Researchers Study the Science Behind Whip Use in Racehorses

New industry rules intended to improve horse welfare by decreasing whipping frequency might actually go against the principles of operant training and, specifically, negative reinforcement, one equitation scientist says.
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whip use in racehorses
This research could lead to improved whip use through more voluntary behavior, said Telatin. If jockeys and trainers learn about the science behind whip use, they might act more out of a desire for effective whip use than out of having to follow set whip rules, he said. | Photo: iStock

Jockeys whip racehorses. But welfare advocates cry out against it. The current compromise? Whip less.

But according to leading equitation scientists, reducing whipping frequency could be just as bad for the horse, causing confusion and creating new welfare issues.

“New industry rules intended to improve horse welfare, focusing on decreasing whipping frequency, may actually go against the principles of operant training and, specifically, negative reinforcement,” said Angelo Telatin, PhD, associate professor of equine studies at Delaware Valley University, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. “This may lead to ineffective training results and/or the occurrence of aversive behaviors

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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