Evaluation of whip use in British Showjumping

K. Spencer (Speaker), R. Verwijs (Speaker), Williams, J. (Speaker)

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation at Conference


    Introduction: Science involving sentient animals has progressed, methods eliciting performance from horses by use of the whip, a previously common and accepted aid, have become subjected to increased public and scientific scrutiny. Research on the impact of using the whip has mainly focused on horse racing to date and no association with improved performance has been identified. This preliminary investigation aimed to evaluate the effect of whip use in British Showjumping (BS) competition in terms of horse/rider summative performances and cumulative behaviours. Methods: Using retrospective streamed data recordings (available from Clipmyhorse.com) between August 2018 and January 2019, 285 adult competitors were observed jumping at heights between 0.8m to 1.25m in affiliated BS competition on Grade B/C show-jumping horses. Timing and the understanding of how horses learn has been established as important in horse training so Ethograms were developed to create rider profiles for force and use of the whip and note horse response to explore behaviour and alignment to equine learning theory. Results: Of the total rider population 10.5% (n=30) used the whip during competitions (Figure 1), 25% did not carry one. Chi-squared tests of association determined if whip use was related to performance (fault accumulation). Whip use associated with increased faults across the competitions (χ2 (6) = 30.07; p<0.0005), corresponding to horses refusing or knocking fences down. Excessive (hand raised above shoulder) and strong (>30cm) force was observed in 44% of whip-strikes. Horse behaviour ethogram showed conflict behaviour escalated with whip force rather than number of strikes. Discussion: The cognitive abilities of the horse may not permit an understanding that a whip strike after a fence relates to rider-perceived horse misdemeanour at the fence. Additionally, due to the associative way a horse learns, whip use approaching the fence may create negative associations with jumping. Misunderstanding a horse’s response, riders may direct a mis-appropriation of responsibility and punishment. Confusions may be mitigated if whip-use was understood by both horse and rider as a clear signal eliciting a mutually agreed/negotiated behavioural response. Declining performance could be explored through biomechanical analysis of horse movement to investigate possible underlying, undiagnosed physical causes. Conclusion: This preliminary investigation indicated certain trends within whip use in showjumping – when used inappropriately it incited horse conflict/stress behaviour and associated with poorer performance. Despite several clear infractions of whip rules, no regulatory action to support horse welfare and ethical sporting standards of behaviour was observed.
    PeriodAug 2019
    Held at15th International Society for Equitation Science Conference
    Event typeConference
    LocationOntario, Canada