What is Rollkur?
A Question on Many People's Lips at the Moment
There is a lot of talk at the moment about Rollkur and what it actually is. What are the negative effects and why is everyone so angry about it?
Rollkur or hyperflexion of the horse's neck is a practice in equestrianism defined as, "flexion of the horse's neck achieved through aggressive force" and is banned by the world governing body, the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI).
Rollkur has been used for many years in many different disciplines, mostly showing, and show jumping, before being used by some very well known dressage riders.
In dressage, the rider tends to work the horse for periods of time with the neck lowered and the head behind the vertical for various reasons such as relaxing, stretching, and suppling the horse. However, rollkur takes this to the extreme.
You can tell a horse working correctly from a horse being pulled in by watching the hind legs and how the angle of them corresponds to the opposite fore in trot.
The bio-mechanics of the horse means that when the horse is pulled in too far - he physically cannot step under with his hind leg.
Rollkur teaches the horse to lower its head and round its neck as it works. Working "deep" so that the head is pulled inward. As in the picture, in the extreme, the horse's mouth touches the middle of his chest. This hyper flexed state is held for a length of time, through work at the walk, trot, and canter, including shortening and extension of the gaits. Rollkur is not just longitudinal flexion (nose to chest), but also bending to the rider's toe. Most riders accomplish the head position by and fixing the hands in a low position until the horse yields its jaw. This is a response to pressure on the bit.
Basically, rollkur is over-bending the horse to have the back come up. It puts lots of pressure on the muscles/tendons/ligaments and can prevent correct breathing. A horse that has been trained with rollkur will sometimes not have the diagonal legs parallel (more front leg action than hind leg action) in piaffe or passage.
The FEI have moved to ban the practice following the release of a video of the Swedish dressage rider Patrik Kittel using it warming up at a competition in Denmark where the horse's tongue went blue as a result of the manoeuvre.
The chairman of the Swedish Equestrian Federations' disciplinary comittee, Cecilia Tholse, has spoken out in public media (the paper version of Ridsport on the 4th of August) regarding the Falsterbo warm up, blue tongues, and noses in the chest.
She says posting photos and film on social media is not the right way to address the issue. Real moral courage is best shown in place at the competition arena. "Speak directly to a steward." And then she says: "If someone beats up a child you wouldn't take a picture and share it on Facebook, would you? Dare to act in the moment."
And there it is.
Thank you for the very vitalising image of a child being beaten up.
This is why so many of us are so angry.
Within the closed walls of the dressage arena "beating up a child" is no longer recognised as "the child actually being beaten." It is now tolerated as a necessary part of the journey towards medals and glory.
If the horse in this video was their actual child, they would be charged with child abuse in a court of law.
We need to start recognising this as a problem and until we do photos and videos on social media are needed to show the "child abuse" is obvious to everyone but the people in the dressage arena.
Rollkur is now banned in Switzerland but we need to have this barbaric practise banned across the world. There are no proven benefits to using rollkur over traditional and humane schooling methods.
Unfortunately though, as people, stewards, event organisers, venues, and more stand by and allow this practise to continue, it will never be stopped.
If you would like to support the anti-rollkur movement, we have found these great anti-rollkur products by One Loose Shoe, everything from t-shirts, hoodies, stickers, mugs, and more.
The more people that publicly show that they are opposed to rollkur, the quicker we can get it abolished in all countries.