Whips- What are the rules?

By Samantha

Native River won the Cheltenham Gold Cup but his rider gained a whip ban.


Over the past few weeks, there has been lots of controversy and outrage about whip bans in the media with lots of the winning jockeys of some of the biggest races in the National Hunt calendar picking up bans.

Over the course of Cheltenham, six whip bans, totalling thirty four days, were handed out to five different jockeys. All bar one of the jockeys have had the majority of their rides in Ireland this season. The reasons for the bans issued were varied. The majority were because the jockey used their whip over the permitted rate allowed. As well as this, some were for not allowing the horse to respond between hits, using the whip with excessive force and using the whip at an incorrect place up the run-in.

Arguably, the most high profile whip ban given out this season was given out in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Richard Johnson rode the winner, Native River, but picked up a seven day ban and was fined £6550 because he exceeded the permitted amount of smacks allowed in a race.

At the Aintree Grand National meeting, less bans were given out as there was only four. In total, twenty five days were given out to four different jockeys. Jamie Codd picked up the largest ban of the two meetings after his winning ride on Getaway Katie Mai in the Mares’ Flat Race on the first day of the meeting. The mare won the race by one and a quarter lengths but her jockey was handed a seventeen day suspension and a £400 fine because he used his whip above the permitted amount after the wings of the second last.

There are lots of things jockeys have to think about when riding to make sure they abide by the rules and not compromise the horse’s welfare. So, what are the rules?

What should the whip be used for?

In the rules of racing, it is mandatory for all jockeys to carry a whip. Despite this, jockeys don’t have to use the whip if they don’t feel obliged to. Its main purpose is for safety and to encourage the horse. It can be used to keep the horse focused and concentrating but the stimulus provided by the whip must be limited so it doesn’t compromise the welfare of the horse. The whip must be used appropriately and jockeys have to take into account the rules of racing.

What do jockeys need to think about whilst riding?

A big thing jockeys need to remember is to consider how much of the race is left to run before picking up their whip so they don’t run out of hits allowed before the closing stages and cause the horse to not get the best position possible. Before that, it is recommended that the jockey uses hands and heels to lengthen the horse’s stride and increase their speed. They are asked to show the horse the whip first and give them the opportunity to respond before hitting them with it. It is important that jockeys use their whips in a backhand position and in rhythm with the horse’s stride. Both hands need to stay on the reins if the jockey is hitting them on the shoulder in a backhand position.

In National Hunt races, jockeys can whip their horses a maximum of eight times.


What rules do the jockeys have to follow?

In flat races, as they are a shorter distance, jockeys are allowed to hit their horses a maximum of seven times whereas, in a national hunt race, jockeys are allowed to hit their horses a maximum of eight times. If that amount is exceeded, stewards can decide whether to hold an enquiry and they will consider how many times they have used the whip throughout the race, particularly in the closing stages and all the relevant factors. These can include looking into the manner of which the whip is used and with what force, the purpose if using it, whether the horse was still responding and that the distance over which the whip was used was reasonable ands necessary.

Sometimes, providing 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:-


  • To keep the horse in contention or to maintain a challenging position prior to what would be considered as the closing stages of a race.
  • To maintain focus/concentration.
  • To correct a horse that is hanging.
  • Where there is only light contact with the horse.


  • Following a mistake at an obstacle.
  • To correct a horse that is running down an obstacle.

Stewards may be less tolerant about a rider using the whip more when:-

  • The horse is young or inexperienced.
  • A rider continues to use the whip when not being directly challenged for a position.
  • A rider fails to recognise that his use of the whip is not having the intended effect.

Should the result of a race be changed because the winning jockey exceeded the whip limit?

We ran this as a poll on our Twitter page (@ReinItInRacing) and fifty-six percent said no. Twenty-five percent said yes and nineteen percent said depending on the margin. As a follow up question, we asked which distance would cause it to be reversed and the majority (forty-four percent) said that a head is the largest distance that a race result should be changed because of.

In flat racing, jockeys are only allowed to whip their horses seven times.


So… Should riders be allowed to have a whip?

There are lots of debates on this subject. Animal rights activists like to say that jockeys force the horses to run by whipping them so it is abuse. Whips are made of a foam material so the horses don’t get hurt by it. Mainly, it is the sight of it in the corner of their eye that sends them forward. Looking at it from a riders’ safety point of view, horses are extremely strong animals and can be very hard to control. The whip is a necessity when it comes to keeping jockeys safe as the whip can work to reinforce leg aids. A poll Rein It In ran on twitter had the result of ninety-seven percent of voters saying that jockeys should carry a whip.

Comment your thoughts below or on our twitter page.

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