Pain and No Gain?

David Evans and Paul McGreevy‘s paper An Investigation of Racing Performance and Whip Use by Jockeys in Thoroughbred Races (PLoS Citation: Evans D, McGreevy P (2011) An Investigation of Racing Performance and Whip Use by Jockeys in Thoroughbred Races. PLoS ONE 6(1): e15622. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015622) appeared at the end of January 2011. David and Paul are members of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney, Sydney.

The abstract of the paper is:

Concerns have been expressed concerning animal-welfare issues associated with whip use during Thoroughbred races. However, there have been no studies of relationships between performance and use of whips in Thoroughbred racing. Our aim was to describe whip use and the horses’ performance during races, and to investigate associations between whip use and racing performance. Under the Australian Racing Board (ARB) rules, only horses that are in contention can be whipped, so we expected that whippings would be associated with superior performance, and those superior performances would be explained by an effect of whipping on horse velocities in the final 400 m of the race. We were also interested to determine whether performance in the latter sections of a race was associated with performance in the earlier sections of a race. Measurements of whip strikes and sectional times during each of the final three 200 metre (m) sections of five races were analysed. Jockeys in more advanced placings at the final 400 and 200 m positions in the races whipped their horses more frequently. Horses, on average, achieved highest speeds in the 600 to 400 m section when there was no whip use, and the increased whip use was most frequent in the final two 200 m sections when horses were fatigued. This increased whip use was not associated with significant variation in velocity as a predictor of superior placing at the finish.

I think the paper presents compelling evidence about the practice of using a whip in horse racing. The paper raises substantial ethical issues for all members of the horse racing community. There are some other issues raised for me by the paper too:

  • The use of sensors to monitor movement.
  • Methods used to observe and analyse performance
  • The discussion of optimal performance.

The paper pushed me to think about wider issues about communication in sport as well. I wondered about how humans communicate under fatigue and the role extrinsic motivation can play at moments of fatigue. I realised that I must become clearer about my own practice to address these issues.

I contemplated all these issues focused by a very clear final paragraph in the paper:

The authors conclude that, under an ethical framework that considers costs paid by horses against benefits accrued by humans, these data make whipping tired horses in the name of sport very difficult to justify. However, it is worth noting that other ethical frameworks would not condone the practice even if it did, contrary to the findings of this study, cause horses to run faster.

I am retuning immediately to the discussions about the integrity of sport (report available here) about which I wrote recently.

Photo Credits

1930s Race

Melbourne Cup 1903

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