Sometimes when something bad happens it can be a force for good so we're really hoping that the recent outcry over Oliver Towend's overuse of the whip during the cross country phase of Badminton Horse Trials 2018 will bring about a change to eventing rules and attitudes toward the use of the whip on horses in general.
This year’s Badminton highlighted the fact that the current rules in eventing don't go far enough to protect the welfare of the horse. So, one suggestion is for British Eventing and the FEI to introduce more stringent rules, suspensions and fines similar to those that were introduced into British horse racing when it came under pressure from the public to protect horses from being beaten to the finishing line. This seems particularly pertinent now in view of the new eventing scoring system which has put more emphasis on fast cross country times.
Obviously new rules would have to be tailor made for eventing but here's a brief intro to British Horseracing Authority rules….
The permitted number of uses of the whip with hands off the reins is 7 time for Flat races and 8 times for Jumps race. Additionally, 'Provided that the manner in which the whip had been used was measured, Stewards may choose to disregard occasions when the whip has been used in the following circumstances:
a) To keep a horse in contention or to maintain a challenging position prior to why would be considered the closing stages of a race.
b) To maintain a horse's focus and concentration.
c) To correct a horse that is noticeably hanging.
d) Where there is only light contact with the horse
additionally for Jump Races
e) Following a mistake at an obstacle
f) To correct a horse that is running down an obstacle.
Stewards may be less tolerant should a rider use the whip 8 times or more in a Flat race or 9 times or more in a Jump race:
a) When the horse is young or inexperienced.
b)When a rider continues to use the whip when not being directly challenged for a finishing position.
c) When a rider fails to recognise that his use of the whip is not having the intended effect.
If you listened to Ian Stark's commentary for the BBC's coverage of Badminton you will have heard him justify the use of the whip on quite a few occasions. In fact when Oliver Townend gave his horse Cooley SRS three smart smacks on the rump on their way to the Shogun Hollow, Ian Stark said, “OK, so he smacked the horse but he is actually getting the horse's attention and concentration. He wasn't beating the horse up, it was actually doing a bit of good, getting the combination thinking together.”
This of course is the view that a lot of equestrians maintain - the whip is actually necessary for horse and rider safety when jumping big obstacles.
However, there are some people who argue we should go even further, much further. One of these is Mark Smith, a very experienced horseman who has evented to international level and heads up the Bitless not Brainless team chasing team. He also specialises in re-training ex-racehorses and teaching confident, more effective and therefore safer riding cross country. For more of that, read one of our previous posts HERE.
Mark proposes that Badminton Horse Trials 2019 should put itself at the forefront of horse welfare by dropping the whip completely, making eventing the first equestrian sport to do so. Yes, your jaw may have also dropped on reading this, but stay with us because his arguments are very interesting.
"Badminton,' says Mark, 'is our worldwide showcase for the best riders and horses in eventing. For horses and riders to qualify for Badminton they have to be the best in the world and their horses will be used to jumping big and scary obstacles. There won't be much out there that they haven't seen before, well at least something very similar.”
According to Mark, at this elite level, it shouldn't be necessary to use a whip for 'safe' jumping.
"There are only 3 reasons why a horse would refuse a jump at Badminton…"
1. The horse is hurting, in which case it is totally unacceptable to use the whip.
2. The horse is exhausted (many horses won't have encountered a course as long as Badminton, so it's not his fault their fault if they're not fit enough) in which case it is totally unacceptable to use a whip.
3. The rider has screwed up the approach to the fence, so again, it is totally unacceptable to use the whip!"
Mark isn't against competitors carrying a whip at novice level events but insists "Most top trainers agree that the whip has one use only and that is to make the horse go faster. Horses aren't like humans, they haven't the capacity to link crime and punishment. We need to look at things from the horse's point of view and train them so that they volunteer to do the right thing by taking away the wrong thing. We shouldn't be bullying them into it. For instance if a horse stops at a skinny, I put wings at each side, get him confident, then take them away. So, I've taken away the wrong option and let him think he's become a volunteer. I truly believe that people don't want to watch a horse being press-ganged into doing what their rider wants and would rather see that horse enjoying itself.
"As for elite equestrian events, they want to see the best that horse and rider can be and feel sickened when they see a rider asking too much of their horse and beating it. If Badminton banned the whip it would be an opportunity for them to showcase skill and harmony between horse and rider. This could be the best thing that's happened in equestrian sport for a long time."
Is Mark's proposition that Badminton 2019 leads the way and places a total ban on carrying a whip, a step too far? Would you prefer to see a change to eventing rules similar to those in horse racing- or don't they go far enough? Maybe you think a winning rider in breach of the rules should also lose their placing in the results? We'd love your views on this very controversial subject. One thing's for sure, no change is simply not good enough!
If you want to sign Mark's petition then click HERE.
For more info on British Horseracing Authority rules, and penalties click HERE.