Jockeys’ Guild proposes revised whip rules
Photo by The Racing Biz.
The firestorm kicked off by three dozen equine deaths at Santa Anita Park in the winter continues to flare in unpredictable ways through the Thoroughbred industry.
Most recently, jockeys’ use of the riding crop has come in for questioning, with California and New Jersey both proposing rules that would strictly limit the use of the whip.
Now the Jockeys’ Guild is firing back with its own proposal.
“The proposals by the California Horse Racing Board, The New Jersey Racing Commission, and The Jockey Club, to eliminate the use of the riding crop but for safety purposes, will have serious consequences and could result in even greater risks and dangers,” the Guild said in a statement. “It is the opinion of the jockeys, those whose lives are at risk, that there could be catastrophic consequences for both the horses and the jockeys if the riding crop is eliminated but for safety purposes.”
The California proposal, approved by a unanimous vote of the state Horse Racing Board, now goes through a 45-day comment period before it can be finalized. It would limit jockeys to no more than six strikes within a race and no more than two in succession. Riders would not be allowed to use the overhand method common in racing but could only use an underhand motion to strike the horse.
But the Guild said that its jockeys “were not afforded the opportunity” to participate in the discussions which led to the California rule.
In a letter to the Board, Guild president Terry Meyocks said that, without crops for encouragement, jockeys might use the reins to encourage horses, possibly resulting in a loss of control. Additionally, he added, without the ready encouragement of the crop, jockeys might be unable to spur their horses to move quickly into holes.
“Such occurrences could be dangerous, and even catastrophic,” Meyocks wrote. He added that jockeys, unlike riders in other equestrian events, have limited leg contact with the horse and no seat. Their only means of control are their hands, voice, limited leg use, and crop.
“To eliminate the use of the riding crop would further reduce their ability to communicate with their mount,” Meyocks wrote.
The Guild has proposed its own revisions to the current model rule promulgated by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.
The Guild’s proposal would:
- limit riders to seven overhand strikes per race on the shoulder or hind quarters;
- allow riders to “tap the horse” on the shoulder or hind quarters with an underhand motion “as necessary”;
- forbid riders from striking a horse “from an arm position above the helmet.”
The model rule already includes provisions prohibiting excessive or “brutal” whipping that causes welts and forbidding riders from hitting a horse that is “clearly out of the race” or is showing no response.
The debate over the use of the riding crop, while spurred by the Santa Anita situation, is much less about limiting equine fatalities — there’s no apparent link — and more about responding to public perception that whip use is cruel to the horse.
But the Guild says that the public perception problem is just that — a perception problem.
“We have not taken the initiative to educate the public about the changes that have been made to the popper and the steps that are taken to assure that horses are being treated humanely and with the upmost [sic] care,” Meyocks wrote.
In its statement, the Guild said it is working with the newly formed Thoroughbred Safety Coalition — a group comprised primarily of racetrack operators — to craft “an agreed upon proposal.”
“The ultimate goal is to establish a standard that is in the best interest of the welfare of the horse, as well as the industry as a whole, including the betting public,” the Guild said.
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