News and STORIES

New California crop rule reignites debate over animal abuse

Author: Clint Goodman
Published: Friday September 25, 2020

The relationship between a horse and a jockey is a very delicate one. In fact, it is one that requires a great deal of trust, patience and care. A horse isn’t simply a vehicle used to reach an arbitrary finish line, but a partner that brings out the best in you and in return, you bring out the best in them as well. Sometimes though, that might involve the use of a crop, which has become very controversial

While a lot of outsiders will look upon the world of horse racing and gambling as a disgusting display of animal abuse, those that know the sport best will see it for what is really is. It is a sport that forces two very different creatures to bring the best out of each other and work towards the common goal of reaching the finish line before anyone else.

Now, none of the above means that the world of horse racing is perfect, especially with a multitude of horses dying in a short period of time, drugging scandals and illegal gambling operations, but we must take the good with the bad. One must also find practical ways to improve the sport and make it safe for both the jockey and the horse. There is a lot of debate going on about what the best way to do that would be.

The California Horse racing board responded last week by implementing a new crop law for racing in the state. The law, which takes effect in October, makes it illegal to hit a horse more than six times during a race and disallows two hits in succession as well. The move is supposedly in response to allegations of animal abuse and is something that a few jockeys are even calling a dangerous move.

"My reaction to California is that they are making it much too difficult for jockeys to ride a race for our bettors and the integrity of the sport,” claimed John Valazquez, who serves as the co-chairman of The Jockey’s Guild . “New Jersey is making it very unsafe for horses and jockeys."

The new rule comes only days after the state of New Jersey decided to ban the use of crops to encourage horses to go faster but will allow the use of the item for safety situations. This is all a part of an ongoing debate as to whether hitting a horse with a crop during a race constitutes animal abuse or is just a way to motivate them.

Some fans of horse racing even see this new rule as a way to save face in the eyes of animal rights activists like PETA, who have called for an outright ban of the sport altogether. Although this new rule probably won’t please them very much, it is at least a step forward to treating the horse more like a companion.

“We’re urging every other racing jurisdiction that hasn’t already instituted such a ban to follow suit,” PETA said in a press release after news broke of the new crop rule, “because beating horses to make them run faster should never be allowed.”

Does the use of a crop really hurt a horse though? The answer to that question really depends on who you ask and whether you believe their answer or not. If you were talking to someone from PETA or another animal rights group for example, you would hear how abusive the use of a crop is and how horse racing must be banned.

If you listen to industry professionals however, the answer becomes very different. Some of them even claim that the use of a crop doesn't hurt a horse at all and is simply used as way to create a sound that alerts them to go faster. These same professionals admit that crops used in the earlier days hurt badly, but that they are pretty much harmless today.

"A horse wouldn't feel it the same as a human," Jim Crowley, who is a group one winning jockey said during an interview with Greg Wood of The Guardian. "They have a tough hide and it's covered with hair. This whip doesn't hurt a human, so it can't hurt a horse and these sticks have been tested and tested to show that they don't hurt the horse”.

Believe it or not, this statement came moments after Crowley hit Mr. Wood with a modern-day crop, which didn’t even seem to hurt him. The reason for that is Mr. Crowley used a lightweight foam cushioned whip. The use of the cushioned crop came in 2009 after PETA pressured several tracks in different areas to switch to the new device.

In the end, it’s hard to know what to believe here and what conclusion to draw from the whole thing. On one hand, the tightening of restrictions about crop use is proof that horse racing officials are trying to appease animal rights activists. The problem with this kind of thinking though is that these activists never seem to be happy and won’t be until horse racing is eliminated completely.

On the other hand, industry professionals are showing just how little the device actually hurts the horse and how they are just used as a signalling device. Again, it’s all up to who you believe and what your opinions are. But the use of lightweight cushioned crops didn’t appease animal rights activists, so why would this be any different?