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 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.

  2. @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.

  3. 🙂 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?’

  4. @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).

  5. @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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. @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.

  9. @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.

  10. @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.

  11. @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.

  12. 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.

  13. @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.

  14. 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.

  15. @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?

  16. @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.

  17. 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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