Can a Pro-Horseracing Group Meaningfully Review Horse Welfare?
In 2011, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) reviewed its rules for whip use. Though the BHA had maintained that they had the most comprehensive instructions for whip use in the world, as the review approached there were two incidents of “excessive whip use by winning jockeys” which placed the practice “under public and media scrutiny, including prompting one Member of Parliament to write to the BHA about whip overuse.” In this context, the BHA explored the practice in broad terms, considering “not only the adequacy of the rules themselves but also the broader appropriateness of whipping from an ethical, animal welfare and public perspective.” The review was conducted by an internal BHA committee, and though it did include some scientific assessments, it was not presented as a “scientific,” peer-reviewed paper. This article, published in the journal Animals, sought to evaluate the BHA’s review, and perhaps not surprisingly, found significant issues with how it was conducted.
With an open-ended mission but a lack of scientific rigor, the authors found that the BHA’s report had numerous flaws, including “the consultation process, public survey research and data analysis.” Since part of the review’s purpose was to see if whip use was “neccessary” or “appropriate,” the BHA had considerable leeway to set out numerous instances where whip use was seen as appropriate, using terms like “safety” to make their point. The authors of this critical analysis note the problem with this, however, is that “the argument that whip use should be acceptable where it is necessary for safety is not the same as the question of whether whip use is necessary for safety or when it is so necessary.”
Though this article does assert that the BHA review was “an excellent and well-timed opportunity to examine the use of the whip in horseracing in relation to horse welfare,” they also highlight that “the Report concluded that whip use is not painful, that whip use is not a welfare problem, and that whip use is necessary for safety and encouragement, without adequate evidence to support these claims.” They also note the profound conflict of interest (“or at least of the perception of such a conflict”) for the BHA itself to carry out the review. Only three of the 16 groups consulted in the review had no association with the racing industry, and all of the equine vets who were consulted were connected to the industry. Furthermore, numerous conclusions and recommendations by the BHA were dialed back within days of the report being published, and a limit on the number of whip strikes that could be delivered in the final stage of a race was removed after protests from the Professional Jockeys Association.
All in all, the BHA review, and this critical analysis of it, offer up an important case study for animal advocates. Though it is not difficult to see why an industry reviewing itself will likely lead to extreme bias, it is a common practice in many different animal professions, especially when cruelty is made public. The BHA report and analysis serves as an important reminder to advocates to critically examine industry reports, and to make those critiques as public as possible.
There is increasing controversy about the use of the whip as a performance aid in Thoroughbred horseracing and its impact on horse welfare. This paper offers a critical analysis of the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) 2011 Report Responsible Regulation: A Review of the Use of the Whip in Horseracing. It examines the BHA’s process of consultation and use of science and public opinion research through the application of current scientific literature and legal analysis. This analysis suggests that the BHA’s findings on the welfare impact and justification for whip use are insufficiently defended by the report. These findings indicate that the report is an inadequate basis from which to draw any definitive conclusions on the impact of whips on racehorse welfare. Further review is needed, undertaken by an independent scientific body, to advance this debate.