It's Tough Topic Thursday, which I haven't done in a while, but recent developments prompt a need for this discussion. Before we begin, let's be up front about something: horses are whipped in racing. Your daddy's uncle's cousin who NEVER lets his jockeys touch the horses with the whip or demands they "whip gently" (ha) is the exception to the rule, so getting butthurt here about it is a waste of everyone's time. Now, on to the beef of this topic. Let's consider some of the arguments used in defense of whips.
First, the claim that jockeys only whip the number/silk, or wave it beside the horse's face to make it believe there is another horse near it. One need only watch a horse race to refute the first claim, but even if they were only hitting the silk, swatting an animal through cloth is still painful. As for the argument that you're making them believe there's another horse, how stupid and blind do you think horses are? They don't see a stick waving beside their face and think "oh hey! A really skinny horse that's shaped like a broom handle! Never seen one of those! Oh well, better try to beat it!" I mean, come on.
Second, the claim that the whips are "soft" or that jockeys don't whip that hard. There is nothing soft about a grown man drawing a stick over his head, then throwing it backwards against the (highly sensitive - it is more highly innervated than our fingertips) horse's flank. Would you lay your hand over the horse's flank, Palm up, without flinching, to be hit repeatedly by a jockey? Let alone while trying to perform to your peak athletic ability? I think not.
Finally, defenders claim that there are "heavy fines and penalties" in place to prevent over whipping. This is blatantly false. Racing wants to put on a good show - often above all else. Victor Espinoza, who many of you may know for his winning rides aboard California Chrome last year, whipped a filly (Stellar Wind) so hard and so often in the Santa Anita Oaks that her flank was cut open. Victor Espinoza was fined for this - to the tune of $300. While that may seem steep to us, allow me to put that in perspective. Last year, Espinoza made approximately $1million in purses alone, and this year has nearly $600k in the bank. Your average American would have to work 55 years to make as much as he has in a year and a half. As if that incredibly low fine weren't enough, it was admitted by the authorities involved that they were aware of past infractions! Santa Anita steward Scott Chaney said "I think he's had a couple in the past, but it's been several years." As if it being a few years somehow erases all guilt? It is a proven fact that those who abuse animals often return to it. Espinoza's performance in the Derby is now under review, as he whipped American Pharaoh over 30 times on the home stretch.
While this is just one case study, please recognize that this represents many more. This man is at the absolute top of his sport and allowed to get away with it with nothing more than a slap on the hand. This sport needs serious reform, and whips are just one of many facets.