Use of whips on horses at competitive events


Ratification Date: 23 Jul 2015


Excessive or incorrect use of a whip on any horse is not acceptable.


The whip is used as a training aid by means of negative reinforcement. By applying an aversive stimulus to a horse, the horse is expected to respond and when the response is observed, the stimulus should cease.

The whip in thoroughbred racing must be padded and designed to be energy absorbing. It should only be used when the horse is able to respond and the horse should be given time to respond. The whip must not strike the head of the horse.

The whip is said to be of use as a steering device in thoroughbred racing to invoke a rapid direction change in cases where collision or danger to the horse or rider is to be avoided. However studies based on jockeys’ whip handedness, to determine whether the whip is used as a steering device, gave conflicting results4,6.

Australian Racing Board rule 137a clearly defines whip use in racing and what constitutes illegality. In harness racing the whip is controlled under rule 156. Dressage Australia refers to whip use in rules 1.2 2f, 1.3, 2.6, 5 and 12.

McGreevy et al state that some whip rule breaches in thoroughbred racing are not being detected such as frequent flank contact by the whip2 and also that the backhand whip grip may generate more force than the forehand grip3. There is an alternative study which asserts the forehand strike delivers more force, however this has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal9.


The use of whips in training as negative reinforcement is appropriate when used subtly and appropriately. A more detailed discussion is presented in The International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) position statement5 which asserts that whip use should not replace adequate training, and excessive whipping of horses is not acceptable.

All equestrian authorities are encouraged to clearly define acceptable whip use and any misuse, according to these rules, must be vigorously policed with severe penalties.

Further research

  • The ability of whips to enhance performance in Thoroughbred racing has been questioned 7,8 and so their use for this purpose should be further investigated.
  • Based on current knowledge it is reasonable to expect that the padded whip causes pain to the horse however further research under race conditions may be warranted.


The table below illustrates the adding and subtracting of stimuli (pleasant or aversive) in relation to reinforcement versus punishment.

  Pleasant Stimulus Aversive (unpleasant) Stimulus
Adding/Presenting Positive Reinforcement Positive Punishment
Removing/Taking Away Negative Punishment Negative Reinforcement

Information Papers

ARB rules of racing http://www.australianracingboard.com.au/racing_rules.aspx

Australian Harness Racing Rules http://www.harness.org.au/rules/DRIVERS.HTM#whips EA

British Racing Authority: A Review of the use of the whip in Horseracing, September 2011

Dressage Australia National Dressage Rules http://www.equestrian.org.au/site/equestrian/national/downloads/2005/dre...


  1. Jones, B., McGreevy, P.D., 2010. Ethical equitation: applying a cost-benefit approach. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 5, 196-202.
  2. McGreevy, P.D., Corken, R.A., Salvin, H., Black, C. 2012. Whip use by jockeys in a sample of Australian Thoroughbred races – an observational study. PLoS. 7 (3) e33398.
  3. McGreevy, P., Hawson, L.A., Salvin, H. & McLean, A.N., 2013. A note on the force of whip impacts delivered by jockeys using forehand and backhand strikes. Journal of veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. Vol. 8, Issues 5., p.p 395-399.
  4. McGreevy PD, Oddie C (2011) Holding the whip hand—a note on the distribution of jockeys’ whip hand preferences in Australian Thoroughbred racing. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research Volume 6, Issue 5, September–October 2011, Pages 287–289.
  5. International Society for Equitation Science. Position statement on aversive stimuli in horse training. www.equitationscience.com/aversive-stimuli (accessed 21st Oct 2013)
  6. Knight PK, Hamilton NA (2014) Handedness of whip use by Australian Jockeys. Australian Veterinary Journal Volume 92, No 7, July 2014, Pages 231-234.
  7. Evans D, McGreevy P. An investigation of racing performance and whip use by jockeys in thoroughbred races. Aust Equine Vet 2011;30:59.
  8. Deuel NR, Lawrence LM. Effects of urging by the rider on gallop stride characteristics of Quarterhorses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 1988;8:(3) pp240 - 243.
  9. Noble G, Dodd J, Nielsen S, et al. Determining forces generated using a padded whip and impacts on the horse. RIRDC Publication No 14/075, September 2014.

Other relevant policies and position statements

Equine competitive events

The provision of optimum veterinary services to the horse racing industry

Date of ratification by AVA Board 23 July 2015