Technology could soon be changing the relationship between Thoroughbred horses and their riders, with the first widespread use of a new, padded riding whips at Laurel Park in Maryland.

New crops at Laurel
Laurel Park jockeys display new tech riding crops before Thursday races. (Image: Laurel Park)

On Thursday, all the riders at the suburban Washington, DC, track used the new, cushioned riding crops for the first time as a group. This whip in recent months and other varieties in recent years are in sporadic usage nationwide.

This new whip has a larger, cushioned padding. This results is less negative impact on the horse in the form of bruises and welts.

The 360 GT (gentle touch) crop is the invention of retired Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez. Laurel Park owner, the Maryland Jockey Club, purchased the first batch of 50 for local jockeys. The Maryland Jockey Club is part of The Stronach Group (TSG). TSG is also the owner of Gulfstream Park in South Florida and embattled Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles.

Why Jockeys Use Whips

Whips are generally employed by jockeys to help horses maintain a straight course. Usage includes correcting the path of a horse that may be veering towards the inner rail or the outer portion of a racetrack. Other common uses are tapping a horse on either of the front shoulders to ensure the horse is leading with the proper front leg and striking the horse on the hindquarters thus urging the horse to quicken its pace, if possible.

Whip use is one of a group of changes TSG is suggesting as part of far-reaching series of revisions sought in response to a spate of horse fatalities at the track this year. Twenty-three horses suffered injuries and were subsequently euthanized in the first few months of the Santa Anita Winter/Spring meeting. Tracks and state regulatory agencies nationwide are reviewing drug usage by trainers on the equine athletes and new training protocols.

Santa Anita jockeys, with the agreement of local stakeholders, said they would to ride without any crops April 12, but subsequently postponed the experiment. Whipping rules in the US vary from state to state, but generally only allow a horse to be struck a limited number of times before the rider is required to wait for a response from the mount.

Racing officials commonly fine and/or suspend jockeys for excessive whip use.

The California Horse Racing Board currently is considering a new whipping rule that limits use to safety and correction, but not encouragement.

Padded Whips Gain Popularity

The new 360 GT is the latest generation of padded crops that are more commonly utilized in recent years.

“So far, everything is good. We’ve had no complaints.” That from six-time Maryland champion rider Sheldon Russell. Russell won Thursday’s opener with Brooks Robinson, named for the Baltimore Orioles’ Hall of Fame third baseman.

More from Russell:

 “It’s a little bit of a different design than we’re used to riding with, but the handle and the flexibility is very similar. As long as it’s safer for the horses, we’re all on board. We’re trying to make it safer for the horses and safer for the game. We don’t want any problems. Everything’s good. The horses seem to be running; if anything, they’re running a little bit faster, time-wise.”

In harness racing, drivers generally employ longer, non-padded whips striking the shafts rather than the horse. The shafts are the long poles extending from the harness sulky seating area.

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