Stiffer penalties for breaches of the whip among 20 recommendations made by new Horse Welfare Board in bid to boost racing
- The new Horse Welfare Board have revealed their five-year strategic plan
- It contains 20 recommendations to help address ‘public misconceptions’
- Issue of jockeys’ use of the whip should be dealt with ‘as soon as possible’
The minimum recommendation that penalties are increased for breaches of the whip rules was one of the key recommendations from the new Horse Welfare Board as it unveiled its five-year strategy for the sport on Thursday.
The BHA now has until October before it produces a new set of rules for the whip in racing.
The Horse Welfare Board stopped short of calling for an outright ban on the whip for encouragement – although it said it should be one of the options considered – but added that whip mis-use and horses getting injured were the biggest concerns in polling on the sport as well as the biggest barriers to increasing attendances.
HWB have made 20 recommendations to help address ‘public misconceptions’ about the sport
The Board said particular consideration should be made to increasing penalties for repeat offenders of the whip rules.
It also said consideration should be given to bigger fines and suspensions for jockeys as well as whether winners ridden by jockeys who breach the rule should face prizemoney sanctions or even disqualification.
Barry Johnson, former Chairman of World Horse Welfare and President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, is the independent chairman of the Horse Welfare Board with former Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch MP, one of its independent members.
Johnson said: ‘Most jurisdictions recognise the use of the whip is a negative advertisement for the sport. We cannot afford to be complacent in relation to the salience of the whip as a political issue.
‘Offences have decreased but remain unpalatably high. The current sanctions do not provide an adequate deterrent.
‘We have ask the sport to take into consideration public attitudes while being clear it is a decision for racing to take with due consideration for safety, fairness and ethical considerations.
‘It is impacting on potential customers as well as the wider public. Research also shows existing racegoers have some concerns over the whip and are seeking reassurances.’
With a call to put the horse heart of everything the sport does, 20 recommendations also included making better use of data to prevent injury and manage safety and a commitment to drawing up a system allowing every horse to be traced from birth until after its racing life.
Racing’s inability to engage and communicate was said to have enabled growth of negative perceptions. Welfare concerns typically 10 per cent higher among young and female racegoers.
Johnson added: ‘The goalposts of welfare are constantly shifting as new information comes to light and in line with a changing world.
‘Society has changing views on what is and what is not acceptable. Animal welfare has become a politically charged subject so racing cannot afford to be complacent but must be proactive in demonstrating bold ambition and high performance in relation to equine care.
‘British racing must be a world leader on equine welfare. Self-regulation must be recognised as a privilege not as a right.’
The Horse Welfare Board report received a positive response with the Professional Jockeys Association saying it provided ‘ a vital blueprint for the welfare of the racehorse’.
The National Trainers Federation issued a statement which said: ‘We join others across the sport in acknowledging collective responsibility for the horses we nurture and cherish – they are at the centre of our world.’
World Horse Welfare welcomed the recommendations. Chief executive Roly Owers said: ‘We applaud the publication of this strategy. It represents a real watershed moment for British racing, as it not only sees the first truly integrated approach to equine welfare across the industry, but it also clearly recognises the importance of public perception and its relevance to the future of racing.
‘While the whip is not the most significant welfare issue, it certainly can be a welfare issue. For racing to have the acceptance of the public, and so maintain its social license to operate, it must reflect the values of the society whilst also constantly challenging the standards of equine welfare within the industry.
The key will now be maintaining that important unity when the BHA and its members put flesh on the bones to these ideas by enacting practical measures.
There have been calls from politicians and more radical animal rights group for a body to overseas racing welfare that had more distance from the sport.
But Johnson said: ‘It is essential on this board we have people with great knowledge of the industry as well as independent people. But if there were strong recommendations in this report which were not being taken seriously both Tracey Crouch and I would walk away.’