‘Welfare-Friendly’ Whip Use in Standardbred Racing Doesn’t Diminish Performance

Researchers determined that modifications in whip use rules, aimed toward more ethical use had no negative effect on Standardbreds’ racing performance or race times.
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whip use in standardbred racing
Researchers determined that modifications in whip use rules, aimed toward more ethical use had no negative effect on Standardbreds' racing performance or race times. | Photo: iStock

Dramatic whip use in Standardbred racing might make for a thrilling finish for some spectators, but it’s probably not going to make the horses trot any faster. Recent study results suggest that modifications in whip rules over the years, aimed toward more ethical use, had no negative effect on racing performance or race times.

Their data analysis suggested there might have even been a slight trend toward improved performance after whip use in Standardbred racing was regulated to allow for “flicking actions of the wrist or elbow” as opposed to a “swinging arm action,” said Paul McGreevy, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, MACVS (Animal Welfare), professor of animal behavior and animal welfare science at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Harness Racing Australia changed whip use rules in Thoroughbred and harness racing, starting in January 2010, toward more “welfare-friendly” rules, he said. Those progressive changes were met with criticism that less whipping would make the horses run slower. But results from McGreevy’s study contradict that criticism, he said: He and his fellow researchers found that since the rules were introduced, horses haven’t raced any slower—on the contrary, they’ve become slightly faster

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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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