Demystifying The Whip Use Debate
Animal advocacy groups and mass communications have both helped to shift public opinions about horse racing. The researchers of this article investigated the debate surrounding whip use in both print and social media in the U.K. and Australia.
In both countries, new whip rules, such as limits on how many times a whip can be used, have caused intense debates. The researchers identified 11 frames used by people debating the issue.
Six frames addressed whether whip use is a problem and who should make decisions about it. Racing insiders and enthusiasts use the “whip as tool” frame, in which the whip is seen as essential to make racehorses perform their best and causes no pain. The “whip as tool” frame made up 18% of frames used in the print media in the U.K. and 11% in Australia.
Others used the “the whip is not needed” frame: some argued that it was cruel and should be banned, while others said that the whip didn’t cause pain but should still be carried only for safety purposes. The “the whip is not needed” frame made up only 8% of frames used in the print media in the U.K., but 18% in Australia. The difference was mostly because the Australian sample included more letters to the editor. Online, the “the whip is not needed” frame made up 39% of the frames used.
The “who knows best?” frame was that people who work with horses daily are best qualified to figure out what’s good for the horses. An uncommon frame was the “community values and change” frame, which stated that as people become more concerned about animal welfare, the racing industry should change. This frame was uncommon in Australia and never used in the United Kingdom. The “horse” frame, in which people assigned human qualities to horses and said that they needed the whip to be motivated, was also rare. Online, some readers used the “ban horse racing” frame, but this frame was not seen in print media.
Four frames addressed how the racing industry should be governed. The “rules and regulations” frame dominated the discussion in both the U.K. and Australia: it consisted of dissatisfaction with the rules and the process by which they were made. The “rules and regulations” frame made up about 30% of the frames used in Australia and early on in the U.K. However, over time, the “rules and regulations” frame disappeared in the U.K., because the horseracing association amended the rules to address people’s concerns.
In the U.K., the “punishment doesn’t fit the crime” frame appeared. Here, people complained that the penalties were too harsh and should penalize guardians and trainers alongside jockeys. The use of this frame increased after the rules were amended. In Australia, some people also wanted to penalize the guardians and trainers, but they used an “integrity” frame in which penalizing guardians makes sure they don’t benefit from breaking the rules. In the U.K., some people used the “whip-free racing” frame, which argued that jockeys shouldn’t use whips (but it was uncommon).
Finally, the “gambling” frame was that people wouldn’t want to gamble on horses if the rules restricted whip use. According to this frame, gamblers wanted to see jockeys doing their best, so they wouldn’t gamble if the jockeys couldn’t use whips. In spite of gambling’s role in making sure that horse racing is profitable, few people used this frame.
The print media was more likely to express support of whip use, while those that opposed the use of the whip used social media. The authors speculated that journalists saw guardians, trainers, and jockeys as the experts and thus often quoted them in print media. Conversely, on social media, anyone could voice their opinion, and so it reflected the general public’s opinions on whip use.
To enhance their voice in the debate, animal advocates can present their own experts so that their viewpoints are represented in media outlets. They can also use social media to raise awareness of animal welfare issues in a visible and affordable way. Finally, advocates should become familiar with commonly used frames, like “whip as tool” and “rules and regulations,” so that they know how to counter them when they come up.