Riding Crop Regulation and the Battle of Public Perception

By: Alisha C. Russell

Whether you are watching a Triple Crown race, or spending a Saturday afternoon at the track, your mind is likely far from the rules and regulations surrounding one of our country’s oldest sports.[i]

Nonetheless, horse racing regulations face many issues. This is especially true with regulations concerning the riding crop.[ii] In states where horse racing is a popular pastime, policymakers are struggling to balance public perception and industry efficiency.[iii] The trend has been toward stricter crop laws with public perception as the driving force.[iv] In the last year, California—who boasts some of the country’s most prestigious tracks—attempted to expand its originally narrow crop-use regulations. As enacted in 2015, California’s Code of Regulations §1688 currently reads:

(b) although the use of a riding crop is not required, any jockey who uses a riding crop during a race is prohibited from using a riding crop on a horse:

(6) more than three times in succession without giving the horse a chance to respond before using the riding crop again.[v]

The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) proposed an amendment to §1688(b)(6) last June that would increase the number of consecutive strikes from three to four in the last sixteenth of a mile in a race.[vi] The proposal, which passed the CHRB with a vote of four to three, revitalized the riding crop conversation.[vii]

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Other horse racing states such as Kentucky and New York are not without limits. Kentucky’s regulations state that once a rider has used a crop, the rider shall “give the horse a chance to respond before using it again.”[viii] Similarly, New York prohibits a jockey from using a crop “persistently even though the horse is showing no response under the whip.”[ix] What separates California’s regulation from other states is the use of a specific language and a quantitative limit.

While California had the right idea by attempting to clear up some of the arbitrary language used in crop use regulations, the State dug itself into a hole. The original regulation—the three-strike limit—was praised by those in opposition to horse racing, but now those same groups view the attempted amendment as a step backward.[x] If the goal was to curb negative public perception about horse racing, California inevitably made things worse by enacting the bright-line regulation and then having to reevaluate it.

Ideally, the current unclear language of state’s regulations would come with definitions or a bright-line rule. Words like “persistently” are hard to judge; they blur the line between use and abuse, and are hard to enforce. At the same time, it is likely difficult for a jockey to remember the exact number of times he strikes a horse as he races toward the finish line.[xi] However, states can learn from California’s mistake. If a state chooses to enact more specific regulations concerning riding crops—particularly as a means of creating a more positive perception of the sport—then they should start broadly and narrow as need be, because having to back step creates an even worse perception in the long run

[i] Steven A. Riess, Sports in America: From Colonial Times to the Twenty-first Century: An Encyclopedia, at 526 (2013).

[ii] See Natalie Voss, Whip Use: Can Regulations Solve Public Perception Problems?, Paulick Report (July 18, 2016), https://www.paulickreport.com/news/ray-s-paddock/whip-use-can-regulations-solve-public-perception-problems/.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Cal. Code Regs. tit. 4, § 1688 (2016).

[vi] Voss, supra note ii.

[vii] Paulick Report Staff, California Board Considers Widening Parameters For Whip Use In Deep Stretch, Paulick Report (May 26, 2016), https://www.paulickreport.com/news/the-biz/california-board-considers-widening-parameters-whip-use-deep-stretch/.

[viii] 810 Ky. Admin. Regs. 1:016 (2017); See also Track Rules, Churchill Downs, https://www.churchilldowns.com/horsemen/info/house-rules (last visited Sept. 20, 2017).

[ix] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 9, § 4035.9 (2017).

[x] Michelle Kretzer, California Horse Racing Board Imposes U.S.’ Strictest Whip Regulation, PETA (July 1, 2015), https://www.peta.org/blog/california-horse-racing-board-imposes-u-s-strictest-whip-regulation/.

[xi] Ed. Kane, Whip Use in Thoroughbred Racing: Is It Necessary?, DVM Newsmagazine, Jan. 2012, at 4E.