A huge question is about to loom for the New Zealand horse industry - if Australia bans the use of the whip, what will we do?

And that goes for harness racing as well as thoroughbreds.

The anti-whip faction is gaining momentum in Australia - harness racing has alreadyplanned to introduce a whip ban this spring, and, inevitably, galloping across the Tasman will follow. That's almost certainly when, not if.

Before we get into whether or not the whips should be banned, we need a good idea of where New Zealand goes when that happens.


And that's not because we tend to follow much of Australia's racing regulations. Some horses need encouragement to try their best, some don't.

Assume you have a group one winner in New Zealand that does need a flick or two with the whip to try to 100 per cent and it goes to Australia for races up to the A$6.3 million Melbourne Cup and a whip can't be carried.

Does that have implications? You bet.

Fair? No.

Sadly, this does not come down to whether the whip, especially since padded whips were introduced, actually damages, or is even painful to a horse.

Australians, even those strongly supporting whip bans, admit it's about public perception, community attitudes.

Most horseman say whips create almost no pain for horses. One of New Zealand's most experienced jockeys, David Walsh, says, it's more about the noise the new padded whips make.

"Horses are basically lazy by nature. Most need encouragement to produce their best and the noise of the whip is enough for most. I believe this issue has been blown out of all proportion."

Walsh says the standard of New Zealand's jockeys has improved beyond imagination in the past 25 years and horsemanship, rather than the whip, comes more and more into play.

The anti-whip brigade gained at least some momentum at the weekend when ruling body French Gallop reduced the number of strikes with the whip during any stage of a race from 10 to eight. It was reduced from 10 in 2005. French jockeys are not allowed to raise the whip above shoulder height.

In England, jockeys are allowed seven strikes in flat races and eight over jumps. In Ireland, stewards hold an inquiry if a jockey exceeds 12 strikes. In New Zealand, jockeys have a free run if in contention from the 200m.

Following public perception has its pitfalls. It should never be forgotten that Victorian officials made a bad blunder in buckling under to the anti-jumps lobby in their state, lowering the height of hurdles, making the obstacles more dangerous.

The extremists may have meant well, but, through their ignorance, more horses than ever were in demise.

And, the amount of strikes, while useful as a guide, is not infallible. Some jockeys hit harder than others.

Lester Piggott is probably the greatest rider the world has seen, able to do things with horses others could but dream about.

Even with his brand of magic, Piggott knew some horses needed the whip. And for that read singular. One swipe from Piggott, wielding that persuader that looked like a baseball bat, was like a dozen by the opposition.

The horse might jump a centimetre off the grass, but would always propel forward. You never saw Piggott hit them in successive strides.

Poetry in motion.

South American Joao Moreira, weaving his magic in Hong Kong, is widely regarded as the current world best. He uses the whip sparingly, but as the pro-whip advocates point out, he still uses it. Using it very sparingly and not using it at all, they say with some sense, are not the same things.

In Australia, Damien Oliver and Winx's jockey Hugh Bowman are sparing with the whip, but both know they need it.

Glen Boss is against hitting horses repeatedly, but accepts some may not try quite the same without it.

Whether you like it or not, there will never be an answer to this situation that is acceptable to all.

And there are side issues. Would a whip ban see a re-emergence of the infamous "jigger", popular in Australia in the good old bad days of decades past.

The jigger was used by a trackwork rider and introduced an electric shock into a horse's neck 300m to 400m out in a track gallop accompanied by a noise.

On raceday, the jockey would slap the horse on the neck at an identical stage of a race and make the same noise. The horse would be "frightened" into accelerating.

It is a cruel and unacceptable device, but racing is a big-money game and as such attracts all number of aids, legal and illegal.

You could make a case no whips may be a jigger promoter.

On December 1, New Zealand harness racing here reduced the number of times a driver can strike a horse inside the last 400m to 10. "And, you have to say we had resistance to that," says Harness Racing NZ Edward Rennell.

The anti-whip brigade, and those terrified of them, say the public will be more attracted to racing without whips.

Where is the evidence of that. Almost without exception the anti-whip brigade are not racegoers and probably never will be.

The flip of that is - will it turn away those who currently do attend because they believe a horse they backed did not win because it needed one flick of a whip.

Find the answer to that and you have hatched the golden egg.