UK Registered Charity number 1155018

Drop the Whip Campaign

The World Bitless Association (WBA) has created the #DROPtheWHIP campaign in support of the horse and in support of the stance taken in 2020 by Tasmanian Harness Racing Driver Gavin Kelly, who refused to carry a whip or use it, in a Harness race.  On the grounds Kelly said  that “Whips are Cruel, that they create pain and suffering” Kelly is challenging the rules of the Tasmanian Racing Appeal Board with that mandate he carries a whip

The WBA is campaigning for a total ban on the use of the whip for ‘encouragement’ and for ‘punishment for non-performance’ in racing and across all equestrian sports. 

WBA recognises that such change would be slow and difficult to incorporate. This, however, must not divert us from campaigning against the common cruelty that is applied to horses, using equipment in an aversive way.  Our goal is for all equestrians and all horse sports to recognise that there is no place for pain and fear inducing stimuli mandated for use in competitions.  We encourage all equestrians and animal advocates to support  Drop the Whip!

  • Whip reforms to protect horses in all aspects of equestrianism are long overdue, we all know that as racegoers, animal advocates, , equestrians and professionals of industry and science.
  • Many in the sport of racing believe like the Norwegian racing stewards of Øvervoll that ‘the whip should be taken away completely’ (5)
  • The Racing Authorities around the world have consistently recognised that the whip is a controversial issue, making small changes in the rules, whilst, simultaneously suggesting that ‘more research is needed’.
  • However, the evidence is clear, equine welfare organisations research is consistent, Whipping has no valuable contribution to racing. The majority opinion from racegoers and equestrians is to Drop the Whip. (5)

The World Bitless Association propose as a starting point that a universal racing body is created to unify the various rules of racing in the individual countries so that the rules apply consistently, with clarity and fairness for Jockeys and their horses, throughout the world.

  1. WBA propose that if the whip is to be carried for ‘safety’ then any use of the whip should be actioned by a steward’s enquiry with the following penalties; –
  2. That the use of whip is only acceptable in exceptional circumstances of safety, to prevent injury – (If abused, jockey will face sanctions)

Fine Suspension Ban                      

  • Hans Petter Eriksen, former director of the Norwegian Jockey Club, told a gathering of leading industry figures from around the world in May 2019. “The best horse can win the race, even without the whip.”
  • Eriksen also said that in 30 years, “there have been no accidents resulting from jockeys not being able to carry a whip;” (1)

Racing Bodies Whip Stance around the world

The UK claims to have significantly restricted the use of the whip in racing, Australia and other countries are also reviewing the use of the whip.  Norway (1) banned the use of the whip in racing in 1986 eventually compromised to a short version of the whip carried.  In 2009, Norway issued a further amendment, in rules that exist today, allowing jockeys to carry a whip in 2-year-old and jump races only.   In flat races for 3-year-olds and up, no whip may be carried.  Both of the jockey’s hands must be on the reins at all times, and if jockeys violate these rules, they can face a possible fine, ban and disqualification.

Use of the Whip – Number of strikes (2)

Rules relating to number of strikes permitted (whip hand off the reins):

  • Australia:5 strikes up to the 100 metre mark in the forehand position; there is no numerical limit for backhand strikes. In the final 100 metres the whip can be used at the jockey’s discretion.
  • Britain:Guideline of 7 strikes throughout the race (8 for jump racing) though it is at the Stewards’ discretion whether or not a breach has been committed when strikes are above the guideline.
  • France:8 strikes in the final phase of the race (roughly the home straight).
  • Germany:7 strikes throughout the race, providing the horse finishes in one of the first three places – and fewer than 7 strikes if the horse is not responding and is not amongst the winners.
  • Republic & Northern Ireland:Rough guideline of 12 strikes during a race (more may be allowed at Stewards’ discretion); 5 in the last 50 yards.
  • USA:No maximum number of strikes with the whip – its use is discretionary.

As well as the great variation in national rules, there are considerable differences in whip types and designs, with some having the potential to inflict greater injury than others. ‘Quote from Animal Aid’ (2)

  • Endurance

Whips and spurs are forbidden in all FEI International Endurance competitions and many National Federations do not allow whips or spurs in free speed endurance competitions.

Who is Gavin Kelly? The Background

Gavin Kelly was issued a verbal direction by stewards at Mowbray, Tasmania, on December 19 2020, when they found he didn’t have a whip during a race. Later, Mr Kelly was issued a fine of $1,000 Australian dollars, for not carrying a whip and was told that he is mandated to carry a whip, in his hand, even if he does not use it.
Gavin is appealing the decision and is currently funding his legal fees with a GoFundMe campaign, you can donate to the campaign here:

The challenge is to contest whether the decision was lawful.  On the grounds that there is no scientific data linking safety and the use of whips, which is the justification the stewards gave for their decision, linked to rule 213 which states ‘A person shall not:-
(b) have in his possession any harness, gear, equipment, device, substance or any other thing capable of inflicting suffering on a horse’.

Full rules listed here Whip rule 156 Rules

If Gavin Kelly is forced to carry a whip in his hand he will leave racing. Kelly has submitted his appeal to the Tasmanian Racing Appeal Board D

Gavin Kelly is a brave man to stand up to the equestrian establishment, we applaud his ethics on this very important welfare concern.

Social license to operate – (Public perception, Science and animal advocates pushing welfare boundaries)

The social license to operate is hugely important to the future of racing and all horse sport, equestrianism is at a turning point, individuals, rule books and bodies are now scrutinised throughout the world. (4,6,7,8,9)  The self-regulation by equestrian bodies is perceived by many equestrians/race followers as inadequate, trust in the regulator (4) the protection or progress of horse welfare, often seemingly second place to ‘money.’  Money is seen as a primary driver, over welfare concerns, from whipping, to abusive riding, bans on bitless bridles and overtightened tack to name just a few.(6) 
The equestrian bodies are aware that their rules, may well be seen to be out of step with public perception, in regards to animal welfare in their sporting disciplines.   Many are working towards transparency, to improve culture and trust through increased collaboration (4. 2.8) However with continual welfare breaches exposed in the media by industry professionals the mistreatment of horses continues to bring equestrianism into disrepute. (11,12,13,14,15,16,17)

(21)   Hands OFF Whiskers

The National Federations around the world and the FEI recently mandated that vibrissae may not be clipped from the head of competition horses (a successful result following the public WBA campaign, 2018) recognising the welfare issues surrounding removal of sensitive head whiskers.  This much welcomed global decision, however, highlights the need for further advancement, consideration and action on serious welfare concerns, such as the Whipping of horses in sport, the exclusion to use a bitless bridle, aversive riding etc.,

The WBA urges the racing and equestrian bodies to urgently consider the rules which currently allow for the welfare of a horse to be compromised when hit with a whip.
Gavin Kelly, a professional driver, has highlighted a welfare concern in harness racing, that impacts on equestrian sports around the globe.  WBA believes that now is the time for all stakeholders to have the conversation about the use of whips and all aversive applications in horse sport.  There are important questions that require action.

  • Is it more important to be allowed to whip a horse, because of tradition?
  • Is it important to ban the whip which potentially results in pain and/or suffering?
  • Do we prefer to act on the science which indicates that whips are detrimental on welfare grounds & safety grounds? 

Do we as animal advocates and equestrians side with tradition,

or with the evidence, against the mandatory carrying and use of whips?


The World Bitless Association has listed relevant comments, position statements and research, which includes data that shows that whips are detrimental to performance and to the welfare of the horse when used for ‘encouragement‘ or ‘punishment for non-performance’. We are not alone in questioning horse welfare in Racing and all horse sport:

Whips Hurt!

(23) Panniculus Reflex – Skin sensitivity

(24, 25) Professor Paul McGreevy decided to find out whether having his leg struck with a racing whip, as hard as jockeys whip horses, would cause him pain and distress.

Professor Paul McGreevy is a Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science.  He is also a member of the Charles Perkins Centre.

Warning video may be distressing

World Horse Welfare states ‘There is also an ethical question of using a whip to make a horse run faster. As well as a question of whether horses being whipped is the right public image for a sport, and whether the public accept it’ (5) (10)

RSPCA Australia is ‘opposed to the use of whips for the purpose of enhancing performance in racing due to the pain and distress they inflict on horses‘.  ‘The RSPCA wants reform of the whip rules and an end of the use of the whip as a performance aid altogether. The study also confirms that there is unacceptable use of the whip in Thoroughbred racing and that stewards are not properly resourced to police Australian whip rules.’ (22)
In an Australian study, authors concluded that whipping fatigued horses in the final stages of a race did not affect performance, thereby disputing the claim that it is necessary to gain the best performance from the horse.  A recent UK study which compared ‘whipping free’ with ‘whipping permitted’ races showed no significant difference in race finishing times. This contradicts claims that whipping increases the speed of horses or reduces the loss of speed in the finishing stages when horses are fatigued. (20) 

Animal Aid states ‘An international ban on the use of the whip in horse racing would be progressive for race horse welfare. The lack of comprehensive cooperation amongst national racing authorities/regulators and the variation in rules on the use of the whip, design and penalty structure, make the case for a ban even stronger’. (2)

Recent Research

(3)  Is Whip Use Important to Thoroughbred Racing Integrity? What Stewards’ Reports Reveal about Fairness to Punters, Jockeys and Horses

The authors include Dr Kirrilly Thompson (UniSA), Prof Phil Manus, Prof Paul McGreevy, Bethany Wilson (University of Sydney) and Dene Stansall, Animal Aid, UK.

Dr Kirrilly Thompson said,

the idea that whip use is critical in horse racing is culturally entrenched in the thoroughbred racing industry but is not based on evidence’.

“The whipping of animals for public entertainment and financial gain – some of which entails problem gambling – is morally and ethically wrong,”

“Using a whip to encourage horses to run faster and straighter is potentially painful as well as dangerous,” 

(5) Flogging tired horses: Who wants whipping and who would walk away if whipping horses were withheld?  A recent study by Thompson et al. (2020) found

 “No evidence that whip use improves steering, reduces interference, increases safety or improves finishing times. These findings suggest that the Whip Free races do not compromise racing integrity.         

 (20) Relatively, a study by Pinchbeck et al (2004) suggested that,                                                                                 “The risk of falling was significantly associated with whip use and race progress. Horses which were being whipped and progressing through the race were at greater than 7 times the risk of falling compared to horses which were not being whipped and which had no change in position or lost position through the field.”

(18) Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Thoroughbred Racing: A Photo-Elicitation Study with Industry and Animal Advocacy Informants (2020) Author Iris Bergmann highlights the dissonance between the industry and animal advocates, Iris Bergmann said (18,19)

Racing horses as we know it with all that it entails is not consistent with the change required of us to transition toward a sustainable future,” “The very purpose of horseracing is to have horses perform at and beyond their natural limits, which is facilitated with invasive legal and illegal means. This bears high risk of harm for horses, and, therefore, racing’s social licence will always be questioned.

This open access study is published in Animals and titled: Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Thoroughbred Racing: A Photo-Elicitation Study with Industry and Animal Advocacy Informants by Iris M. Bergmann (18).


The World Bitless Association promotes the elimination of any devices that are used to inflict fear or pain – suffering in the horse, we promote evidence-based application immersed in Learning Theory and the Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive (LIMA) principles, in training, and LIMA principles in the tack/harness/ equipment used. 

To this end the WBA are the only equine welfare charity that lobbies for change, provides relevant educational resources and has a global listing of competent, Affiliated trainers including Veterinarians, Clinical Behaviourists and Behaviour Trainers who promote the WBA principles that evidence based, horse friendly behaviour training, creates safe and contented horses, able to perform correctly to desired light cues and aids by the human.

The evidence is clear, Whips are surplus to requirements, and hold no value in modern horse training, we encourage all equestrians to Drop the Whip.  The World Bitless Association therefore calls upon the Equine Industry, Animal advocates and all equestrians, to support the campaign to Drop the Whip.

Most importantly the campaign seeks to actively encourage all horse sport stakeholders, riders, drivers, trainers and guardians, to advocate, to Drop the Whip

What YOU can do

Consider your training application and Drop the Whip!

Write to your national equestrian/racing body calling for rule changes

Write to the World Bitless Association with your opinion. Email:

Share the Drop the Whip! campaign on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Twitter.

Follow us on Social media Drop the Whip!

Support the Legal action and Gavin Kelly here;

References :






5* Flogging tired horses: Who wants whipping and who would walk away if whipping horses were withheld?  













18* Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Thoroughbred Racing: A Photo-Elicitation Study with Industry and Animal Advocacy Informants.:- 19*


21* Hands OFF Whiskers Campaign


23* Panniculus Reflex – Skin sensitivity

24* Dr Paul McGreevy video Thermal imaging following whip strikes on human leg

25* Race horses are bred to race, but does the whip really make them run faster, or is it just an unnecessary tool that inflicts pain? Dr Jonica Newby reveals some surprising new science about horse tissue and their nervous systems, and even takes a strike herself.

Further comments & Information,increases%20the%20likelihood%20of%20injury–weird–rule-20200702

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