When Sweden introduced a ban on whipping at the start of the 2022 racing season, racing official Dennis Madsen was pretty sure what would happen, it was what didn’t happen. Races will remain competitive, betting will not be affected and there will be no problem when it becomes safe.
Five months after the racing season in Sweden, Madsen, head of equestrian division for the Swedish Equestrian Authority, says he has been proven right.
“There was no negative impact on racing after we stripped the whip,” he said.
Along with Denmark and Norway, Sweden is one of only three Scandinavian countries where riders are no longer allowed to use whips to encourage their horses to run faster. They are still allowed to wear them during a race in case whips may be needed for safety reasons.
Norway, Sweden and Denmark form a circuit that attracts riders, trainers and horses alike, and the three countries have worked to have uniform rules.
Whipping has been banned in Norway since 2009. In Sweden, racing authorities have restricted its use for many years, starting with only allowing 10 strokes during a race until the end of the race. that limit is reduced to three. Whip is prohibited all together in 2-year-old races and in tower crossing events.
The three-strike rule could be upheld for at least a few more years, but the sport faced a crisis last year when belt driver Joakim Lövgrens was banned for a year. not by racing officials, but by a local municipality for what was alleged to be excessive use of whips. “You have knowingly caused unnecessary physical and mental suffering to an animal in order to win a competition and money,” reads the ruling regarding Lövgrens.
Around the same time, several racehorses were reported animal abuse after the crop left a mark on the racehorses. Instead of letting the situation escalate to the point where it could become a major problem for the sport, a decision has been made to simply ban the use of whips in Sweden. Racing officials in Denmark made the same decision.
“Civil authorities have begun to take action against scammers and drivers,” Madsen said. “We think it’s time to move on. We want to be proactive. “
Not everything went perfectly. Because of concerns that riders might try to take the reins in their hands and use them to slash their horses, the written rules seem to require riders to keep their hands on the mane or neck at all times. of their mounts. If that is the case, the player cannot change hands on the reins. Scammers threatened to attack but we placate when the wording of the rule was changed.
Otherwise, the racehorses would have adapted, says Madsen.
“They accepted the rules,” he said. “There are no complaints. We only had one race in all of Sweden, where the crash happened. A horseman tapped his shoulder with a whip and was suspended for a day. Our charioteers have accepted the rules and are following them. “
Not only have there not been any safety issues during the races, Madsen said, but the horses seem to be keeping the line more straight and have fewer interference problems.
“Managers have had less interference so far this year,” he said. “We rarely see dangerous situations or dangerous riding in Scandinavia anymore. In terms of minor effects, we’ve seen about 10% less this year than 2021, though it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions at this stage. “
When it comes to how bettors will react to races running without whips, the Swedish Horse Racing Authority has reason to believe the handle will not be affected. Before the ban was introduced, the Swedish organizer surveyed bettors and asked if they had noticed cases of horses being treated badly during competitions. Thirty percent answered yes. Out of that 30%, 91% said it was caused by using the whip too hard or too often.
The total number of Swedish Thoroughbred races has increased this year, says Madsen.
“We did not see any negative effects on betting,” he said.
Madsen admits that even he once believed that the whip was an essential and necessary part of horse racing.
“It was the culture at the time,” Madsen said. “I was told the horse reacted to the whip and I don’t see a problem with that. That was over 20, 30 years ago. We’ve all gotten smarter over the years. Now I can see that Thoroughbred racing can be done without whips. The races are as exciting as ever. There was a time when people beat their children. You will never see that today. “
And his message to other countries where the use of whips is still allowed?
“There is less interference,” he said. “We had international riders come in and they didn’t complain. Most importantly, the same trainers still prevail. The same riders prevail. There are no real changes for the parties involved. In your country, if you remove the whip, cyclists like Irad Ortiz Jr., Flavien Prat, they will still be on top. Racing here has proven that stripping the whip is not a problem at all.”