The British Jockey Club has just amended its whip rules, recommending that jockeys, both in jump and Flat racing, carry whips that have shock-absorbing characteristics.
The recommending of these whips is set to be the first step before it is made compulsory for jockeys to carry them as they do not mark horses.
Leading jump jockeys are due to try out a new whip, modified by Robert Patton of Old Mill Saddlery, Northern Ireland, from the revolutionary Aircush whip which was launched in 1999,, within the next couple of weeks.
The latest Club move has been brought in without any publicity, but John Maxse, the Jockey Club spokesman, said: "This is the recognition of the improvements in design of whips which are coming on the market and we would like to see jockeys using them.
"The reason why we are recommending these whips rather than anything else is that they are not yet widely available and they have not yet been subjected to prolonged use on the racecourse.
"We are very encouraged by the design and the progress that has been made and at some later point the instruction may change."
David Muir, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals equine consultant, is encouraged by the Jockey Club move and the new whip.
He said: "This is the first time that the Jockey Club has used the term shock absorbing and it means that jockeys will use new technology whips which are designed not to injure.
"The whip developed by Robert Patton is a truly shock absorbing whip. He already makes whips which a vast number of jockeys use."
Asked whether he would have like shock-absorbing whips to have been made mandatory at this stage -- something that was under consideration -- Muir replied: "To be perfectly fair to the Jockey Club, I think it has behaved in a progressive and responsible manner.
"What the Jockey Club is really saying to the jockeys is that technology is available for you to be able to accomplish what you need on the racecourse in such a way not to cause injury to your horse.
"It is down to jockeys to evaluate that. If they continue to use some of the whips they have now then they are likely to come under scrutiny from the Jockey Club. If they injure a horse using the present-time whips, I imagine the weight of evidence will be against them.
"I'd would have loved to see something absolutely concrete but the Jockey Club is adopting a suck-it-and-see approach, moving forward slowly because the safety of the jockey and horse has to be taken into consideration. I am 100% behind that."
He pointed to a situation the other side of world which could be followed by other countries such as South Africa.
"Shock absorbing whips are now mandatory in India which is the first country in the world to take this quantum leap."
Patton said: "We have taken on the Aircush whip and developed it into a more user-friendly whip. We are going to be releasing these to jockeys within the next ten days for trials. If we can make something that keeps everybody happy which is not
cruel to horses but helps make them go forward then that is the point."
Old Mill Whips currently provides whips with padding for 95% of the jump jockeys at present. Flat jockeys do not use whips with padding or shock absorbing characteristics.
Jim Mahon invented the Aircush whip, the first fully shock-absorbing one seen in the world, and launched it in June, 1999, after a long development period. It had the support of Sir Peter O'Sullevan and Lord Oaksey among many others but jockeys felt it was too unwieldy.
Mahon said: "I have no doubt at all that shock-absorbing whips will become mandatory at some point. Robert Patton is making his new whip incorporating Aircush technology on licence and he is doing the marketing now for Aircush. A number of top jump jockeys have said they will be very pleased to use them."
While jockeys do not physically injure horses as much as in the past, because of the Jockey Club whip instructions, runners can still be hurt, with conditional jockey Ron Flavin receiving a 12-day ban from the Jockey Club's Disciplinary Committee in November after his use of the whip left a horse marked and bleeding at Ludlow.