One would assume that if the racing whip rules have changed that this would be a positive move for the horse racing industry. However, some Veterinary professionals are branding this rule change as ‘shameful’. This article aims to dive into this subject and explore these recent changes further; after all, who doesn’t love a good ethical debate? 

What changes have been made to racing whip rules?

According to British Horse Racing, the use of a whip is restricted to safety and encouragement during a race. Rules within horse racing are constantly being reviewed and adapted amongst the ever growing sport. In early 2023, there have been recent racing regulation recommendations including restricting the use of a whip to the backhand position only. Other changes include increased penalties for offences when the whip is used above the permitted level. These decisions, along with other rule changes were originally put forward in 2022 by the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA).

However, following opposition from jockeys regarding this new rule change, the whip being used in the backhand position only has since been dropped. This revision means that jockeys can continue as they were before using the whip in the forehand position.

The debate

The original announcement by the BHA stated that jockeys can only use their whip in the backhand position. Following a huge debate and uproar amongst jockeys, the rule has been revised and since revoked. Other recent changes including the increased penalties for overuse of their whip during a race remain in place. 

Many individuals within the Veterinary profession and animal rights/animal welfare supporters are angry that the originally imposed rule stating the sole use of a whip in the backhand position has not been continued. 

Reasons put forward by jockeys who were against the backhand position included their challenges in using a whip this way, particularly by those who have previously experienced shoulder or collarbone injuries. Furthermore, the forehand whip position has been carried out for many years now in both flat and jump racing, any change in riding position or style is unlikely to be supported.

So, why are some Vet groups upset by this situation? 

It has been argued that when jockeys use their whips in the forehand position they can continue to ‘beat horses with strikes of the whip in the name of entertainment’. The use of a whip in a backhand position is often described as being less forceful; hence why some groups are now furious that this rule has not been imposed. The forefront of Veterinary professionals remains animal health and welfare and any change that suggests otherwise is not supported. 

You are probably asking, does continuing the forehand whip rule promote horse welfare? 

This is difficult to accurately ascertain. Additionally, if jockeys also utilise their whip in the backhand position incorrectly this could also have negative welfare implications. 

Here’s an interesting thought. The proposed backhand rule was stated in the whip consultation report (July 2022) and this report title includes the phrase ‘improving standards’. So, now that this rule has been revised does this suggest that the forehand rule is inferior and of a lower standard?

But while the forehand whip rule still remains, there are reductions in the number of permitted strikes during a race. And there are harsher consequences in place if this rule is breached. This change alone is a step to improving racing standards and horse welfare. So while it is less that it might have been, it is at least a step forward overall.


To conclude, the revised whip rule changes have not been fully supported by all Veterinary professionals and concerns for horse welfare still remains. I remain optimistic that BHA will continue to review standards to support the optimum health and welfare of our equine athletes.