The science is in: whips hurt horses.

Yet the horse racing industry continues to defend the whipping of horses – while treating a dog, cat, or any other companion animal in such a way would be considered nothing but cruelty.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated October 13, 2023

The use of whips in Australian horse racing has been proven by scientists to be not only ineffectual — but cruel.

For centuries, racehorses have been whipped by jockeys in the belief that horses need ‘encouragement’ to run faster, and ultimately to win races for their human owners. In more recent years, the outdated and cruel practice of beating exhausted horses across the finish line has angered many Australians.

After the cruelty of whips was exposed on ABC’s Catalyst, Racing Australia’s former chief executive, Peter McGauran, conceded that if there was evidence that horses were hurt by whips, then “of course, we would do away with the whip."

But when confronted with said evidence … he refused to ban the whip, claiming it would be “going too far" and wouldn’t be in the “interest of racing."

That’s right … not in the interest of racing.

Instead, Racing Australia updated its rules that limited the number of times a horse can be hit during a race from 10 to 5, but allowed horses to be flogged repeatedly in the last 100 metres of a race – when the horse is most tired – in a brutal effort to push the exhausted animal ‘over the line’.

Such a blatant disregard for suffering is not surprising from an industry that ignores the fact that at least one horse dies every 2 days on Australian racetracks – and that seven horses have died in the last eight Melbourne Cup races alone.

The outcome of recent studies on whipping

Covered on ABC’s Catalyst, experts have called into question the use of whips in horse racing after studies have shown:

  • Horses’ skin is not only thinner than that of a human, but may be more sensitive to pain
  • Whipping horses is “likely to be painful"
  • Despite the introduction of a modified padded whip in 2009, horses are still being struck in sensitive areas with the non-padded knot of the whip
  • Even when the padded whip is being used according to new guidelines, it is still likely to cause the horse pain.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

University of Sydney veterinary pathologist and forensics researcher Dr Lydia Tong revealed that a horse’s flank skin is not only thinner, but potentially more sensitive to pain than a human’s.

Tragically, she also pointed out that, as prey animals, horses have evolved to hide their pain rather than react to it. So even if horses do not react, baulk, or ‘shift course’ when they are hit with a whip, this does not indicate that they are not in pain as horse racing participants often claim, but may rather indicate that they simply learned to tolerate it.

And after a life of being tested to push their bodies to the limits, many thousands of horses in the racing industry face an even more tragic death, sent to Australian knackeries at just a fraction of their natural lifespan.

Help shape a kinder world for horses

If you think it’s time that decisions were made that were in the interests of horses – not the ruthless gambling industry – help stop these sensitive animals from suffering by pledging never to bet on horse racing cruelty.