Riverina harness racing drivers are struggling to come to terms with new rules, which will see whipping banned in both racing and training from September.
Harness Racing Australia (HRA) shocked the industry on Saturday when they announced changes to be implemented from September 1.
HRA chief executive Geoff Want said one of the reasons behind the move was that he improved image of the sport will add to its appeal.
“We see the ban as a vital way of demonstrating our responsibility as an industry, and to earning and maintaining the social acceptance and sustainability of harness racing,” Want said.
“The whip ban decision was not taken lightly, but was made on our own initiative because we believe it is the right decision at the right time.”
Bruce Harpley, one of the region’s most successful drivers, is concerned about dangers could come along with the ban.
“I agree that we need to cut down the usage of it and I think most horses, after they have raced for a season or two, don’t respond to the whip at all, but having to deal with young horses all the time you need it to distract them from other things that can get them into trouble,” Harpley said.
“It is a learning curve for them and when they shy at things or back back you don’t give them a flogging, but it is a tool to change their attention.
“They learn from the whip.”
He believes it is an essential tool the much larger horse respects and ensures they learn to race in a safe manner.
HRA is looking to develop a “tool” to negate some of the safety concerns.
However, Henty trainer-driver Grant Forrest is hoping the ban won’t come to fruition.
“I honestly don’t think they will will go through with it,” Forrest said. “I think there will be a compromise before that, otherwise people will go on strike.”
Forrest believes the whip is an important learning tool, especially for younger horses.
“I don’t really use the whip too much as I drive trotters and try to keep them together with the reins, but I still think you need it there just in case,” he said.
Want also said the peak body is “confident that wagering turnover will not be impacted”
However, Harpley doesn’t believe that will be the case.
“There is not one punter out their who puts their money forward and says ‘don’t hit it, don’t hit it, it’s not going to win so don’t worry’,” he said.
“They are trying to get more people in the sport but you are cutting down your demographic.
“TAB turnover is what keeps us all going and you are going to cut away from that.”
Leeton reinsman Reece Maguire believes the new rule will make the sport harder for participants.
“I think it is a little bit silly, but it is hard,” Maguire said.
“In education you need them so they learn to do things and not get bad habits.”
Meanwhile, Forrest will have three of his growing team race at Echuca on Wednesday.
That include classy mare Forestspider, who is resuming from a spell.
However, she has her work cut out for her after being given an 80-metre handicap.
Forrest wants to use the race as a lead up into the Cobram Trotters Cup later this month.