“Community expectations of animal welfare continue to evolve at a rapid rate - particularly with regards to racing animals.”

HRA WHIP RULE 156 CHANGES SEPTEMBER 2020 from Power Productions on Vimeo.

Without doubt the highest profile issue relates to the use of the whip in racing pursuits.

HRA (through its members) made a proactive decision to moderate the use of the whip during races in 2010 by implementing a rule which effectively reduced the driver whip action to a wrist and elbow flick.  Other aspects to this moderation was that drivers must hold a rein in each hand at all times, except for the last 200m of the race.

This new rule also attempted to define the term 'excessive whip use' in order to provide industry participants with some direction and examples/circumstances in which they would be deemed to be in breach of the rule (previously it was a generic open ended phrase).

While many drivers found the change initially difficult, over time the use of the whip has improved markedly without impacting on horse or driver performance - indeed race times have actually become faster in the period since the whip changes were introduced.

However, as community expectations continued to change, HRA members again reviewed a number of equine welfare regulatory controls and agreed the time had come to further moderate the whip rule, with a modification in 2016 further tightening the 2010 rules and providing improved clarity for drivers as to their obligations whilst using the whip.

A further modification to the current whip rules was then instilled from 1 September 2018 which limited whip use to a forward flicking motion only in an action which does not engage the shoulder. This modification was a logical progression from the previous one but did present some challenges for both drivers adhering and stewards policing the rule as an 'action which does not engage the shoulder' can be somewhat open to interpretation and drivers heights, gender and preferred postion in the sulky all contribute to slight variations in whip action, shoulder angles and engagement.

The most recent modification came into place on 1 September 2020 and limits use to a wrist only flicking motion. The wrist only flicking motion is designed to limit the force with which a whip can be applied whilst still allowing its principal use as a means of communication between the driver and horse. The limitation of force, both perceived and actual, is the crux of these latest whip rule amendments. A video below explains the changes in more detail;



This latest modification makes Australian harness racing arguably the strictest in the world for whip use rules however it is interesting to note a recent study which has shown that despite the use of the whip being increasingly moderated race times have actually improved markedly within this same period of time.

Currently Norway is the only country that operates whip free however there are a number of European countries who also continue to strongly moderate whip usage in the face of increasing government pressure.