Views On Whip Use In Australian Horse Racing
In Australia, the law does not allow whipping of horses who are not likely to win. Regardless, almost all horses are subjected to whip use during races. As people become more in tune with horse welfare, the public is increasingly asking whether whip use in horse racing is justified. This study used existing data to examine the links between gender, household income, interest in horse racing, and support for whip use among members of the public.
RSPCA Australia commissioned a survey of a nationally-representative sample of over 1,500 Australians. The survey asked three questions:
- “Thinking now about horse racing (including thoroughbred racing/gallops, and harness racing/trots), do you think horses should be hit with a whip in the normal course of a race?”
- “In the last 12 months, how often have you watched and/or bet on a horse race?”
- “If the rules did not allow any horses to be hit with a whip (except in emergency/safety situations), would you continue to watch and/or bet on horse races?”
The second question was used to measure respondents’ level of involvement with horse reading. The third question was only asked of those who did not respond “Not at all” to question two.
The initial results from this survey (previously published) showed that 74% of people were against the use of whips in racing and that 90% of those who regularly watch and bet on races would continue to do so even if whip use was banned. In this follow-up study, the researchers used the survey data to further understand which demographics approve of whip use and which don’t.
Effects Of Gender, Income, And Involvement
Most Australian men and women said that horses should not be whipped in the normal course of a race. However, men supported whip use at a much higher rate (37% of men compared to 14% of women). This remained true after accounting for age, income, and involvement with horse racing. The authors suggest several reasons for the gender difference, including men’s higher propensity to violence (including violence against animals) and lower awareness of horse welfare issues. The study does not consider genders other than men and women.
Household income wasn’t linked to support for whipping horses. But among those involved in horse racing, Australians from the lowest income bracket (< AU$20K) were most likely to say they would stop watching/betting on races if whipping were banned. Australians in the highest income brackets (> AU$150K) were significantly less likely to say the same. This remained true after accounting for age, gender, and involvement with horse racing. The authors suggest that this result might be because different groups have different reasons to gamble. The lower income group might gamble to win money, but wealthier people may value horse racing more for social and business reasons.
Unsurprisingly, Australians who watch and bet on horse races more regularly were more likely to support whip use. The horse racing industry avoids acknowledging that whipping horses causes pain, preferring to say that the horses perceive whipping as “encouragement” or that high levels of adrenaline mean the horses don’t feel the whip at all. People with higher involvement in horse racing may have been exposed to these justifications more often, and so they view the use of whips as less problematic.
Beyond those discussed above, no other significant links were found.
This study suggests that less wealthy fans of horse racing may be more convinced by arguments that focus on whipped horses performing worse. However, wealthier Australians that use horse racing as a way to socialize are less likely to be concerned about horse performance.
The survey results might not be convincing to industrial bodies representing horse racing, because the questions did not distinguish between watching and betting on horse races. People who place bets on horse races are probably more valuable to the industry, and it is not clear what their attitudes are from these results.
Horse and greyhound racing are large industries in Australia, accounting for seven billion Australian dollars worth of bets placed per year. There are many differing attitudes towards animal sports in Australia, often based on one’s personal characteristics. Animal advocates should continue to consider the background of those engaged in animal sports when working to change common practices.