Tasmania – On Friday, PETA filed criminal charges in the Magistrates Court of Tasmania, alleging that the whipping of horses at Tasmanian racecourses violates the state’s animal welfare laws. In some states, private citizens can pursue convictions for violations of certain criminal laws.
The use of whips in Thoroughbred racing in Australia is essentially self-regulated by the industry. The Australian Rules of Racing permit jockeys to whip horses up to five times prior to the final 100 metres of a race and an unlimited number of times in the final stretch. Under Tasmania’s animal welfare statute, it is a crime to beat an animal and to cause an animal unreasonable and unjustifiable pain or suffering. The proceedings commenced by PETA will test the legality of whipping horses on racetracks on both fronts.
“There is nothing reasonable nor justifiable about whipping a horse relentlessly to the finish line of a race in which they are forced to take part,” says PETA Campaigns Advisor Mimi Bekhechi. “Horses experience complex emotions and don’t want to feel pain. They deserve the same level of consideration in law as the dogs and cats with whom we share our homes.”
Earlier this year, the US state of New Jersey banned all whipping to urge Thoroughbreds to run faster, and California and Kentucky have also restricted whip use. In 1982, Norway banned the use of whips except for safety reasons, and in 2009, it banned them entirely for horses three years and older.
PETA and the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses (CPR) met with the animal welfare manager for Tasracing, Tasmania’s racing authority, more than a year ago to express concern over the use of whips, point out that whipping violates the state’s anti-cruelty statute, and offer support to help implement changes. PETA and other animal protection groups – World Animal Protection, CPR, and Animal Liberation NSW – then co-signed a letter to Tasracing requesting a meeting to discuss the issues and see if there was a way forward. PETA’s lawyer then met with Tasracing CEO Paul Eriksson, but Eriksson refused to engage further and informed PETA that Tasracing had no plans to explore banning or restricting whips. Faced with ongoing, widespread violation of welfare laws, PETA chose to file the private prosecution.