I like to fully appreciate things before I launch full advocacy so I explored….. The official statement was in fact that the jockey had “not taken all reasonable and permissible measures to ensure Stowell obtained his best possible placing.” Taking into account that he was second to his stable mate and from watching the race, my take would be that it was, thankfully, more than just about whip use. Take a look yourself…

The trainer, however, focused in on the whip use in his defence of the jockey insisting he instructs all his jockeys to avoid using the whip on his newcomers. Very refreshing!

“That is an instruction I always give (to not use the whip). I remember a jockey walking into the paddock to ride a two-year-old first time out once and my father took it off him,” Gosden told Racing TV.

Sadly the article then went on to say “The reason the jockeys have them is to control them or make them concentrate, but on the whole I don’t like it being used on them first time out so he followed my instructions as he always does……When used artistically the stick is an art form, but first time out I don’t like them used on my horses.”

I wrote an article recently for Horse and Rider Magazine about the language that is used in the equestrian world and I couldn’t help but flinch at the language used here “Control”, “make concentrate”, “an art form”. When can violence, which lets face it hitting an animal with a stick is plain and simply that, an art form or an acceptable means of control? And when can an encouraging, supportive ride of an incredibly young and inexperienced horse also involve a stick being used to make him concentrate?

Out of interest I explored the jockey’s career further (which I now regret.) Alongside a 6 month ban for a failed drugs test and a 10 day ban for careless riding, there was a 13 day ban for excessive use of the whip. At Windsor in 2019, he went almost twice over the 7 hit limit (in racing you can legitimately hit a horse 7 times before there being an issue – maybe that’s enough of issue as is!?) and received a reportedly harsh punishment of 13 days off.

“Obviously I went over the permitted level but they were not hard hits – there was no force in them. The horse was not marked and the lad who looks after him said he ate up as normal this morning so there was no harm done.”

Sadly, I have seen severely abused horses still manage to eat some feed so I am not sure I am reassured by this commentary. The trainer then added

“Frontman’s an idle horse and I thought the ban was excessive. The horse was not helping the jockey, that’s for sure, and he was wearing cheekpieces which gives you a clue as to his attitude. We may even have to switch to blinkers next time.”

There wasn’t a next time. The horse never ran again according to his race record.

At this point, I decided to turn my computer off and watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory to cheer myself up. There is such a long way to go when the normalisation of violence and force is just so deeply engrained. I have to see consideration of language as a good starting point though. What do you think?

Every long journey starts with just one step…. What if we started replacing “use of whip” with “use of violence” – would that make you think twice?

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  1. Hi Daisy. I couldn’t help thinking what if you replaced “horse” with “partner” or “child”. At one time it was OK to control partners (usually women) using violence, now it is generally agreed in most societies this is no longer acceptable. Similarly, with children. Here’s hoping that one day society will progress to making it unacceptable to use violence to control animals.

  2. Totally agree Daisy, I’m glad you did some homework to explain more about the situation. Imagine if a trainer/owner said to the jockey, “now I want you to go out and have a good ride and if you feel the need to whip Neddy then no more than seven times as we don’t want to get a ban” ! It’s bizarre! I wish previous bans were taken into account when dealing with these unkind harsh jockeys.

  3. I know that there are a lot of people who love racing just as it is but my feeling is that things must change. I am not at all woke but there would be a winner without the use of a whip. Maybe not the same one, but a winner all the same.

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