Aussies disapprove of whipping

PUTTING an end to whipping racehorses isn’t going to reduce public interest in the sport and or lead to a significant drop in the number of gamblers, recent study results suggest.

But overall, men were more likely than women to approve of whipping during a race, and lower-income populations were more likely to refuse to bet on races if authorities banned whipping, the Australian survey results revealed.

In their study of more than 1,500 Australian adults surveyed by an independent polling company, researchers found that 74% of respondents did not approve of whipping during a race and 90% would continue to watch and bet on racing if horses weren’t whipped. The fact that only 13% would stop gambling on or attending whip-free events runs contrary to what authorities believed, said Paul McGreevy, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, MACVS (Animal Welfare), professor of animal behavior and animal welfare science at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

“Insiders from the racing industry had advised us that punters (gamblers) were demanding whip use,” McGreevy said. “If this is the only reason to retain the whip in racing, it needs to be verified. And we have found that that is only true for a small minority of gamblers.”

McGreevy and his fellow researchers from Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. collected data from Australian racing enthusiasts using an internet-based survey. Horse racing is the second most popular spectator sport in Australia, just behind soccer. The survey collected demographic information and responses to three questions:

Thinking now about horse racing (including Thoroughbred racing/gallops, and harness racing/trots), do you think horses should be hit with a whip in the normal course of a race?

Yes

No

In the last 12 months, how often have you watched and/or bet on a horse race?

Not at all

Once or twice (e.g. the Melbourne Cup)

At least once a month

At least once a week

(Only for people who did not answer “not at all” in the previous question) If the rules did not allow any horses to be hit with a whip (except in emergency/safety situations), would you continue to watch and/or bet on horse races?

Yes

No

The results revealed that, regardless of age, income, or horse racing involvement, men were more likely than women to support whipping in a race, McGreevy said. He and colleagues explained that this is “not surprising” given that “men are approximately eight times more likely to engage in violence generally than women and that most animal crime offenders are male,” they stated.

As for the 13% answering “no” to the last question, this statistic represented primarily men and women in the lowest income bracket. Gamblers in this category could be more vulnerable to financial discomfort if their selected horses lose a race, the researchers said, and they might believe that whipping would push their favorite horses to their full limits to ensure every chance of a win.

“We ignore violence to animals at our peril,” McGreevy said. “It can tell us a lot about ourselves.”

Understanding the market consequences of whipping (or its abolishment) is critical in making informed, ethical decisions about using animals for sport, McGreevy said.

“Do we applaud the whipping of tired horses that have no more to offer?” he said. “Does racing depend on whipping? If the answer to these is no, then we should adopt the Norwegian model (all whipping prohibited) as a matter of urgency.”

The study, “Flogging tired horses: Who wants whipping and who would walk away if whipping horses were withheld?” was published in PLoS ONE.

-From thehorse.com, by Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

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