10 December 2016
Australian harness racing is banning the use of whips in training and racing from 1 September 2017 in a world-leading animal welfare initiative that improves the industry’s image and enhances its sustainability.
The decision sets the pace in animal welfare and for the long-term support and sustainability of the industry. It aligns with high expectations of the community, fans, and industry participants in harness racing.
The announcement which followed the jewel event on the Australasian harness racing calendar yesterday – the Inter Dominion in Perth – makes Australia the first country in the world to voluntarily ban the whip.
The whip ban broadens Harness Racing Australia’s (HRA) world leadership position in the industry, which is already established through a wide-ranging welfare agenda, including zero-tolerance to prohibited substances in racing.
The Chairman of HRA, Mr Geoff Want, said today: “The whip ban decision was not taken lightly, but was made on our own initiative because we believe it is the right decision at the right time.
We have been moving down this path for six years by limiting its use with a strong focus on health and welfare of horses.
“We see the ban as a vital way of demonstrating our responsibility as an industry, and to earning and maintaining the social acceptance and sustainability of harness racing”.
HRA Executive meeting yesterday unanimously agreed to the implementation details of the ban, following the proactive initiative of members at the Annual General Meeting of Harness Racing Australia last October.
The Executive also gave detailed consideration to the likely effect of the ban on harness racing audiences and the punting public.
“We are strongly of the belief that the improved image of our sport will add to the appeal of our racing product and be broadly welcomed by fans,” said Mr Want. “We are confident that wagering turnover will not be impacted and indeed a number of professional punters have indicated support for the ban”.
The implementation of the ban from 1 September 2017, will allow for a program of awareness, education, and research and monitoring to be undertaken across the industry.
The program will embrace the education of drivers and horses. It will also include a major research task to ensure safety is maintained when drivers do not have a whip to control unexpected horse movements.
Mr Want said many drivers were concerned that control over a horse would be curtailed without a whip, especially when horses shy (leap sideways) or back up. He said HRA Executive accepted the challenges the ban presented for ensuring safety was maintained for drivers, people, horses, trainers, stablehands, and people nearby.
“Between now and the implementation of the whip ban, we will consult widely in the industry, especially with drivers and trainers, and with animal welfare advocates, such as the RSPCA,” Mr Want said.
“Whatever tool evolves from this process it will only be allowed to avoid or guide a horse out of a dangerous situation to itself, other horses, drivers or anyone nearby.
“It will definitely be banned from use to urge a horse to better perform, and strict penalties will apply for any breaches of its use.
“Undoubtedly, some people may resist change, or feel the decision limits competitiveness in harness racing. We are confident they will be proved wrong and will eventually see the merit of banning the whip,” he said.
"We know some drivers are concerned about safety issues, but we feel the process of developing a tool to maintain safety will allay concerns.
“There is ample evidence the whip is not needed in our industry and that its use to enhance racing performance is questionable,” he said. “If no driver uses a whip then no driver has a perceived advantage – each race will be conducted on a level playing field, have a fair winner and horse welfare will be enhanced”.
Mr Want said animal welfare would continue to be addressed during the transition to banning the whip, and the industry would seek input from the RSPCA going forward.
CEO of the RSPCA Australia, Ms Heather Neil, commended the HRA’s leadership, and said: “This is a powerful sign that the harness racing industry is both listening to its stakeholders, and acknowledging the concerns of the wider community.
“As Harness Racing Australia has recognised, racing should celebrate quality horsemanship, breeding and training - whips shouldn’t come into it”.
Mr Want said: “Our members have a considerate and ethical equine welfare agenda and rules, and we do a great deal to enforce rigorous animal welfare protocols. The whip ban is part of continued improvements.
“For example, we have just appointed our inaugural Equine Health & Welfare Coordinator to benchmark states, review policy, manage disease and quarantine, and clear international horse movements”.
Australia’s leading driver – and 11-times winner of the national drivers’ championship – Chris Alford said he supported the ban.
“Drivers are very sensitive to their horses and appreciate and support moves to ensure high standards of animal welfare that are aligned with community expectations,” he said.
“We also know that a shying horse is a danger to itself, drivers, people and other horses nearby. I fully support the decision to ban the whip, plus maintain safety for all involved”.
For information or interviews contact:
Alex Messina – 0413 316 478
Robert Masters – 0413 147 080
- Harness Racing by the Numbers Nationally*
Ø 13,067 Full Time Equivalent jobs (19,000 people).
Ø 24,000 Owners, 5,500 breeders, 4700 Trainers, 1200 Drivers of Standardbred (harness racing) horses.
Ø $113 million annually spent to breed Standardbred horses.
Ø 12,331 Horses in Training.
Ø Approx. 143,000 race starts annually.
Ø $2.5 billion total wagering turnover.
- State by State – Harness Racing Value, Jobs, Wagering
|STATE||Gross National Prod
|Jobs (Full Time Equivalent)||State Wagering
Taxes paid $M
|New South Wales||$411||3816||$34|
*Size & Scope of the Harness Racing industry in Australia, IER Pty Ltd, October 2012
- History of Harness Racing in Australia
Ø Trotting races started in Australia in NSW on 30 April 1810 at Parramatta.
Ø The first formally organised race meeting was in Victoria in 1860 at Flemington.
Ø Australia’s first dedicated harness racing track was constructed in 1882 at Elsternwick Park, Melbourne.
- History of the Whip
Ø It is believed the whip was used from the first trotting races in the early 1800s.
Ø Originally made from cane, the whip has been constructed of fibreglass inside a platted nylon cover since around the 1970s.
Ø Modern reforms to whip use began in 1992 with minor changes, including reducing the whip length. From thereon only a forearm action was permitted in racing. The length of the whip was also regulated.
Ø In 2010, the rules were moderated to ensure that the whip could only be used in a wrist and elbow action. The reins could be crossed (holding both reins in one hand) only in the final 200 metres.
Ø In 2016, further changes required drivers to have one rein in each hand at all times.
Ø In 2016, Australia became the first country in the world to voluntarily ban the use of the whip in racing and training.
- Whip use and whip bans in other countries
Ø Norway is the only country in the world imposing a total whip ban in harness racing. This was due to changes in animal welfare legislation.
- Key welfare checks on horses in training and racing
Ø Harness Racing Stewards have wide powers. They include powers of random entry, search, and seizure without court warrants, and power to direct licensed persons to undertake actions.
Ø Stewards are mandated to regulate equine health and welfare in and out of competition.
Ø On the track, stewards’ panels watch every race live from various vantage points and camera angles.
Ø Stewards and veterinarians conduct pre-race welfare checks. Every horse is checked at race meetings.
Ø Veterinarians do post-race welfare checks for recovery purposes and to compile injury reports.
Ø Drug controls include pre-and post-race urine and blood testing.
- Fines, disqualifications of drivers/ trainers/owners for misuse of whips?
Ø A panel of stewards monitor every race.
Ø Stewards can, and do, penalise drivers for misuse of whips ranging from fines to suspensions and disqualification of drivers for severe or repeat offences.
Ø Fines for low-level first and second offence start from a minimum of $200 and $400 (four to eight times the base fee paid to drivers).