Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Rollkur 101: What You Need to Know to Take a Stand

Rollkur is seen in training and warm-up rings around the world as dressage riders (and riders in other disciplines as well) prepare for competition. A recent Epona TV video of a horse being ridden in a World Cup Qualifier warm-up in Odense, Denmark has brought riders, trainers, and equine enthusiasts of all kinds together in protest. Heather Moffett’s Blue Tongue Group on Facebook attracted 2600+ members in less than one week, and two anti-rollkur petitions online boast over 5000 signatures.

What is Rollkur?

Rollkur, or hyperflexion of the horse’s neck, is defined by the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale, the international governing body for all Olympic equestrian disciplines) as:

a technique of working/training used to provide a degree of longitudinal flexion of the mid-region of the neck. Hyperflexion cannot be self-maintained by the horse for an extended period of time.

In everyday terms, this exercise uses reins and pressure from the bit to pull the horse’s nose to its chest, thus over-bending the neck.

Why is it an issue?

Rollkur utilizes force to pull the horse’s head down to its chest. In this position the horse cannot see in front of itself, its breathing is impaired, and many experts and professionals believe rollkur may damage the horse both physically and psychologically. Ridden this way, the horse’s natural dynamic movement is lost, and classical dressage movement, as defined by the FEI’s own standards, becomes impossible.

If rollkur is so terrible why are riders using the technique winning at the upper levels of the sport?

Ask the FEI. The following is excerpted from the FEI Rules available to anyone as a downloadable PDF from their website. Read and compare to the Epona TV video. Search for online videos of winning FEI riders for the past few years and compare what’s being rewarded with the actual written standards.

Chapter I Dressage
The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete
through harmonious education. As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple,
loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect
understanding with the rider.

These qualities are revealed by:
• The freedom and regularity of the paces.
• The harmony, lightness and ease of the movements.
• The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the
hindquarters, originating from a lively impulsion.
• The acceptance of the bit, with submissiveness/throughness
(Durchlässigkeit) without any tension or resistance.

2. The horse thus gives the impression of doing, of its own accord, what is
required. Confident and attentive, submitting generously to the control of the
athlete, remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and
bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.

3. The walk is regular, free and unconstrained. The trot is free, supple, regular
and active. The canter is united, light and balanced. The hindquarters are
never inactive or sluggish. The horse responds to the slightest indication of the
athlete and thereby gives life and spirit to all the rest of its body.

4. By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of the joints, free from the
paralysing effects of resistance, the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation
and responds to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural
and harmonious balance both physically and mentally.

5. In all the work, even at the halt, the horse must be “on the bit”. A horse is
said to be “on the bit” when the neck is more or less raised and arched
according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace,
accepting the bridle with a light and consistent soft submissive contact. The
head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the
vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance
should be offered to the athlete.

6. Cadence is shown in trot and canter and is the result of the proper harmony
that a horse shows when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion and
balance. Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot or canter
exercises and in all the variations of these paces.

7. The regularity of the paces is fundamental to dressage.

Why is this important now?

Rollkur is not new. After Dutch Olympic dressage champion Anky Van Grunsven was videotaped in a warmup arena riding her horse using this method and created a public outcry, the FEI met with a panel of world-class biomechanics and equine anatomy experts in Switzerland on January 31, 2006.

The FEI concluded that there was no evidence that rollkur causes direct harm to the horse when used in the right way by expert riders. They did add, however, that it could cause harm if used incorrectly by inexperienced riders and that hyperflexion cannot be self-maintained by the horse for an extended period of time.

The controversy surrounding rollkur rekindled recently when Epona TV published a video of dressage rider Patrik Kittel riding his stallion Scandic in a World Cup Qualifier in Denmark. The video showed Scandic’s discolored, limp, tongue hanging out of his mouth. The video has created a global outcry. Groups have been formed and petitions are being signed protesting the use of this controversial method and demanding investigation and action by the FEI.

What you can do to help:

Join Heather Moffett’s Blue Tongue Facebook Group for up to the minute updates.


Help get the word out. Put links on your blogs and web pages educating your readers about this issue. YOU MAY REPRINT THIS ARTICLE IN FULL OR TAKE THE LINKS PROVIDED.

Sign the existing petitions.





Write directly to the FEI.

FEI Dressage Task Force Members and all contact info HERE.


Write to your equine associations and ask them to take a stand.

Write to the sponsors of the World Equestrian Games to be held in Kentucky in 2010. Tell them you want to see happy horses (in all disciplines) ridden and warmed up humanely.


Support riders and trainers who ride and train without using rollkur.

(if you are a rider or trainer who would like to be listed here, let me know in the comment section and I will add your name and brief bio with link)

Support companies who sponsor these humane riders and trainers.

(if you are a company who sponsors riders and trainers who do NOT utilize rollkur and would like to be listed here, let me know in the comment section and I will add your name and brief bio with link)


Michelle said...

Thanks again for another extremely informative post on this matter. I have posted a link back to you on my own site.

The Horses' Advocate said...

Excellent list of moves for action, including the sponsors. This form of thinking will move things along.

I set the challenge for each person who reads this to undertake a minimum of three of the suggestions you have put forward here.

the7msn said...

Not sure if you've seen it yet, but the lead story today on thehorse.com is "Controversial Dressage Training Method Under FEI Investigation." You've helped to keep this issue in the forefront since the blue-tongue video appeared, and mainstream outlets are now picking it up. Well done!

Claire said...

i've shared this on my blog; everyone needs to know to oppose rollkur...

Grey Horse Matters said...

Thanks for all the great information on this and all the research and work too. I'll work on something with a link back to you. You're the best.

Maybe with all this information and ongoing condemnation by a lot of people Rollkur will finally be outlawed.

billie said...

All - thank you so much for the kind words and the links plus the challenge!

I have a sense that the momentum for this issue is finally going to build to a point that it can't be ignored by the FEI and the sponsors.

jme said...

i hope you're right and this has the momentum to go the end. and we'll keep doing our part to keep it going. thanks for this great primer on the practice and the debate. i hope you don't mind if i post a link? most readers who visit mine probably visit here too, but it couldn't hurt...