Flogging a live horse

A while back, I mentioned in passing the failure of the Queensland Greyhound Racing Board to do anything about notorious industry practices such as live baiting and the slaughter and dumping of dogs that failed to run fast enough. But, even if these practices were well known, the perpetrators made some effort to hide them. By contrast, the practice of whipping racehorses to make them run faster is open and unchallenged. Can there be any justification for this beyond “it’s always been done this way”?

Obviously, there’s no inherent interest in the absolute speed attained by the horses, just in the race between them. There’s no obvious reason why a race without whips would be any less interesting. And if we wanted to see the horses go as fast as possible, we’d allow the use of stimulant drugs.

Apparently, defenders of the practice have made the claim that it doesn’t hurt the horses. That’s ludicrous on the face of it – if it didn’t hurt obviously it wouldn’t work – and has been shown to be untrue.

I’d be interested to know about the legal position. Again on the face of things, whipping horses would seem to be illegal cruelty to animals. Is there a special exemption, or has the proposition never been tested?

49 thoughts on “Flogging a live horse

  1. I’ve had a quick look around the Web but can’t find an answer to your question. As you’re in Queensland, I checked the Queensland legislation, which specifically includes causing pain to an animal by beating it as an example of the kind of cruelty that constitutes an offence. There may be something elsewhere in the legislation that provides a defence against charges over the whipping of horseraces, but I didn’t find it. I discovered that Racing Australia has its own code of practice regulating whipping, but I don’t see how that would have any legal force (there is something in the Queensland legislation allowing the making of codes of practice under the legislation, but the Queensland government’s list of existing ones has none relating to horses or racing). Apparently jockeys have complained that Racing Australia’s code is too restrictive. On the other side there have been complaints that it’s too loose, not adequately enforced or not practically enforceable.

    The RSPCA website refers to a campaign to have the whip banned altogether, part of their case being that there’s scientific evidence that whipping a horse does not improve its chances in the race. If you wanted to find out why it’s not illegal already, you might try asking the RSPCA.

    I also read that Norway has banned the whip completely — so it is possible — and about Wally Hoysted, a Victorian ex-jockey who ran a long campaign against the whip and whose most dramatic action to gain attention was to hold up the start of racing at Flemington one day by jumping the fence with a shotgun and threatening to shoot the first jockey out of the gates. That was in the 1960s, so it’s not a new issue.

  2. The Qld Criminal Code would not appear to preclude whipping an animal unless it clearly inflicted “severe pain or suffering” which is not precisely defined or “serious injury” which is defined.


    242 Serious animal cruelty

    (1) A person who, with the intention of inflicting severe pain or suffering, unlawfully kills,
    or causes serious injury or prolonged suffering to, an animal commits a crime.
    Maximum penalty—7 years imprisonment.

    (2) An act or omission that causes the death of, or serious injury or prolonged suffering to, an an imal is unlawful unless it is authorised, justified or excused by—
    (a) the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001;
    (b) another law, other than section 458 of this Code.

    (3) In this section— serious injury means—
    (a) the loss of a distinct part or an organ of the body; or
    (b) a bodily injury of such a nature that, if left untreated, would—
    (i) endanger, or be likely to endanger, life; or
    (ii) cause, or be likely to cause, permanent injury to health.


    After a quick text search of the Qld Animal Care and Protection Act, I can find nothing relating to horse racing or whips. Horse racing might seem conspicuous by its absence. On closer inspection it seems we have to go to the Racing Act. But there is nothing there either: nothing with search terms like “whip”, “cruelty” nor “care” in context of care for an animal. Of the Act does care about “care and diligence” and “control, care and management” but only in the business sense not the animal caring sense. Again the notion of care for horses is conspicuous by its absence.

    Summing Up – I would support in principle a campaign to remove the horse whip from horse racing. Indeed, I would support in principle a campaign to remove horse racing from our society. There are many forms of cruelty in thoroughbred racing which go well beyond the whip. For example, the intense training of young horses meaning 2 year olds and maybe even three year olds constitutes cruelty.

    At the same time it has to be said, we humans are enormously hypocritical about cruelty. Imagine if I whipped my neighbour’s dog with a horse whip. I would be in serious trouble. But to whip a horse is OK apparently. It is OK to catch fish with barbed hooks. Yet, what would happen if I deliberately caught birds with barbed hooks? Again, I would be in serious trouble. BTW, it is possible to catch birds with line and hook accidentally while fishing.

    Finally, we see people maimed and killed most night on the nightly news. If that many cute animals, say dogs and cats, were shown every night being maimed and killed there would be a huge outcry. But, don’t worry, it’s only people. <- That's sarcasm.

  3. Where is fox hunting in all this? Which is arguably cruel to both foxes and horses.

    We all know its extremely controversial in the UK. But what is the situation here?

    Here is a bunch by way of example Victoria.

    This activity is reminiscent of the now banned steeplechasing.

    Their laughable rationale is that they are controlling vermin!!!!???? Clearly noone with a degree in animal population biology wrote than howler.

    Separately some years back NPWS of NSW tried to cull a big forest pest – wild horses – didnt the horse community howl. I was doing a little work at WWF at the time and they got deluged with pro-horse letters from Germany who didnt understand here in Oz horses are an animal out of place if you want to conserve natural habitat.

    They even have Childrens Hunts.

    As they say in jolly England

    Tally HO.

  4. @Ikonoclast

    As I mentioned earlier (although I didn’t quote the exact words or cite the section number), section 18 of the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 (Qld) says, in part:

    (1) A person must not be cruel to an animal.

    (2) Without limiting subsection (1), a person is taken to be cruel to an animal if the person …

    (b) beats it so as to cause the animal pain;

    By itself that would seem to prohibit the whipping of racehorses, although, as I also mentioned earlier, it’s possible that there’s something elsewhere in legislation that changes that.

  5. I’d forgotten about steeplechase/jumps racing. But it was a good example of a practice that would never have been legal if it had been proposed and assessed on an objective basis, rather than being effectively grandfathered in by tradition.

  6. Correction: Wikipedia advises that jumps racing continues in Victoria and SA, after steps were taken to reduce the number of horses being killed.

  7. BUT the horses love being raced and flogged to the point of death, as they are at the end of long races just ask the owners. More revealing is the behaviour of many horses in the stalls as they wait their turn, shivering, sweating all very aware of what lies ahead. I always thought the most disgusting touch was the victorious owners, crowing and big noting as if they had run the race themselves. Meanwhile the horse stands there, an exhausted husk.

  8. Thanks for the correction on steeplechasing – at least it appears NSW and Queensland are more advanced for a change.

    On another matter in regarding to breeding it isnt only greyhounds. I gather in the States it is common to encounter rescue dogs which were formally puppy factories. And we complain about civets and coffee.

    Really you have to wonder how so many people got conned or spout on about the brilliance of capitalism while ignoring its litany of dark sides.

  9. There was a concerted effort to ban jumps racing in Vic a few years ago by various animal welfare advocates, but they were up against some pretty powerful interests including the then Racing Minister Denis Napthine (later Premier) who appeared to be pretty close to that industry.

  10. Horses have different personalities temperaments. I think you’d find that some currently successful but obdurate horses would lose their value if the whip was made illegal. The effect wouldn’t be uniform. That isn’t an argument for retaining the whip, just that it wouldn’t be a neutral change in the short term at least.

  11. No doubt you are correct Jim, but as you say this is no argument at all for retaining the whip. Horse racing might actually be slightly more interesting if the particular temperament of the horse was just another thing for mug punters to try and take into account.

    To me it really is hard to see why the industry so strongly opposes this. What do they lose? A sensible industry would have already banned it long ago in its own interests. And I too am old enough to remember when people within the industry were making just this point 40 or 50 years ago.

    OT, but Newtonian refers to one of my hobbyhorses (sic) – that (often misplaced) animal welfare concerns and conservation concerns are much more opposed to each other than people realise. And we see that play out in Australia, with its large number of introduced pests, more than most places in the world.

  12. @derrida derider

    A sensible industry would have already banned it long ago in its own interests.

    This is an industry where 14 year old boys are apprenticed to masters. In many ways the horse racing industry would be recognisable to Charles Dickens.

  13. @J-D

    You are correct. I usually like to quote relevant parts of sections in full so here it is.

    “8 Animal cruelty prohibited

    (1) A person must not be cruel to an animal. Maximum penalty—2000 penalty units or 3 years
    imprisonment. Note— This provision is an executive liability provision—see section 209.

    (2) Without limiting subsection (1), a person is taken to be cruel to an animal if the person do
    es any of the following to the animal—
    (a) causes it pain that, in the circumstances, is unjustifiable, unnecessary or unreasonable;
    (b) beats it so as to cause the animal pain;
    (c) abuses, terrifies, torments or worries it;
    (d) overdrives, overrides or overworks it;
    (e) uses on the animal an electrical device prescribed under a regulation;
    (f) confines or transports it…”

    (OK I don’t need to quote the rest as it moves away from whip issues.)

    There would seem to be enough here, as you say, for challenges on whips. There is plenty of evidence too that racing two year olds is overriding and overworking the animal.

    Really, it would be better to list the racing of horses and dogs as prohibited events. There is no real value to these activities. They are a net drain on the economy (no productive outcome) and a net drain on humanity’s “moral capital”. They normalise exploitation and cruelty and train humans in exploitation and cruelty.

  14. @poselequestion
    the behaviour of many horses in the stalls as they wait their turn, shivering, sweating all very aware of what lies ahead.

    Purely nerves, just like rugby or hockey (ice-hockey) players. It’s the love of the race and the thrill of the competition.

  15. @jrkrideau

    Yes I am sure that horses and all animals even, do have personalities – but of course this would be so because all life if it is to adapt to change has to encompass a variety of personalities; but I’m not sure that some personalities – horses and children because it used to be said to spare the rod and spoil the child and we don’t believe that any more – do need to be beaten to perform for their masters.

    It would seem quite obvious to me that there are other ways to persuade any animal to do what you want it to do without damaging their personality with violence or the threat of violence; possibly variable rate re-inforcement schedules would produce better results for the horse masters.

    Although, if the animal is damaged too early and or during critical periods when they are developing their individual personalities, they may never be able to learn to adapt to their environment.

  16. @Julie Thomas

    This raises the question of course of what is a “personality”? I pose this question without being too pedantic or semantic and prescribing that only a person can have a “person-ality” though strictly speaking one could go there. Simply, a “personality” might be a set and pattern of individual propensities, of a higher level organism – usually but not always a mammal, revealed by behaviours such that an individual can be considered unique in some sense from its fellows apart from physical differences. However, caste characteristics and behaviors, as in insects like bees and ants have to be discarded from consideration in this definition.

    There are claims that “New Study Confirms Birds Have Distinct Personalities.” On the basis of my definition above, I would definitely be prepared to admit of the possibility that birds can differ on that basis. However, using the word “personality” does perhaps carry the wrong connotations.

    The issue of pain for mammal is clear in my view. There is no reason to suppose that higher mammals feel more pain than for example dogs. The afferent nervous systems are sufficiently similar to allow us to suppose that the experience of pain, including acute pain is closely similar. From experience, I have seen a dog hit by a car at speed. The dog did not die instantly but died in acute and sadly very acrobatic death throes from its own muscle contractions. At the same time, the high-pitched yelps indicated excruciating pain. There is no reason in any of this to assume that higher mammals feel pain less than humans. We should proceed on the assumption that they do feel physical pain as acutely as humans. Generally, it appears our animal cruelty laws do proceed on this assumption. But there are gaps, as in the treatment of racehorses, which need to be rectified.

    Footnote: I am not sentimental about pet animals or farm animals. I have no interest in pet animals but considerable interest in wild animals. I believe the latter should be left alone and only viewed from a distance safe for both human and animal. But, I also have no interest in gratuitous, unnecessary, avoidable or exploitative cruelty to any animal. Since we no longer depend on animal muscle for motive power in our economy there can no excuse for exploitation of animals in that respect or for sport and gambling. Okay, we do depend on animal muscle for food. That’s a good question. I eat meat. We are omnivores after all. We could survive as vegetarians and our world food system would be more efficient and less environmentally disruptive for that change. Probably (IMO) we should move to a diet (if one hasn’t already) where meat is just a garnish or condiment: very small amounts of meat are probably all we need in a healthy diet. The Japanese have traditionally eaten a diet very low in red meat, moderate in fish and ample in rice and vegetables. This has left them very healthy and long-lived on average. But I digress…

  17. In horsemanship the whip is a method of communication, not a punishment. A light tap by the rider can alert the horse to which part of the animals body the rider wants to be active. Therefore the whip is an aid, as is the bit/bridle and leg and seat of the rider. However like spurs it is seen as an artificial aid.

    Experienced and skilled riders do not need the use a whip, it is banned at higher levels of dressage and rarely seen at camp drafting and other events.

  18. I believe there was an episode of catalyst on ABC looking at this very issue. The human presenter actually took the “flogging” and then discussed how painful it must be for the horse etc. It is a no-brainer that it should be banned.

  19. My pet rock is dour and stoic, whereas my rose bushes are comparatively fey and lyrical.

  20. @J-D

    I’m a bit unsure about it and won’t die in a ditch to defend my supposition or even say mean things about you if you want to disagree – as you so often do – but yeah I think the evidence is trending toward the conclusion that starfish and other ‘animals’ right down to the single cell creatures do differ in their responses to stimuli and the way I define ‘personality’, as a bland and all encompassing truth claim that this is the thing – differing responses to the same stimuli – that creates the very complex thing that we call personality.

    lol Tim – you could give your rock a new coat of paint or a cocktail hat; it might cheer you up even if the rock did not respond at all.

  21. 🙂 Variety in appearance does actually suggest variety of behaviour, without any need for anthropomorphising.

    Not that it’s required – it’s just one aspect of personality. Flies and insects that look identical are still found to exhibit individual behaviour traits. Some work faster and harder, others work slowly and sluggishly. Some are more aggressive, others are more passive.

    If you own chickens or goldfish, you’re probably well aware of their individual personalities – even if to someone visiting, they all just look and act the same.

    If you want to extend the concept beyond behaviourism – in the end you get back to Uncle Milton’s ‘why don’t you go ask the horses what they think?’

  22. @Julie Thomas
    As a child at one point I used to paint pet rocks in the visage of various robots and other characters from the Star Wars saga and sell them at the school fete. It was quite cheering, although in hindsight it was probably some kind of intellectual property violation. Those were more innocent times (for me at least).

  23. @J-D

    I not sure that I believe you about toothpicks – not being an experienced toothpick user – although if they are made from cooked timber I suppose they do respond differently and unpredictably but not randomly, but since trees are not animals then nope, I don’t think that they have personality.

    Nick there are people who seem to be able to understand how horses think or perhaps how they express their personality.

    Temple Grandin seems from the available accounts to be able to explain how cows like to be treated and seriously my neighbours who still carry on dairying know very well that cows have personalities and that there are hierarchies in cow herds and a new cow can sometimes be ostracised if the dominant cow doesn’t ‘like’ her. You can do things to alter this personality clash apparently.

    So I can’t see why horses can’t be given this sort of therapy to encourage them to want to win if they lack this necessary aspiration bent, rather than whipping them.

  24. I don’t doubt it, Julie. The same thing happens with chickens, which is why we call it a ‘pecking order’. The dominant ones sleep on the higher perches, and are generally right pain in the arses.

    Kind of like the poultry versions of a Bronwyn Bishop or Christopher Pyne. Though I like to think there’s some hope for him yet. It can’t be nice to figure out nobody likes you, and you’re really, really not living up to your deceased father’s expectations. I applaud him for outing himself from the pack, and taking a personal stand on same-sex marriage that day with Turnbull. It’s a small start. Let’s see what he makes of his new lease on political life.

    Yeah – as per rog’s comment above, I’d like to see trainers and jockeys forced to do away with their archaic, anachronistic whips and spurs, and actually have a go at, I don’t know…becoming better trainers and jockeys maybe? Though, ideally, I’d like to see it banned altogether.

    On an interesting note, my mother told me last night that Wally was actually her father’s cousin. She reckons the horseracing side of the family were tres embarrassed about the whole episode, and were quite happy to tell everybody they knew that he was a few stubbies short of a six pack. But then, I’m sure anyone with those kind of views back then was probably considered to be loopy.

    I’d have a guess he knew what he was on about though, and similar to the greyhounds, was probably more aware than most what goes on behind the scenes during training at many of these studs – not just during the ‘regulated races’ we get to watch.

  25. In flocks and herds alpha individuals will dominate and control. Alpha cows will use mounting as one way of establishing rank. Alpha cows will mount cows who are ready to serve, in large herds this is a signal that helps the bull to get around and do his business.

    With horses the alpha mare controls the herd, rejecting colts as they mature. It was said that as a colt the famous sire Sir Tristram was mistakenly put into a paddock with mares, who beat him up. This experience then made him a very hard horse to handle with a reputation for savagery with serving mares and staff often being injured.

  26. @Julie Thomas

    Many things that are not animals respond differently to the same stimulus. If your definition of ‘having a personality’ is ‘responding differently to the same stimulus’, then many things that are not animals still have personalities.

    On the other hand, if your definition of ‘having a personality’ is ‘being an animal’, then the sentence ‘all animals have personalities’ means ‘all animals are animals’, which is true but uninformative.

    We could try using one of the many dictionary definitions of ‘personality’ (none of which seem to be the same as yours). One of them is ‘a set of qualities that make a person or thing distinct from another’. If we use that definition then wines have different personalities — I’ve seen wine critics write about the personality of a wine before now. Another dictionary definition of ‘personality’ is ‘celebrity’: by that definition some people are personalities but most (including you and me) aren’t, and by that definition there are a few animals that are or have been personalities, but most aren’t.

  27. @J-D

    If you are feeling that way inclined you could try to see that there is a difference between animal, vegetable, and mineral things and toothpicks and any other vege things that are not animal cannot have a personality even if you want to argue that these vege things are “responding differently”.

    The dictionary is a bit behind the times you know in responding to the way language changes to reflect cultural knowledge but you may be able to look up the word “elicit” and then you will see that the behaviour that animals produce in response to stimuli are ‘elicited” but you can’t elicit behaviour from a toothpick; toothpicks can’t and don’t participate in the event like amoeba’s do.

    I do hope you are not going to suggest that I am claiming that minerals and pet rocks have personalities but for sure a pet rock wearing a cocktail hat would elicit interesting responses from some animals.

    Nick, I can’t even begin to think about Pyne when our former PM is on the radio saying such disgustingly stupid and ugly and unChristian things about altruism. Got to wash my ears out and listen to some jazz to feel calm again.

  28. @J-D

    Cruel treatment of animals for sport was at least as prevalent in pre-capitalist systems as it is in capitalist ones.

    True naturally.

    The point I was trying to make though is that this is just another example of why capitalism is not the route to Nirvana which our new bright and shiny PM would have us believe.

    My problem with it is not on mantra/ideology grounds but the way capitalism operates so that it will gobble the planet and us with it and turn anything into product for a quick buck. In the present instance its horses and dogs.

    Also I am not suggesting capitalism bad ergo socialism, whatever that is, is good.

    I once had hopes that ‘Green’ thinking would lead to a genuine third way but they seem wedded to muddiness and motherhood statements.

  29. @Tim Macknay

    “Fey” is one of those words whose meaning seems to have changed over the centuries. The list below progresses from the old-fashioned to the modern meanings.

    1 a (chiefly Scottish) : fated to die : doomed
    b : marked by a foreboding of death or calamity

    a : able to see into the future : visionary
    b : marked by an otherworldly air or attitude
    c : crazy, touched

    a : excessively refined : (precious)
    b : quaintly unconventional : (campy)

    From Merriam-Webster Online.

  30. I would wat to see a more extsnsive study than that. My expectation would be that during extreme effort pain is managed in a different way in the brain. This coukd be tested by whipping humans during intensive exercise. The other thought that I have is that predated animal’s rump has a reflexive surge of effort effect, but I’m only guessing based on what I have seen in Attenborough movies with wilderbeast etc being persued by lions.

    That is not to say that I support whipping.

  31. @Ikonoclast

    fey -> fated to die

    feigh -> ‘to clean out/cleanse’ (hence the later usage ‘feeling of levity before death’)

    fay -> fairy like

    Distinct words and meanings that have blended over time.

  32. I contacted the RSPCA.

    The answer I was given was along the following lines (I am paraphrasing).

    For a prosecution to succeed, it would be necessary to prove beyond reasonable doubt that horses suffer pain when whipped. The prosecution might have scientific expert witnesses to testify that horses do suffer pain when whipped, but the defence might have scientific expert witnesses to contradict the expert testimony for the prosecution, and the case could be difficult to win.

    For however little or much it may be worth, my opinion is that the RSPCA is underestimating the difficulty of finding expert witnesses to testify that whipping horses does not cause them pain and overestimating how well their testimony would stand up to cross-examination; also, my guess is that the RSPCA probably hasn’t gone into that particular aspect thoroughly and that their decision to focus on political and public campaigning instead of legal action is probably based largely on reasons which could themselves, in a very broad sense, be called political. However I’m sure that my investigation is even less thorough than that of the RSPCA and so I could very easily be wrong.

    One test would be to try to get a prosecution started, but I have no idea how that would be done.

  33. @Julie Thomas

    I suggested that looking at dictionary definitions was one possibility, not that it was the only possibility. Another possibility is to investigate whether we can find our own definition of the term that is acceptable to both of us. Do you have a suggested definition of your own to offer? or would you be interested in mine?

  34. @J-D

    I would in actually like to talk about how to define things adequately and if it is a thing that people benefit from doing too much of but it’s the Melbourne Cup tomorrow and even out here in the wilds of Qld we wear hats to watch the race and I’m still finishing off the last one…right now.

    It’s not so much the lack of time though; it’s more that the mental effort it takes to imagine and create adorable hats that women will luuurve leaves me unable to think about definitions.

    Business is business you know and I’m busy trying to be entrepreneurial as Lord Waffle advises us all to be and market my hats more efficiently – do you think the Chinese will be wanting to wear Aussie made hats?

    On the topic of whipping horses though, I heard Gai Waterhouse on RN this morning explaining that 99.999999999 repeating, percent of the time race horses are treated very well and because the people who own and train race horses are the sort of people who get up very early in the morning and work hard they can be trusted to do the right thing by their horses and the fact that the horses who don’t have the right genes are called “wastage” is nothing for people to be bothered about.

  35. Since making my earlier comment I have learnt that during extreme exertion the body (mamal bodies) release endorphins wil substantially alter the pain threshold. So flogging a stationary at rest horse will havd a very differenf effect to flogging a racing one. And I restate my expectation that the whip is more abouf triggering an automatic flight response rather than punishing the animal for not running fast enough

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