11 Dec 2016

Harness racing industry considers ban on whips

7:17 am on 11 December 2016

Harness Racing New Zealand says it could follow Australia's lead and ban whips, but more consultation is needed within the industry.

A jockey drives his horse during the New Zealand Trotting Cup Day in front of the Metropolitan Stand at Addington Raceway on November 10, 2015 in Christchurch.

A jockey drives his horse during the New Zealand Trotting Cup Day in front of the Metropolitan Stand at Addington Raceway on November 10, 2015 in Christchurch. Photo: AFP

Harness Racing Australia yesterday announced a ban on the use of whips for training and racing from September next year in response to animal welfare concerns.

Harness Racing New Zealand chief executive Edward Rennell said the use of whips was constantly reviewed within racing here.

"The use of the whip is subject to ongoing review and monitoring, Australia's decision to ban it is a bold one but they've looked at it very carefully and we applaud their decision.

"We recently made a new rule which came into force at the start of this month where drivers can only use the whip 10 times within the last 400 metres," Mr. Rennell said.

He didn't rule out a full ban in New Zealand.

"It could happen, but prior to making such a big decision we would have to consult with the horseman. You never say never, we've got to have an open mind about it.

"Animal welfare is paramount for our industry. People look after their horses in an outstanding fashion but if we were going to look at a ban we would have to consult the industry."

He said most of the country's top drivers hardly used whips at all anyway.

But Canterbury trainer Mark Jones said a ban was unnecessary and raised safety concern for drivers.

"Australia banning them completely was a surprise, I think it's an overreaction to what is probably a minor problem."

Mr Jones said New Zealand should not ban whips.

"It would be the worst thing for harness racing if we went down that track, steps have already been put in place for the welfare for the horse and I think most drivers now only use the whips as a safety thing.

"Some horses run out the gate or run in and they need to be touched with the whip to control them, but then again it's a touch rather than a whip," Mr Jones said.

He said that if anything, all drivers should use padded whips.

"They make it kinder on the horse and that would be better than a total ban, but if you watch racing its very rare that a driver would strike a horse hard."

Australia becomes first country to ban use of the whip

Australia will become the first country in the world to voluntarily ban the use of whips in harness racing.

Harness Racing Australia (HRA) announced yesterday it would ban the use of whips in both racing and training from September 1 next year in response to animal welfare concerns.

In a statement, HRA said the move "improves the industry's image and enhances its sustainability".

"The decision sets the pace in animal welfare and for the long-term support and sustainability of the industry. It aligns with high expectations of the community, fans, and industry participants in harness racing," the statement said.

HRA chairman Geoff Want said the industry had been moving towards the ban for six years by limiting its use.

"Undoubtedly, some people may resist change, or feel the decision limits competitiveness in harness racing. We are confident they will be proved wrong and will eventually see the merit of banning the whip," he said.

"We know some drivers are concerned about safety issues, but we feel the process of developing a tool to maintain safety will allay concerns."