CHRB action on whipping will prolong public’s view of racing as inhumane

I listened to last Thursday’s audiocast of the California Horse Racing Board’s (CHRB) public meeting during which they debated the use of the whip/riding crop. As a veteran participant and observer of racing commission meetings for more than 30 years, one thing stood out. That was the CHRB’s unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious. Not one board member suggested that whipping a horse inflicted pain or was inhumane or out of step with the views of California residents, whom they are responsible for representing.

An Inconvenient Truth

The obvious remarks were from animal activists in attendance who laid bare the fallacy of the racing industry’s argument for continuing to permit horses to be whipped during a race. More than once during the public comment on a proposed whipping rule, animal activist repeated comments of the board’s own equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur.

Here are those comments that Dr. Arthur made in Paris this October at the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities conference.

“There are those that argue that whipping does not hurt horses, but that is nonsense and we all know that. Whips are a noxious stimuli. They hurt. That’s why they are used. Run fast or I’ll hit you again.”

I believe there were likely very few people at the CHRB meeting who would disagree with that statement. I am not referring to only the animal activists, many of whom would like to see a ban on racing in the state. I am also referring to track management, horsemen, jockeys, and board members.  Not only does the whipping of a horse look abusive, it is abusive.

That inconvenient truth did little to deter the CHRB from moving forward on a draft rule that will permit only underhand whipping, reduce the time in succession that a jockey can strike a horse (from three to two) before it is given a chance to respond, and limit the total number of strikes to six.

The board members seem to believe that they had to do “something” and fell prey to belief that if they did “anything” it would be enough. They should know better. Even though some of the board members are recent appointees, they heard testimony that California already had one of the most restrictive whipping rules in the nation. What would make anyone believe by further restricting whipping without eliminating the practice would solve the problem?

What does the general public want?

Another observation I had of the meeting, which was unusual for me, was the venomous nature of some, but not all, of the animal activists who testified. Many used plain insulting language making it clear that their goal was to eliminate the sport.

On one end of the spectrum, jockeys testified of the need to use the whip as a tool. They spoke of their “love,” “respect,” and “partnership” with the horse. No one on the board asked the riders of the oddity of a position that sanctioned the whipping of a beloved and respected partner. There is a term for that. It’s called cognitive dissonance.

The jockeys and the Jockeys’ Guild appeared to believe that the board’s action in restricting the whip went too far.

Maybe the CHRB thinks that not giving either side what they want is a way of being fair and evenhanded.

If so, they have forgotten whom they represent. The board members are regulators, not members of the regulated community of tracks, horsemen, and jockeys. They may vehemently disagree with those animal activists who want to abolish the sport. But the abolishment of the sport was not an item on the agenda. The use of the whip was.

I believe that on this particular issue, the position of the animal activists is consistent with the majority of the residents of California. The residents of California know that what Dr. Arthur said is true – “There are those that argue that whipping does not hurt horses, but that is nonsense and we all know that.”

What’s next

The CHRB approved draft will undergo a lengthy process that will include a 45-day public comment period. While that process moves forward, others are moving forward to come up with their own version of a new and improved whipping proposal.

The newly formed Thoroughbred Safety Coalition is reportedly working on an industry solution to the whipping issue.

Simply stated, any rule that does not eliminate the use of the whip, except for the safety of horse and rider, is not a solution. Solutions solve problems. They end the debate.

Taking further restrictive steps on whipping still sanctions the act. It will only prolong the issue. The industry has tried that strategy before, and it has failed. There is no reason to believe it will succeed now.

I do understand that it is extremely difficult for jockeys, who have for their entire careers used the whip to encourage their mounts to run faster, to simply give it up.

But 2020 is around the corner. We live in an age that whipping an animal is unacceptable.

In other words, this is a moral imperative.

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