Misuse Of The Whip Can Leave A Welt On The Sport

by | 08.07.2018 | 6:10pm

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote those now-famous words – “I know it when I see it” – in 1964 when the court determined that an Ohio man was wrongly convicted under a state obscenity law for showing what local officials said was hard-core pornography at a movie theater.

Horse racing stewards in Iowa must apply that same standard – “I know it when I see it” – when considering what constitutes a jockey's “excessive or indiscriminate” use of the whip or riding crop during a race.

Earlier this week, Ralph D'Amico, Rick Evans and Rick Sackett – the three stewards at Prairie Meadows – determined that the track's leading rider, Ramon Vazquez, went over the line in using the crop 48 times (by their count) in the final 3 ½ furlongs in a mile and 70-yard allowance/optional claiming race on Aug. 3.

The horse, Underpressure, finished second by a neck as the 9-10 favorite for trainer Chris Richard and owner Mallory Greiner. Vazquez was fined $1,000. In their ruling, the stewards noted that Vazquez “has had several violations at Prairie Meadows in recent history for excessive or indiscriminate whipping of his horse during a race.”

Iowa rule 491 IAC 10.5(2)”j”(4) states simply: “Whip prohibited. Jockeys may not use a whip on a two-year-old horse before April 1 of each year, nor shall a jockey or other person engage in excessive or indiscriminate whipping of any horse at any time.”

I asked state steward D'Amico how “excessive or indiscriminate” are defined. Is there a magic number when a jockey goes from being “aggressive” to “excessive”?

“That's the question,” D'Amico said. “We tried to put it in writing so the jockeys, trainers, everyone would know what to expect. We got some pushback from the Jockeys' Guild and trainers, so we had to withdraw and we went back to the interpretation of our rules, which are kind of vague. Basically we watch the race and if we feel it was excessive, we have the vets check the horses for welts and we are notified. All jockeys get a warning first if we believe their whipping was excessive or indiscriminate or if they left a welt.”


The Association of Racing Commissioners International does have a more specific model rule. It reads:

 ” (7) Use of Riding Crop
  (a) Although the use of a riding crop is not required, any jockey who uses a riding crop during a race shall do so only in a manner consistent with exerting his/her best efforts to win.
  (b) In all races where a jockey will ride without a riding crop, an announcement of such fact shall be made over the public-address system.
  (c) No electrical or mechanical device or other expedient designed to increase or retard the speed of a horse, other than the riding crop approved by the stewards, shall be possessed by anyone, or applied by anyone to the horse at any time on the grounds of the association during the meeting, whether in a race or otherwise.
  (d) Riding crops shall not be used on two-year-old horses before April 1 of each year.
  (e) The riding crop shall only be used for safety, correction and encouragement, and be appropriate, proportionate, professional, taking into account the rules of racing herein. However, stimulus provided by the use of the riding crop shall be monitored so as not to compromise the welfare of the horse.
  (f) Use of the riding crop varies with each particular horse and the circumstances of the race.
  (g) Except for extreme safety reasons all riders should comply with the following when using a riding crop:
(A) Initially showing the horse the riding crop, and/or tapping the horse with the riding crop down, giving it time to respond before using it;
  (B) Having used the riding crop, giving the horse a chance to respond before using it again; i. “Chance to respond” is defined as one of the following actions by a jockey:
  1. Pausing the use of the riding crop on their horse before resuming again; or
  2. Pushing on their horse with a rein in each hand, keeping the riding crop in the up or down position; or
  3. Showing the horse the riding crop without making contact; or
  4. Moving the riding crop from one hand to the other.
  (C) Using the riding crop in rhythm with the horse's stride.
(h) When deciding whether or not to review the jockey's use of the riding crop, Stewards will consider how the jockey has used the riding crop during the course of the entire race, with particular attention to its use in the closing stages, and relevant factors such as:
  (A) The manner in which the riding crop was used
  (B) The purpose for which the riding crop was used
  (C) The distance over which the riding crop was used and whether the number of times it was used was reasonable and necessary
  (D) Whether the horse was continuing to respond.
(i) In the event there is a review by the Stewards, use of the riding crop may be deemed appropriate in the following circumstances:
  (A) To keep a horse in contention or to maintain a challenging position prior to what would be considered the closing stages of a race,
  (B) To maintain a horse's focus and concentration,
  (C) To correct a horse that is noticeably hanging,
  (D) To assure the horse maintains a straight course, or
  (E) Where there is only light contact with the horse.
(j) Prohibited use of the riding crop includes but are not limited to striking a horse: (A) On the head, flanks or on any other part of its body other than the shoulders or hind quarters except when necessary to control a horse;
  (B) During the post parade or after the finish of the race except when necessary to control the horse;
  (C) Excessively or brutally causing welts or breaks in the skin;
  (D) When the horse is clearly out of the race or has obtained its maximum placing;
  (E) Persistently even though the horse is showing no response under the riding crop; or
  (F) Striking another rider or horse.
 (k) After the race, horses will be subject to inspection by a racing or official veterinarian looking for cuts, welts or bruises in the skin. Any adverse findings shall be reported to the Stewards.”


The webpage for the Professional Jockeys Association in England explains the British Horseracing Authority's extensive whip rules here. Most controversial is the fact there is a number of strikes a jockey is permitted during a race with hands off the reins: seven.

California adopted the first rule among U.S. racing jurisdictions restricting the number of times a jockey may strike a horse – three – without giving the horse a chance to respond (at which point they can strike the horse three more times, and so on and so on). Regulators in Ontario, Canada, previously introduced a restrictive whip rule in 2009. Minnesota also regulates the number of times a jockey can strike a horse before giving it a chance to respond.

Most racing states have adopted rules that require padded riding crops – they were developed about 10 years ago – instead of the old-school whips that could more easily leave a welt on a horse.

The whip or riding crop remains an optics and image problem for the sport and it's important that regulators and industry participants be aware of how many people in the general public abhor its use. The regulations (or lack thereof) for the riding crop in Iowa need to be updated so jockeys have specific guidelines (i.e., ARCI model rules) on what constitutes whipping that is excessive or indiscriminate.

The Potter Stewart rule shouldn't apply to horse racing.

CLARIFICATION: While California was the first U.S. racing jurisdiction to restrict the number of times a jockey may strike a horse with the crop without giving it a chance to respond, the Ontario Racing Commission in 2009 was the first North American regulator to adopt such a standard.

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