Let’s Discuss: Use of the whip in KY Derby

Today, after watching a head on view of the controversial Kentucky Derby, besides scratching my head over the many many emotions represented in the comment section, I noticed something else.

Whips. A lot of them.

To me, the sticks held in the air distracts me more from this angle than even the horses.

And I can’t help but wonder about how hard they are hitting the horses. I know there is a rule regarding how many times the jockey can hit the horse over a certain distance (anyone know the actual rule firsthand?), but is there anything about excessive force? Truthfully, I am trying to image what those whips could be made out of that they might not leave bruises, the way some of the jockeys wail on their mounts.

I admit I am no expert in horse racing, far from it. But I know that if an event rider even appeared to use his whip in a similar manner, the keyboard warriors would be astonished.

What do you think? I’m available for educating!

9 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Use of the whip in KY Derby

  1. Ramon Dominguez designed a new whip that he’s starting to try to market for racing that has a long soft foam end to it. It looks like a pretty cool idea, I hope he gets traction with it! https://twitter.com/tvg/status/1113898492437491715 and a good pic of a USEF-regulation length one: https://scontent-dfw5-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/58443847_10156355502172759_9143180719651028992_n.jpg?_nc_cat=102&_nc_ht=scontent-dfw5-1.xx&oh=cb44203328324436e296c0a7addcf93c&oe=5D60A043

  2. After all the breakdowns in CA this year, those tracks moved to severely limit the use of whips along with other widespread changes to their racing rules. Whips can certainly be overused, but overuse is monitored by the stewards and fines ARE handed out for riders that they deem to have abused them. There have actually been several changes of both whip material (length and how snappy they are, therefore how badly they pop against the horse) over the years, so it’s something the industry is trying to change.And while I do think jockeys can get into the moment too much and probably cross the line between encouraging the horse to move faster and just hitting to keep hitting and hope it gets something out of their horse, remember that whips are also paramount to safety in some racing situations–a horse will respond by moving over/away from the whip (often where you see these interference calls!) when they might not respond to moving over from the reins and certainly not from two inch stirrups.

    • I agree it makes sense that the whip is a safety tool, with a time and a place for how it’s used. I didn’t know that whips were one of the things that they were looking at in CA- I’ve been trying to follow that story but admittedly haven’t learned a whole lot besides the NPR special I listened to!

  3. I think perceived use of the whip can be difficult to assess as well. Often, they’re hitting the saddle cloth, not actually hitting the horse. As Carly said, use of the whip can be used (in place of the leg) to straighten a horse out, correct a drift or a spook and prevent injuries and accidents. Additionally, jockeys use it in a forward motion “showing” it to a horse to encourage a driving or tiring horse, and again, preventing drifting.

    I think if it were truly physically detrimental to the horse, we would see more photographic evidence of whip marks or welts.

    I do agree it can be over used, and there are rules in place regarding whip use, with penalties and fines for overuse/abuse, just like in eventing.

    Although, Jerry Bailey, HOF jockey, was discussing the use of the whip debate on one of the broadcasts of the KY Derby prep races, and said that he used to be in favor of keeping use of the whip in racing, but has now changed his position and thinks it should be removed. And he is as qualified as any to offer an opinion, so there is that.

  4. I spent over 20+ years on the race track both Thoroughbred and Standardbred and both breeds have similar wording in the rule books on “excessive use of whip” and what is considered “normal”.

    I just want to say first, thank the racing gods that “Chop Chop” and his ilk are so far out of favor in racing. Also, the whips have changed a lot also, and while they look nasty, they serve a bit of a purpose.

    In both TB and STB racing you cannot use the whip without moving the horse up or “make a move”, this keeps jockeys/drivers from agitating the horse. In TB racing, you cannot just hit the horse, first, you have to “flash” the whip so the horse sees it first. You can only strike the horse on the shoulder or rump and only, you cannot strike the horse in the face/stifle/belly, etc. You also have to stop using the whip if the horse is not responding.

    STB racing the horses are rarely hit, the whips are used mostly on the vinyl numbers and race bike/wheels. The noise is a better motivator for most STBs than whips, it is very rare to see a driver use a whip on an STB that they have “racing stripes”.

    Whips are a complicated piece of equipment, drivers have zero connection besides the lines for communicating. The whip is a true extension of your hand and you can use the whip to “push” the horse’s hindquarters and the “go” button on the dock of the tail. TB racing, the jockeys’ legs are not used for communication, and just like in side saddle riding, a whip is used when a leg cannot. Some horses need a slight tap on the shoulder to cue them to swap leads.

    I do like the prototype whip that is very easy on the horse yet allows a jockey a piece of safety equipment. I believe we can take whips down to minimal use, the quality of riders out there is high. If the US can adopt “jockey schools” or apprentice programs like other countries, our riders can be even better.

    The safety of horse and rider have to be first, it is why MS was taken down. If that wasn’t the Derby but an 8K claimers, there would have been zero question of taking him down. I hate it that it came on racings biggest day when racing has been dealing with the fallout of the drugs and how “Big Name Trainers” get away with bad behavior, the deaths at Santa Anita, and now this fiasco. Racing needs to be better or two major breeds of horses will be very negatively effected.

    • Thanks so much for weighing in! Pretty fascinating regarding the use of the whip in STD racing vs TB racing. I have a tiny bit of experience driving and it always awed me to see how much control a schooled driver could have over a horse that he’s not touching physically- and your explanation of how definitely makes sense.
      Lots of food for thought here!

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