An animal rights organization has filed criminal charges against Tasmania’s top racing body and a jockey in hopes it can ban the use of whips during horse racing in the state.
- In a test case, PETA laid 14 charges for using a whip in two races at Mowbray in Launceston in 2019
- Some jurisdictions hold that the use of a whip in thoroughbred racing is an essential tool, which does not injure the horse.
- In court, PETA will try to prove that horses can experience pain when whipping
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) alleges that whipping, as currently permitted by Tasracing, is a form of animal cruelty under the Tasmanian Animal Welfare Act 1993.
In a test case, the organization filed 14 charges against Tasracing and an Australian jockey for using a whip by racing standards in two races at Mowbray in Launceston in 2019.
The charges against the jockey allege that by whipping the horses during races, the jockey “caused and was likely to cause unreasonable and unjustifiable pain and suffering to the horses”.
The charges against Tasracing center on the fact that the racing body authorized the whipping of horses in races.
In the documents, PETA alleges that by organizing the races in accordance with the rules which allow the whipping of horses and by arranging for the participation of the jockey, Tasracing “allowed, aided, encouraged and instigated” the jockey to whip the horses, which was an act of cruelty to animals.
PETA does not allege that the jockey or Tasracing authorized excessive lashes or anything in violation of Australian rules.
The aim of the test case is to prove that standard whipping, as permitted by Australian racing rules, conflicts with the Tasmanian Animal Welfare Act 1993.
If successful, PETA hopes it will mean a ban on whipping in races across the state.
The “dead end” animal can avoid pain
Australian racing rules allow the use of the whip a maximum of five times in non-consecutive strides before the 100-meter mark and at the runner’s discretion thereafter.
Some jurisdictions hold that the use of a whip in thoroughbred racing is an essential tool, which does not injure the horse, but not everyone agrees.
Racing Victoria has taken a stand against the use of whips in thoroughbred racing and last year called for national reform, saying “current national whip rules are no longer appropriate”.
He wants the industry to move to an “ultimate ban” on the use of whips “for purposes other than protecting the safety of horses and jockeys”.
Earlier this year, he undertook trials limiting the use of whips. However, he did not take it upon himself to ban the whips.
Racing Australia has also undertaken a review of national whip rules, although the findings have yet to be released.
In November 2020, a scientific article claimed that horses have the “ability to feel as much pain when whipping as humans.”
The study by Paul McGreevy, professor of animal behavior and animal welfare science at the University of Sydney, found that “humans and horses have the equivalent basic anatomical structures for detecting skin pain.”
Andrew McLean, who has a doctorate in horse behavior and a background in horseback riding, said horses experience pain very similar to that of humans and therefore it could be assumed that being whipped during races was painful.
“It’s very difficult to study that… the pain during the gallop during the race, but it’s very likely,” he said.
“He can’t turn off the whip by doing anything. Often times he can’t go any faster.”
Tasracing says any procedure will be “vigorously defended”
In court, PETA will attempt to prove that horses can experience pain from the whipping, which means that it is a form of animal cruelty under the Animal Care Act of Tasmania.
RSPCA Tasmania CEO Jan Davis said nothing in animal welfare regulations exempt horses from the definition of “harmful treatment”.
The RSPCA prosecutes the majority of animal cruelty cases in the state and is openly anti-whipping in races. He thinks the case has a chance.
“We think it’s a good initiative for PETA to test the regulations and hold the industry accountable,” said Ms. Davis.
If PETA cannot prove that using a whip in the standard manner while racing causes unreasonable or unjustifiable pain or suffering to an animal, it has another option to fall back on.
He must prove that the whipping of a horse is “likely” to cause unreasonable and unjustifiable pain “.
Tasmania is the only jurisdiction in Australia that includes these words in its animal welfare legislation, making it the perfect arena for testing.
If PETA wins its case, a ruling that whipping horses in races is illegal would still require an agency to prosecute those who do.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Tasracing said the body was unaware of anything filed in court, making it difficult to comment on the issues raised.
“It is important to note that Tasracing fully abides by Australian racing rules which govern the races and the conduct of the races,” he said.
“In Tasmania, these rules are overseen by stewards from the Office of Racing Integrity.
“Of course, any proceedings initiated will be vigorously defended. “