Back to top

How Many Times Are Jockeys Allowed to Whip?

Most jockeys use a whip to encourage their horse to run faster, but how many times is a jockey allowed to legally whip his horse during a race?  In his article, we look at legal whip use amongst jockeys in the United States.

The permitted times a jockey is legally allowed to use a whip in the U.S. while his hands are off the reins is 6 times after the first furlong is run, and no more than 2 strikes without giving the horse a chance to respond. When a jockey exceeds that number, he will face an inquiry and penalties.

Whip use in horseracing is a controversial issue around the world and is often why some people dislike horse racing.  Let’s find out the rules related to whip use in the United States and how they are enforced. 

Whip Rules in the United States

In the public’s eyes, excessively repeated whipping of a horse during the race is likely to be perceived as animal cruelty, particularly when it seems a horse is giving its everything to win the race. Therefore, whip rules are in place to protect the horse and public perception.

The New Jersey Racing Commission and Kentucky Horse Racing Commission adopted rule 1688, a new whip rule on 16 September 2020, the strictest current rule in the United States so far. The race tape is reviewed when a jockey uses a whip excessively, and the jockey is referred for discipline.

The rule states that a jockey can only whip a horse while his hands are off the reins 6 times after the first furlong and no more than 2 times without giving the horse time to respond.

Jockeys are not allowed to use the racing whip more than six times during a race, but they can wave, tap the horse on the shoulder or show the whip to the horse to get it to move forward.

Rule 1688 states that a whip can only be used underhanded or below the jockey’s shoulder level. When in training, a jockey is only allowed to use a whip for safety issues like a rider or horse.

Jockeys who break the whip rules can face a maximum fine of $1,000 and a minimum three-day suspension from racing.

Jockeys will not be penalized if the steward finds the whip use is essential for safety-related issues of the jockey or horse.

The new whip rule covers mixed-breed, thoroughbred, and quarter horse races and training.

The whip rule includes:

  • No more than six strikes in a race.
  • No more than two strikes in a row.
  • Strikes must be underhanded or below the jockey’s shoulder.
  • A jockey can wave, tap or strike a horse on the shoulder if a jockey’s hands are on his reins.

Race stewards will consider how the jockey has used the whip during the race before deciding to hold an inquiry or not. They pay particular attention to his use in the race’s closing stages. These factors are:

  • The way the jockey used the whip and the degree of force applied.
  • The purpose for which the jockey used the whip.
  • The distance in the race the whip was used and the number of times it was used was necessary and reasonable.
  • Race stewards also look at whether the horse was continuing to respond.

When race stewards evaluate the way the whip was used, they can choose to disregard instances when the whip was used in the following circumstances:

  • When a whip is used to keep a horse in contention or maintain a challenging position before the race’s closing stages.
  • Where there was light contact with the horse only.
  • To correct a horse that is noticeably lagging.
  • To maintain a horse’s concentration and focus.

Correct Whip Use in the United States

While most jockeys are required to carry a whip, there is no obligation to use it during a race. A whip should only be used for encouragement and horse and rider safety. The use of a whip by a jockey must be legitimate in the context of the race. 

A jockey’s whip use must be proportionate, appropriate, professional, and stick to racing rules and guidelines. The racing whip used by jockeys in the United States is a whip that does not cause the horse pain and is designed to be energy-absorbing. 

The whip can encourage the horse to concentrate and focus and run at its optimum speed. When a jockey uses a whip, he must never compromise the horse’s welfare.

Jockeys are only allowed to use a specifically designed and approved energy-absorbing whip. The whip used by jockeys during races is not regular. Racing whips are designed as an energy-absorbing whip that creates noise rather than pain. The whip should only be used to encourage a horse to perform at its top level under racing circumstances.

Jockeys must follow these guidelines to minimize any penalties when using a whip during a race:

  • The jockey must urge a horse to increase its pace and lengthen its stride by using hands and heels first before picking up the whip.
  • Jockeys should calculate how much of the race is left to complete before using the whip.
  • Jockeys could show the horse the whip and give it time to respond before using the whip.
  • Jockeys could use the whip to urge the horse forward in the backhand position.
  • After a jockey uses a whip, he should wait to give the horse a chance to respond before using the whip again.
  • A jockey should keep both hands on his reins when using the whip down the shoulder in the backhand position.
  • Jockeys should use the whip in rhythm with the horse’s stride.
  • The jockey is only allowed to use the whip on the horse’s body where it will not cause pain or discomfort during the race.

Penalties for Excessive Whip Use During a Horse Race

In the United States, the race steward monitors a jockey’s whip use during a race. A jockey can earn a five-day minimum suspension for not sticking to the rules. This suspension will be enforced if a jockey frequently breaks the rules.

A jockey who earns a whip suspension of three days or more can lose his percentage and riding fee.

Examples of penalties for excessive whip-use. When a veterinary report states excessive use or welts or breaks on a horse’s skin, the jockey can receive penalties.

Since September 2020, race stewards fined jockeys a total of $28,000 for using the whip more than six times.

A minimum fine of $500 and a three-day suspension for excessive whip use can be earned when a jockey breaks the rules. The new whip rule also allows a $1,000, along with the three-day suspension if a jockey breaks the rules more than once.

Penalties explained

Penalties for violation of any of the rules by law:

  • The 1st offense a minimum $200 fine and a $500 maximum fine.
  • The 2nd offense within 365 days after the 1st offense, a minimum $400 fine and a $1,000 maximum fine.
  • The 3rd offense within 365 days after the 1st offense, a minimum $1,000 fine, and a 7-day suspension.
  • The 4th or subsequent offense within 365 days after the 1st offense a minimum $2,000 fine and a 10-day suspension.

In other countries like Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and France, strict rules regulating whip use during racing are also enforced.

The following whip use is prohibited:

  • Using a whip to the extent of causing an injury.
  • Using a whip with excessive force and brutality.
  • Using a whip with excessive frequency.
  • Using a whip on a horse shows no response to the whip.
  • Continued use of a whip on a horse after its chance of a place or a win has clearly gone.
  • The use of a whip on a horse who has clearly won a race or obtained a place.
  • Using a whip on a horse who passed the winning post.
  • Using a whip on the flank of a horse.
  • Using a whip on any part of a horse’s head or in the vicinity of the head.
  • Using a whip in front of the saddle while it is held in the forehand position.
  • Using a whip with an arm above shoulder height.

What Kind of Whips are Jockeys Allowed to Use?

A typical whip used in horse racing is made from lightweight, soft foam. Jockeys whip their horses to encourage, motivate and focus a horse’s attention on the race. Whips are an essential aid to racing if used correctly and safely.

The modern racing whip is made to create noise, not pain; the popping sound it makes gets a horse to focus more than what it hurts the horse

The typical jockey racing whip is energy-absorbing comprising of a composite spine with a polymer surround, encased in thick, soft foam padding. 

Racing federations have strict rules regarding the construction and dimensions of racing whips allowed in horse racing.

The design of a racing whip is intended to create a loud sound and encourage a horse to move forward without creating pain. Typically, whips are not abused by most jockeys but are generally sparingly used.

Use of Whip Rules in Other Countries

Other countries that also have whip rules in place are:

Australia: Australia allows 5 whip strikes to the 100-meter mark in the forehand position before the final stage of a race. There is no number of times a whip can be used during the last 100 meters of a race; it is up to the jockey. And there is no limit for backhand strikes.

France: France allows8 whip strikes in the final leg of the race into the home straight. 

United Kingdom: The U.K. allows7 whip strikes in a flat race and 8 strikes during obstacle racing.  When strikes are above the number, race stewards can still use their discretion whether a breach has been committed.

Republic & Northern Ireland: Ireland has a rough guideline of 12 whip strikes during a race. A race steward can allow more if he chooses. Only 5 in the last 50 yards are to be used.

Germany: Germany allows 7 whip strikes throughout the race if the horse finishes in one of the first three places. Less than 7 strikes if the horse is not responding and not amongst the winners. 


A jockey’s whip use during a race in the United States is limited to six strikes after the first furlong or 1/8th mile is completed. No more than two strikes in succession are allowed without allowing a horse to respond.

Whips should only be used to motivate and focus a tired horse towards the end of a race. Whips have been part of horse racing for decades and will continue to be in the future. However, there are strict rules and penalties in place to guard against excessive use by jockeys.

However, when a whip is used as a safety tool to prevent an injury or an accident in racing, more than one strike is allowed, and most race stewards would agree.

Jockeys are not allowed to use the whip twice in succession but can use the whip more than once if the horse or jockey is in danger. A jockey can get his horse to run faster by waving the whip or tapping the horse’s shoulder without physically striking the horse. For some horses, this is more than enough motivation to move forward. Whip use is totally at the jockey’s discretion.

Fines and penalties are applied if a jockey has flaunted the rules. Race stewards would have the discretion to fine a jockey a $500 minimum fine for a first offense and a three-day suspension if they determined excessive use. If a jockey is a repeat offended race, stewards can increase and go beyond minimum fines and impose a maximum fine.

We hope that we have answered your question on how many times a jockey is allowed to whip a horse in this article.


Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

Recent Posts