Sunday, February 28, 2010

updates on the home front

It's been a busy week!

A few people have wished me a happy birthday following one of my comments on a recent post, so I would like to say thank you! My birthday is actually on Leap Year day, so this year I'm celebrating on Feb. 28th AND March 1st, a tradition started by my mother many years ago when the Buster Brown shoe saleswoman told me how sad it was that I only had a birthday every four years.

My mom proceeded to inform her that I was indeed not sad but lucky because it is a very special birthday to have and after that, I had double birthdays on the off years. As you can surmise, my mother is pretty savvy!

Later today she'll visit to help us celebrate. Redford will be in on the action, but to be honest, I think the equines are more happy about the weather than they are anything else. There have been numerous sightings of equines laying flat out in the sunshine, on ground that is not muddy but has a lovely spring to it. Yesterday Keil Bay scared me to death when I went out through the back gate to see him lying flat in the barnyard. I've never seen him lie down in there, and I had to call out to him three times to get him to move! We've had a string of gorgeous days, although I now see there is MORE SNOW predicted on Wed.

In advance of that, I spent yesterday working on the back field, mulching leaves, adding to my compost piles, clearing fallen wood. Salina and the donkeys stood in the arena and monitored my every move. For some reason Salina kept calling out a warning whinny, with her keen eye pointed into the woods. There must have been some animal in there, and she wanted to make sure I wasn't taken by surprise.

It's a good feeling to be under the protection of the boss mare!

In other news, my novel, claire-obscure, made it through the first round of the Amazon 2010 Breakthrough Novel Award contest. This is the novel that has had two agents and much praise, but which never quite made it to the green light stage when it was shopped around to editors. I've always felt (along with most of the agents and editors who read it) that it deserves to be published, and in a sort of whimsical "I'm taking control of my writing life" move in 2010, I entered it in the Amazon contest.

If it makes it through round two, Amazon customers/readers will have the ability to read excerpts and offer comments, and in the final round, the ability to vote on the novel they feel should win. If I make it to that round, I hope you'll consider taking a look and voting if you feel thus moved.

This is probably as good a time as any to announce that I am starting a small press, which I've named November Hill Press. After 7 years trying to break into traditional publishing and coming close but not quite succeeding, I've decided that it's time to take matters into my own hands.

November Hill Press will be focusing on "books that transform" - and will release books in e-book format (Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony Reader, as well as the free e-book software PC owners can install on their regular computers, with a Mac version supposedly coming soon) and as POD trade paper editions probably via Lightning Source, which will make it possible for bookstores to easily carry/order print editions.

As of now, I have three finished novels, a nonfiction book in the final stages, and a middle grade novel nearly complete. I'm not opposed to selling any of these to traditional publishing houses, but have stopped the exhausting, frustrating, querying for agents process in order to focus my energies on getting books in front of readers.

As most of you know, I love the process of writing, and will do it no matter what. But the sister to that process is when a reader engages with the characters and the story and is moved in some way, and it's past time for me to give some energy to that side of things.

All of this is a work in progress, and I'll announce things here as they move forward. With so much chaos going on in the traditional publishing world, it seems a good time to experiment with the possibilities afforded by technology.

As anyone who knows me well can vouch for, I have rarely done anything the "normal" way, so perhaps this option has been sitting and waiting for me to get to it for a longer time than I even realize. In any case, I'm excited. Between equines and books, I'm entering the second half of my life with lots to keep me busy!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

dr. robert cook's letter to veterinarians at the FEI round table meeting

From: Dr Robert Cook

To: The five veterinarians at the FEI Round Table Conference on Over Bending in Lausanne, Switzerland on February 9, 2010. (John McEwen, Dr Gerd Heuschmann, Dr Sue Dyson, Professor René van Weeren and Graeme Cooke

Date: February 12, 2010

As you will see from my attached response to the FEI press release of February 9th,¬e_id=323837991133&id=51217564556#!/notes/horses-for-life-publications/low-deep-and-round-or-a-blow-deep-and-unkind-dr-robert-cook-frcvs-phd/301929516133

I was deeply disappointed with the conclusions of the Round Table on Rollkur. It seems to me that, as a body, the representatives in Lausanne remained unconvinced of the inhumanity of over bending. I presume Dr Gerd Heuschmann spoke in favour of banning over bending and was out-voted. HRH Princess Haya 'accepted' the petition from 41,000 signatories who deplored over bending but apparently was unmoved.

I am wondering what your views were and whether you feel that the scientific evidence against Rollkur was really understood by the non-veterinarians at the meeting? The press release speaks of a consensus opinion. Does this mean that there was a vote and if so what was the vote? I would like to be reassured that there were dissenting opinions around the table and would hope that, at the very least, these included all of the five veterinarians.

From an outsiders perspective, it appears that the FEI's collective view on Rollkur has not changed since the 2007 workshop. It almost seems as though the views of the trainer, Sjef Janssen, once again gained ascendance on February 9th and were used as the basis of the meeting's recommendation. I am copying below, my comments on para 2.4 of the FEI's report on the Scientific session in 2007. These comments were part of the monograph I submitted to the FEI Veterinary Committee after that workshop.


Mr. Sjef Janssen made a distinction between what he regarded as acceptable short periods of low deep and round (LDR) and unacceptable prolonged periods of “Rollkur.” He conceded, however, that the copying of LDR by unskilled riders might involve “disadvantages.” With all due respect, I disagree most strongly with the suggestion that a training aid contraindicated on welfare grounds and, therefore, fundamentally wrong, can in some way become harmless when applied by an experienced rider. Apart from the fact that it is not harmless to that particular rider’s horse, experienced riders who use the technique are taken as role models and are setting a bad example.

The FEI is an organization that speaks for the welfare of the horse, worldwide, and must be seen to be worthy of this responsibility. As part of this commitment it is necessary for its deliberations to be transparent and open. I hope that you do not feel under any oath of secrecy as to what went on at the Feb 9th meeting and are able to share your views without divulging confidences and being disloyal to the FEI. I can understand that you may have a certain reluctance to be seen as a whistleblower but, as a veterinarian, I am sure you will agree that you have an over-riding responsibility to safeguard the welfare of the horse.

It is instructive but also sobering and immensely disappointing to look back at the recommendations and conclusions made by Professor Leo Jeffcott, chairman of the 2007 Workshop. Listed below are the summary points he made at the end of the workshop, followed by my comment on the lack of progress in the last three years.

1. The need for a definition of over-bending:

There was no need for a definition of over bending, as the FEI rule book already contained a definition of the required head position which makes such a definition unnecessary... " ... the head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical ... " All that is needed is for the FEI to acknowledge, abide by and enforce its own rule. The call for a definition of over bending has, nevertheless, not been addressed. No one in the FEI has pointed out the irrelevance of such a requirement.

2. Horses must not be seen to be put under pressure

For three years since the workshop, horses have continued to be seen under pressure by over bending in the warm-up ring. The evidence has been documented many times on video, yet nothing has been done to prevent it. The recent most egregious example of this was the flagrant cyanotic tongue episode. The FEI's press release on February 9th, 2009 even admitted in so many words that this was why the Round Table was convened, to wit," . The issue came up for discussion after an Internet video circulated of Swedish Olympian Patrik Kittel warming up at October's CDI Odense, Denmark, using a method some call inhumane." Disappointingly, the FEI Round table did not think it appropriate to agree that the 'method' (i.e. over bending) was indeed inhumane.

As over bending can be seen in the warm-up ring, in full public view and without any sign of remorse on the part of the perpetrators, undoubtedly this and worse occurs during training. Once again, this transgresses the FEI's Code of Conduct. Item #10, for example, states; The national and international Rules and Regulations in equestrian sport regarding the health and welfare of the horse must be adhered to not only during national and international events, BUT ALSO IN TRAINING [emphasis added]. Competition Rules and Regulations shall be continually reviewed to ensure such welfare."

3. Evidence is needed to guide the Stewards in preventing abuse

Once again, I submit that a perfect guideline for stewards was already present in the FEI's own definition of 'on the bit.' " ... the head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical ... " This was all that was needed in 2007 and it is all that is needed now. Any call by the FEI for further evidence is unjustified procrastination. There is no need for further evidence and any further delay in implementing their own rule is inexcusable.

In fact, additional evidence was submitted after the 2007 workshop. My own 51 page monograph, already cited, was received by the FEI Dressage Committee and, for all I know, there may well have been others who responded to the call for evidence.

4. The Dressage Committee would consider the findings of the Workshop

The Dressage Committee may or may not have considered these findings but they have not to my knowledge issued any public report or recommendation.

5. The Veterinary and Welfare Sub-committees should identify what research was required to answer the question of whether or not Over-bending was a welfare issue

If, prior to the 2007 workshop, there was any doubt in the minds of the members of the above committees as to whether over bending was a welfare issue (an unlikely possibility), there could have been no such doubt after reading my monograph. Over bending inflicts unnecessary pain and this alone is quite sufficient to answer the welfare question. But, once again, the FEI committees have issued no public statement by way of follow-up. For reasons unknown, the Welfare sub-committee has even been disbanded. Why this should have occurred at the very time when welfare considerations were of critical importance remains a mystery.

6. A draft proposal would be presented to the Dressage Committee for consideration prior to submission to the FEI.

Was such a proposal submitted to members of the Dressage Committee and did they, in turn, make any sort of recommendation to the FEI Board of Directors? Once again, even if they did, nothing has been issued by way of a public announcement.

To sum up, of the six recommendations by the chairman of the 2007 workshop,

• three were unnecessary in the first instance, there being appropriate rules and guidelines already in place, but they were still not acted on (as in #s1, 3 and 5)

• and three were necessary but not acted on (as in #2, 4 and 6).

This does not add up as a particularly stellar performance by the FEI in this matter of over bending. Additionally, the press release on February 9th fails to assure riders that anything has change for the better. The FEI, in relation to overbending, are non-compliant with nine of the ten items in their own Code of Conduct.

As veterinarians, we are under oath to protect the welfare of animals. Do you feel that the FEI are listening to the advice they must surely have received from their veterinary representatives?

I would very much appreciate your comments on the above observations.

Friday, February 26, 2010

wrapping up this week's discussion

Summary of the three things question from yesterday:

Lynda offered:

1. Double bridles are not permitted at levels below Grand Prix. (Harder to get hyperflexion in a snaffle!)

2. Horses that do not track up fully in trot exercises will be severely penalised.

3. The horse's poll must ALWAYS be the highest point of the neck.

I wrote:

1. Institute a review for all judges and stewards as to the existing standards, the new distinctions, with visual examples of what is okay and what is not. Sad to say this but I think some of the upper level judges need to see what a horse whose nose is slightly in front of the vertical looks like!

2. A strengthening of the process so that stewards are not intimidated or argued with - a rider can appeal a warning, etc. but must cease what he/she is doing until the judge reviews the call. Intimidation or argument with stewards is grounds for immediate disqualification. (there is no reason to argue with the stewards if there is an appeal process in place and especially if there are cameras so that looking at the infraction is simply done by the judge)

3. Include long-time classically trained dressage riders/trainers in the working group, the round-tables, committees, etc. IMO, Sjef Janssen being included as the "dressage representative" is counterproductive. According to Janssen, he invented rollkur. It seems unlikely that he will now denounce it as abusive. We need a balance of perspectives discussing these issues. He is not representative of the discipline and sport of dressage as many of us know and cherish it.

and Maire added:

Absolutely, stewards must be protected from intimidation. I am absolutely stuck on how to define aggressive force. Do they look at the rider's position, the horse's position or both? This is crucial as it is how they have distinguished Rolllkur from LDR. I wish they had not made this distinction but it is a given for now at any rate.

They could have a clear length of time that a LDR frame is held for.

I think we've covered some good things here. Thank you to everyone who came by to read and most especially to those of you who took the extra time and thought to comment.

Don't hesitate to continue adding comments if you've had a busy week and want to jump in. People come to these posts all day and all night long, and your words will continue provoking thought!


This morning when in between sleep and wakefulness, I found myself thinking of the spectrum of thought on the issue of competition.

On one end is Nevzerov and his Haute Ecole, who I read just now have put up a petition calling for a complete ban to equine competition.

On the other end are riders and trainers who seem to feel that whatever they need to do to get the horses into the winners' circle is warranted, and if necessary they will invent a name for it and say it's better than classical dressage, in order to make the ends justify the means.

Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle. Here at our little farm, my daughter enjoys competing at the local level, so we do occasionally go to shows. I've never taken Keil Bay to one, although he would probably be fine as long as he had plenty of hay and attention. Cody, our QH with PSSM issues, doesn't trailer well right now and wouldn't do well being stalled overnight, so his comfort dictates what we do with him. The pony seems to enjoy the "specialness" of being loaded and groomed and ridden in front of people, and although he's encountered some scary things (applause, a judge in a box, giant dressage markers, etc.) with some care he has overcome those fears. And we have never hesitated to scratch due to extreme temps or other last-minute factors that we feel will adversely affect his experience.

I noticed yesterday that Redford followed me out to the horse trailer where I am keeping hay. I went into the trailer and Redford came halfway in behind me, and suddenly Salina came charging out of the barn, whinnying her most concerned whinny. She does this any time either of the donkeys go near the trailer or practice loading.

For Salina, who was a fancy brood mare for years, babies and trailers mean one thing: mare and foal inspections. It is not a good memory for her.

I promise her repeatedly that those days are over, but she comes right out to the trailer and insists that the donkeys get out.

As I have wondered before about cross country courses, I wonder about competition: would any horse choose the trailer and a show stall and the loudness of music and announcers on speakers over home? I suspect most wouldn't, although obviously many seem to do okay while there. Others do not, and we see ulcers, stall vices, difficult to manage behavior, etc. as a result.

I think my final point is that if we choose to put horses into competition as our partners, or in my case, to join in as a spectator, we must do everything we can to make the experience a positive one. In my mind, doing no harm is an absolute, but I think going beyond that is a better goal.

The first thing I notice when I go to dressage shows is the horse's head, the frame, the noseband, the bit(s), and how the rider is impacting these. I think the fact that this part of the horse and rider stands out so blatantly is a huge red flag.

I notice too the busy legs of the rider, and the spurring forward.

Often I wander back to the stabling area, and see horses in tiny, dark stalls with no turn-out. In my mind I see them missing freedom, but the worse thing is that probably many of the horses don't even get that at home. They might have bigger stalls with more windows, but it's likely they don't have turn-out to the degree I feel they deserve.

The FEI cannot manage all of the above, nor is it their duty. But I do believe they play an important part in setting and adhering to standards that protect the horses in show stabling, in warm-up arenas, and in the actual competition rides.

We have to start with that, and move outward.

I think we've experienced here, this week, that it is far easier to complain than to engage in meaningful dialogue and to actually grapple with some of what the FEI committees and working groups experience each time they meet.

Back in my public mental health therapist days, I ended up as coordinator and then director of outpatient services for children and families. There was long-standing difficulty between the mental health clinics and the social services agencies. We had very different mandates, and yet we were all supposedly there to help children. And it was clear that more children would be helped if we worked well together than if we didn't.

In an effort to bridge the troubled waters between, I instituted a monthly luncheon and invited all the mental health child and family staff, as well as the social services staff. The first month there were two people in attendance. Me and one worker from social services. Eventually more people came, and we ate lunches together and to some degree realized that we were all trying to help children and families. And that it was harder to complain about each other after we had shared lunch together.

We did several years' worth of work trying to find ways to support one another. That work involved lots of meetings, lots of administrative and structural change, and sometimes negotiating that felt a little bit ridiculous, but got us the next step further that day, that meeting.

Still, when it came to individual cases and children at risk of harm, we did what we had to do. I threatened numerous times to involve the national media and the governor's office when children were being left at risk. I stopped being polite in open court when testifying as an expert witness. If I had seen mistakes made and incompetence allowed, I said that. I was not popular, but often in private, I was thanked for what I was doing.

It was difficult - trying to maintain working relationships with people and agencies I would disagree with the next week when a new case landed on my desk.

I think this is what we have to do here though - create relationships with the organizations who govern, such as the FEI, while at the same time serving as active advocates for the horses.

Talk and discuss, as we've done here. Try when we can to leave the role of complaint behind and take on the role of change-maker.

And when we go to the shows, take our video cameras to the warm-up arenas. Keep watching, reporting, speaking out when we see things that are not right. And let the FEI know about it.

Again, thank you to Malina and all who participated this week. Hopefully we can do this again after the working group completes its current tasks.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

3 very concrete steps the FEI could take towards definitive progress?

The week's end has come quick! And I am on a tight schedule today, so am not going to ramble on as I have done previously.

What I'm proposing is that we offer three concrete steps we each feel would lead to progress with reference to the issue of rollkur/hyperflexion/LDR. I know some of the issue is that there IS a distinction between the first two and LDR, but I personally feel they need to be considered as one. You don't have to follow my categorization at all.

Pretend YOU'RE on the working group that's trying to clarify the new rules. Pretend you can go beyond that if you want to. What three things would you add in to the rules, or change?

I'll add mine in later, probably early evening, and then will go through any comments tonight with the intention of posting the entire list tomorrow.

One thing I'm happy to read this morning from Horse For Life:

Today at 7:27am
In March 2009, in concert and with the support with a number of other horsemen, we put online a petition for the two finger rule. Knowing that a properly adjusted noseband could help make it that much more difficult to maintain and hold a horse in an overflexed position. It gives the horse his voice back!

Now 3000 signatures strong the USEF has in 2010 answered that call at a national level!!!

Rule 121.6. .... At any level of competition, a cavesson noseband may never be so tightly fixed that it causes severe irritation to the skin, and must be adjusted to allow at least two fingers under the noseband on the side of the face under the cheekbone.

As someone noted, it could be better - could have specified two fingers between top of nose and noseband. BUT, this is progress. I've argued this with trainers for years and loosened many cavessons the trainers had made overly tight. Now at least the rule tells you where to put the fingers! Not under the horse's jaw where the crevice is!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

quick note

I meant to say in today's post that I will be adding things to each day's post as needed - so if you come back to check in, scan the full post again to see if there is new information!

Malina just commented on yesterday's post, and I have copied that at the bottom of today's to make sure everyone sees it.

various thoughts on judging, assessing the use of force, and the FEI's ability to adhere to the standards already in place

Arlene shared this quote in yesterday's comments:

What the horse does under done without understanding...and there is no beauty in it.

- Xenophon

Xenophon's statement perfectly frames our shift from yesterday's post and comments to today's, which has to do with stewards having clear criteria to follow when monitoring warm-ups, and which also connects to what comes after the warm-up: the ride itself.

Maire wrote:

How is a steward to decide if aggressive force is used? What about horses that have such force used at home and therefore have learned to submit to LDR? That cannot be judged. Dressage judging is subjective and I think that the steward judging of warm up rides will also have to be subjective. What is aggression? Is it a braced position on the part of the rider? Is it obvious signs of discomfort such as swishing tale, excessive sweating and these signs could also be argued the other way?

Maire has described the difficulty in very exact terms, asking what I believe are the critical questions the FEI's working group has to address.

Particularly important, I think, is the possibility that aggressive force used at home leads to learned helplessness and submission on the part of the horse, who then offers little resistance in the warm-up arena. How can a steward address that?

Dougie wrote:

I think the definition of LDR needs to be expanded into a really simple "If you see this (description of look/behaviour by horse and/or rider) this is what you should do."

That level of clarity would help everyone develop a much higher level of common understanding of what is/isn't acceptable & people would then start to self-analyse & change their behaviours, coz they know they won't be allowed to do what they've previously done.

From such small acorns, great oaks grow.

Dougie has come to what is needed - absolute clarity, with very specific criteria that become second-nature as they are implemented.

Which brings me to something I was thinking about last night as I read over the comments: in many sports, there are elements of subjectivity in judging, and to some degree we have to accept that if we use humans to judge. Having very clear criteria make it less subjective and easier to achieve consistency across many rides.

However, I'm going to say something here that might seem as if I'm leaning in the other direction. I feel that at the upper levels of the equine sport, the judging can get so technical and so focused on the movements and the extravagance of gait, that common sense is tossed out the window.

The image of a horse with muzzle to chest, or even muzzle behind the vertical, noseband cranked tight, curb rein nearly horizontal, mouth gagging open, eyes either fearful or worried or more disturbing, simply resigned, tail swishing, spurs active, tremendous sweat and foam and saliva - how hard is it to see and to judge that this is not correct, not good, and unworthy of reward? Many of the upper level rides that are winning seem to have completely skipped both rhythm and relaxation.

Instead of looking only at movement, or how far and high the front legs extend, how about telling the stewards and the judges to simply look at the horse's face? Look at the horse's back. At the tail. Is there a happy, relaxed demeanor? Is there a lovely soft swing through the back? Is the tail making that beautiful S-shaped swing at the trot? Are the hind legs tracking properly?

These are things I look for when my daughter rides her 12.2h pony in our modest backyard arena. Why can't these basic, standard signs of rhythm and relaxation be used at the upper levels, where they are even more important?

I remind you of the standards that I downloaded months ago from the FEI's website:

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.

I believe all judges should go through remedial training in 2010 to review the EXISTING standards. From the FEI level all the way down to local schooling shows. As recently as last summer, my daughter received a comment from a judge that said "shorten the reins and get your pony on the bit." This was in an intro level class.

If you were a 12-year old girl, what message would you take from that comment? In my opinion the ongoing focus on getting horses "on the bit" contributes mightily to the image of holding the horses' heads in a "frame" rather than learning to get horses correctly "on the aids" and moving with rhythm and relaxation, the first two steps of the training scale. Contact shouldn't be in the picture until the first two are achieved.

Even at a local schooling show, the winner of the show was an adult professional rider, who rode the entire test with her big warmblood's nose several inches behind the vertical. At intro level.

As recently as this week my daughter and I received an email from our local Pony Club, in which dressage was described as a discipline in which being "on the bit" was the most important thing. Again, what does this say to our young riders? The bit, the reins, the hands, the horse's head are the focus. Not the hindquarters, not the rider's seat, not the horse's entire body being in relaxation before any contact is attempted.

Part of why I am so adamant about the rollkur issue is that I feel if we correct the riding and the treatment of the horses at the TOP, those effects will ripple all the way down to the schooling arenas and shows and backyard arenas, where little girls and boys will learn to ride their ponies with kindness and correctness. Isn't that why the standards are in place? Shouldn't the riders at the top be examples of those same standards?

As far as I'm concerned, the FEI cleaning things up at the top has the potential to help create better riders and happier ponies and horses all over the world, which is the number one reason why it is so important that they take this seriously and do what needs to be done in as straightforward a manner as they can.

I've gone off on a slight rampage here, so feel free to rein me back in (no rollkur, please!) and share your thoughts.


I wanted to add Malina's comment that just came through on yesterday's post:


Thank you again for the opportunity to converse with you and your readers.

In order to ensure practical results in less than two months, the working group had to be kept small. It is important to note however that the working group will be consulting widely outside of its membership.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Jacques Van Daele, FEI Honorary Steward General for Dressage, is on the working group. He has served at hundreds of FEI events from the lowest to the highest level over many years and is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced stewards working with the FEI. John Roche, who is FEI’s director for stewarding, is also a working group member.

The FEI has put in place a new education programme for stewards. All stewards officiating at international events will have to go through this programme in order to gain the best possible understanding of FEI rules and regulations and to be in a position to perform their tasks in the most informed and efficient way.

I hope that this information is of interest.

All the best,


Thanks, Malina - that is indeed interesting information and I'm very happy to hear about the stewards officiating at international events going through an education programme.

Will the education programme be available for use by stewards officiating at lower level events? I would hope that all stewards could have access to it and would be encouraged to take part.

And further, will the material covered by the programme be available for the general public? I personally would be extremely interested in the information. It might be just the thing to push me into volunteering for stewarding positions in local competition - they always seem to need extra help.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I guess I'll go first! my thoughts on stewards

Although there have been many visitors here since I put up yesterday's post, there have been no comments, which has surprised, and I admit, disappointed me.

But today is a new day, and I invite you once again to join in. If you prefer that your comment stay in the comment section only, say that. I'll respect your wishes.

On with a few things I've been pondering.

I went back just now and reviewed the FEI's announcement about the newly-formed working group:

The composition of the FEI working group tasked with expanding current guidelines for Stewards to facilitate clear implementation of the policy on warm-up techniques following on from last week’s round-table conference on hyperflexion/Rollkur has been finalised today.

As announced after last week’s conference in Lausanne, the working group will be chaired by Dressage Committee Chair Frank Kemperman. Group members are Richard Davison (GBR), Rider/Trainer; John P. Roche (IRL), FEI Director Jumping/Stewarding; Jacques Van Daele (BEL), FEI Honorary Dressage Steward General/Judge; Wolfram Wittig (GER), Trainer; and Trond Asmyr (NOR), FEI Dressage Director/Judge. The working group will also draw on the expertise of a number of other specialists, including but not limited to the participants of the round-table conference*. The working group aims to have the guidelines completed by the end of March 2010.

The guidelines produced by the group will be communicated directly to Stewards and also to riders and trainers. The working group is expected to put forward further proposals for the education of Stewards to ensure that FEI rules are strictly adhered to and that the welfare of the horse is maintained at all times.

Since the group aims to expand the current guidelines for stewards, and to facilitate clear implementation of the policies by stewards, I feel we should see at least a few regular stewards in the group. The actual front line personnel who will need to understand and implement these new guidelines.

The use of specialists is key, but we need the actual front line stewards in the room in order to make this truly useful and relevant.

The input of these people would, in my opinion, be invaluable to the working group. They will have real stories to tell about what it's like to steward, including the problems they face in dealing with upper level riders and trainers, who may not be amenable to intervention from staff they see as peripheral and unimportant.

In order to empower the stewards, we have to hear what they have to say. What better way than putting them in the working group?

It's also a necessary way to insure that the clarification of guidelines is indeed clear. As the guidelines are developed, and the actual language put into place, the working stewards will be right there to say "yes, that's very useful," or "that's confusing - how do I apply that?"

Or "that is clear but it won't work in action and here's why."

I haven't served as a dressage steward, but have volunteered as a cross country jump judge, and have personally dealt with a rider who I needed to flag to stop the course. The rider ignored me and kept galloping on, creating a potentially dangerous situation, as there was a horse down two jumps further in. Guess who got chastised for not stopping the rider? ME. I was out flagging as hard as I could, and there was no way the rider didn't see me. There was no penalty to the rider for ignoring my flag.

Bear in mind this was a recognized event, but nothing like the upper levels of the sport. The standards should be implemented from the lower levels and remain consistent all the way up. That way riders learn the ropes early on, and one of the most important "ropes" to learn is that one has to respect the stewards and judges.

In my opinion, the stewards' directions should be considered law, and if a rider or that rider's trainer ignores or argues with the steward, there should be automatic disqualification.

If the rider and/or trainer want to file a complaint, let it be done in writing, to the head of the show/venue.

The stewards won't stand up to riders and their trainers if they know they will be argued with, intimidated, and then not backed up by the judges.

Imagine the impact on the world of dressage if the steward in the warm-up arena had been empowered to approach Kittel and say UNACCEPTABLE.

And empowered to disqualify him from competition if he did not get off Scandic, examine his tongue and the bridle, correct the noseband, and release him from the rollkur position for the rest of the warm-up.

Epona TV would have captured that on video and we would have all been cheering instead of outraged.

Actually, that's what I hope to see in 2010. Someone capturing an empowered steward on videotape and sharing it with the world. The guidelines in action, successfully implemented, and the welfare of the horse being put before the rider's competition goals and the trainer's ego.

To me, that's a perfect example of the FEI in action, doing its job.

I welcome comments on anything I've written today, as well as any other thoughts you have.

Malina stopped by several times yesterday and has already been by this morning. She is listening. Do we have anything to say?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Let's talk with the FEI, across the virtual table, all week long

For one week, I'm going to transform camera-obscura into an open forum for communicating with the FEI, trusting that while Malina may not be able to respond to every comment, she will be reading and absorbing what we have to say.

For anyone who doesn't know, Malina is Malina Gueorguiev, Communications Manager for the FEI and she has been a regular visitor here for a number of months.

WHAT TO DO: If you'd like to communicate with the FEI in a slightly less formal way than letter or email, this is your chance. Put your message in a comment. It will be remain in the comment section as usual, but what I plan to do, depending how many comments there are, is post some or all of the comments throughout this week as the next day's new blog post, to make the comments more visible and allow for further discussion.

This is a work in progress, so bear with me if I change the structure to accommodate what actually plays out.

IMPORTANT: Please honor my guidelines: genuine and respectful communication. No one will come back to a table to talk or listen if they are treated rudely. I will not approve comments that are blatantly rude in a way that is personal to Malina or the FEI staff.

We are communicating about the use of rollkur, hyperflexion, and LDR (low deep and round), and the FEI's role in governing the use of these methods in warm-up and competition.

I especially welcome suggestions, ideas, and brainstorming with reference to creating the kind of competition atmosphere we could embrace as riders, trainers, and spectators. I'll be adding my own comment at some point this week.

Right now I'm thinking about the kind of upper level competition I would love to see and experience as a spectator. I'm thinking about the quality of life of competition horses. I'm also thinking about all the information I've read about the use of the above methods and the resulting physical and emotional/psychological damage to the horses. And I'm thinking about movement and classical dressage and dressage at its essence as a discipline that creates harmony between horse and rider, as well as healthy animals who live long, productive lives.

Between us, I am betting we come up with a good spectrum of thoughts and ideas.

I wrote last week:

It's possible to channel passion and strong belief in ideals into engaging discussion that has the potential to create change. And remember, change is a spectrum. It's a path made of small stepping stones. If every time you speak, you put one stone into a solid place on the path, you've succeeded.

Last night, as I go through the TV series West Wing for the second time, I happened to watch one of my favorite episodes, title Two Cathedrals. It's the episode where Jed Bartlet makes an important announcement to the press and the nation, loses someone important to him, and ultimately decides to run for his second term as President. There's a sequence near the end where he leaves the White House with his entourage, in the pouring rain and wind of a tropical storm, to get to the site of the press conference. Dire Straits' song Brothers In Arms is the soundtrack, and Bartlet is thinking of all the work he's done during the first term, how difficult it's going to be if he decides to run for a second term, and how much work there is left to do, work that he feels must be done.

It's an incredibly inspiring and poignant sequence, and it immediately made me think of this issue with rollkur and hyperflexion and LDR and the hearts and minds and bodies of the horses we love.

Thanks to the incredible technology at our disposal today, not only can I embed the sequence from West Wing via YouTube (you will get the overall impact but to get all the amazing subtle nuance of the sequence watch the entire episode!):

I can embed this, the video that started this latest outpouring of debate, discussion, and outrage against a training method that so dishonors the mind, body, and spirit of not only dressage, but the magnificent horse:

However hard the work of advocating, however pointless it can seem, there is good reason to continue, if only to keep the issue alive for the next generation.

I think we can do more than that. Let's talk about how.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

party postponed and a moment of silence

I realized this weekend that we have two more February birthdays to celebrate, and I decided to combine the party next weekend. Redford had a special birthday tub on Friday, lots of hugs and play, and he is quite happy to be 2 years old.

The weekend was gorgeous and I spent most of it dragging, mulching, trimming tree branches, gathering and burning fallen wood, and moving stones. The front field is now on official hiatus so the spring grass can grow unimpeded by equine hooves and teeth. Tomorrow's rain is perfectly timed - now that the field is all cleaned up it needs a little rain to settle it.


Linda at 7MSN and all her animal family lost Skippa Little Lyle this weekend. We here at November Hill love reading about all the 7MSN adventures and reading about Lyle brought me to tears and made me realize just how much we can come to care about animals we have never met but feel we know almost as well as the ones we live with.

All our sympathies and healing wishes are with Linda and her family in this very difficult time.

Friday, February 19, 2010

there is a birthday boy in the building

(okay, not exactly IN the building)

I have not forgotten the young donkey whose very name invokes fame and presence and whose personality matches that perfectly!

His name is Redford and he is affectionately known (by me) as Redbug. Compared to the serious and quite thoughtful Rafer Johnson, Redford is a firecracker. A spitfire. And we knew this the first day he arrived when he sailed not once, not twice, but three times over a stall wall to be with his brother-in-arms Rafer, sporting a leg cast and needing the company of another young donkey.

The party will be on Sunday, so stay tuned for photos and celebration!

Meanwhile, happy birthday, Redford. Two years old! And at least two million smiles you have brought to us since your arrival at November Hill.

and the FEI responds, personally

This morning I woke up and found this in my inbox:

Hi Billie,

Malina here, from FEI Communications.

Thank you for your positive feedback.

I was very humbled by the fact that you posted my previous comment in such a prominent way.

I would like to say we not only welcome but need the dialogue with all those involved in the sport, be they top riders and trainers or the millions of horse lovers who care about their horses and without whom the sport wouldn't exist.

Now thanks to social media this is possible.

Congratulations on the quality of your blog which is always interesting to read.

All the best,

Malina, thank you for continuing to read and respond.

Given that I am not an upper level rider or trainer, but someone who has come back to riding at middle life and chosen dressage as a discipline to study, along with my horses, I appreciate very much that anyone in the FEI cares what I think. I do feel my opinions and those of my readers are informed and many of my readers have far more experience riding and training than do I, so I learn here every day.

If I can offer anything in this ongoing debate, it's my experience as a psychotherapist trained early on from the perspective of social work, which prides itself on the philosophy that all work begins where the client IS. Not where we want him/her to be.

We are where we are, wrt the current situation in competitive dressage, and I know from long years working on child welfare issues that polarizing and refusing to talk to one another will gain us exactly nothing.

Change begins when there is genuine communication, and I personally feel that has happened since the blue tongue video hit the internet.

Plenty of people will work hard and then quit because the FEI didn't give them exactly what they wanted.

But there are many dedicated and knowledgeable horse people who will continue advocating for the horse, while at the same time realizing that it is a longer-term endeavor, and that finding common ground and developing respectful communication is the way to move forward.

While I will never compete at the FEI level, I want to watch dressage in the Olympics and feel both pride and inspiration in what I see there. And I want to see happy, healthy horses who have freedom to move and breathe and show off their unique skills.

I don't doubt this is what the FEI wants as well. The work is how to get there in a way that honors the horse and sets clear standards for the rider.

Thank you for your part in this journey!

I'm planning a special blog post that will go up on Monday, Feb. 22nd. I hope everyone will participate and tell anyone you know who might be interested to come by and join in.

For one week, I'm going to transform camera-obscura into an open forum for communicating with the FEI, trusting that while Malina may not be able to respond to every comment, she will be reading and absorbing what we have to say.

I'll explain more on Monday, but be thinking about what you'd like to say, and remember my guidelines: genuine and respectful communication. No one will come back to a table to talk or listen if they are treated rudely.

It's possible to channel passion and strong belief in ideals into engaging discussion that has the potential to create change. And remember, change is a spectrum. It's a path made of small stepping stones. If every time you speak, you put one stone into a solid place on the path, you've succeeded.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

FEI Update

Text from the FEI website:


The composition of the FEI working group tasked with expanding current guidelines for Stewards to facilitate clear implementation of the policy on warm-up techniques following on from last week’s round-table conference on hyperflexion/Rollkur has been finalised today.

As announced after last week’s conference in Lausanne, the working group will be chaired by Dressage Committee Chair Frank Kemperman. Group members are Richard Davison (GBR), Rider/Trainer; John P. Roche (IRL), FEI Director Jumping/Stewarding; Jacques Van Daele (BEL), FEI Honorary Dressage Steward General/Judge; Wolfram Wittig (GER), Trainer; and Trond Asmyr (NOR), FEI Dressage Director/Judge. The working group will also draw on the expertise of a number of other specialists, including but not limited to the participants of the round-table conference*. The working group aims to have the guidelines completed by the end of March 2010.

The guidelines produced by the group will be communicated directly to Stewards and also to riders and trainers. The working group is expected to put forward further proposals for the education of Stewards to ensure that FEI rules are strictly adhered to and that the welfare of the horse is maintained at all times.

Guidelines for Stewards will incorporate the use of a range of sanctions, including verbal warnings and yellow cards for riders who transgress. Stewards will also be readvised to watch out for signs of distress in the horse, which may include but are not limited to obvious fatigue, profound or inappropriate sweating, persistent rough use of aids (i.e. bits, spurs or whip) and over-repetition of exercises.

The FEI Management is also currently studying a range of additional measures, including the use of closed circuit television for warm-up arenas at selected shows so that potential abuse accusations can be more readily identified and recorded.

The FEI will ensure that all findings produced by the working group are communicated on an ongoing basis.

* Participants in the Lausanne round-table conference on hyperflexion/Rollkur (9 February 2010) were:

HRH Princess Haya, FEI President
Alex McLin, FEI Secretary General
International Dressage Riders Club, Margit Otto-Crepin
International Dressage Trainers Club, Linda Keenan
Francois Mathy, International Jumping Riders Club
David Broome, jumping representative
Sjef Janssen, dressage representative
Jonathan Chapman, Event Riders Association
Graeme Cooke, FEI Veterinary Director
Trond Asmyr, FEI Director Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage
John Roche, FEI Director Jumping and stewarding
Catrin Norinder, FEI Director Eventing
Ian Williams, FEI Director Non-olympic sports
Carsten Couchouron, FEI Executive Director Commercial
Richard Johnson, FEI Director Communications
Jacques van Daele, FEI Honorary Steward General Dressage
John McEwen, FEI Veterinary Committee Chair
World Horse Welfare, Roly Owers and Tony Tyler
Ulf Helgstrand, President Danish NF
Dr Sue Dyson
Dr.Gerd Heuschmann
Professor René van Weeren
Frank Kemperman, FEI Dressage Committee Chair (by phone)

I personally feel the FEI's efforts to inform people on this are commendable. Richard Johnson posted this on the Blue Tongue Facebook page, which he didn't have to do, and I also feel the responses on the video to very specific concerns show the FEI as an organization are listening to what we have to say.

I realize many people are skeptical of the FEI's intentions to make meaningful change, but the first step is communication, and when they listen and respond specifically to concerns many of us have had in the past week, it is, in my opinion, a positive shift.

Huff And Puff Training And Leadership: An Opinion On The FEI Rollkur Decision | The Chronicle of the Horse

Huff And Puff Training And Leadership: An Opinion On The FEI Rollkur Decision | The Chronicle of the Horse

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pre-spring training

Yesterday afternoon was warm if you only looked at the thermometer, but there was a cold wind blowing that made being out for any length of time a miserable prospect.

However, chores had to be done, so I went out and groomed Salina, who was lovely and soft and black on one side, and crusty orange on the other. She moved from spot to spot as I brushed, until we found a sunny place she liked, and then she stopped. This ended up being in the arena, and the donkeys were happy to do their donkey play on the soft, clean, non-muddy footing.

The geldings were in the back field, keeping an eye on us in between bites of hay.

I finished up Salina and then gave the donkeys a good brushing. Keil Bay and Cody came to the arena fence and hung their heads over so I could clean up their faces and heads. That's all they wanted, and when I tried to brush further down the necks, they stepped away.

The next chore involved doing the last of the mucking, and I was really not in the mood, as it was actually cooler in the barn than out in the sunshine.

So I found a distraction. The arena has been clear for months now. I like the dressage markers in place, and nothing else in there, and that's how it's been. But suddenly I decided we needed some variety, and I spent an hour setting up five jumps. This involved bringing standards out of corners, pulling poles from the sides, and rolling/securing barrels. All of which was prime entertainment for two young donkeys.

Rafer Johnson and Redford investigated and supervised every move I made. They enjoyed getting on either side of a jump and doing their donkey play over the pole in between. Redford made a very dramatic game out of spooking at the barrels, racing around and around them and then darting away as if they were coming at him. Rafer thought this ridiculous and didn't participate.

At some point they made their way to a jump and both went over it together, knocking the pole down in their haste. They both decided at the same instant that this meant RUN, and they galloped out of the arena like wild things, in search of Salina, who had done her walking and exited earlier.

I'd been so intent on watching donkeys I hadn't noticed there were now three geldings lined up at the arena gate, all wanting to come in and play.

So I let them in.

Of course the donkeys came running back. The horses checked out each jump. The pony went around and methodically knocked each pole to the ground with his nose, and then used his hooves to roll the poles away from the standards. He tried to climb on top of the barrel jump, but I think realized how silly he'd look if he ended up with front feet on one side, rears on the other.

Keil Bay checked each jump out, almost as if he were doing a safety inspection.

Cody became engaged in a play session with Redford. Rafer and I were cleaning out a corner of the arena that needed some attention while watching all the activity.

After an hour, I had moved on to mucking and my daughter came out. "Mom?" I heard her voice and then she was in the arena, galloping on two legs over the jumps. In a few more minutes, she had the pony in with her, and was offering an alfalfa pellet for each jump he took with her. So by the end of the afternoon, there was actually a little bit of pre-spring training going on.

It was fun seeing the pony trotting along with daughter, then breaking into a canter as they approached the jumps.

Hard to resist on a sunny but cold afternoon. I'm not sure if the furor over rollkur has me completely put out with dressage, but all I could think of yesterday afternoon was popping over the jumps on Keil Bay. And oddly, whether I should look for a jumping saddle! I'm sure it was spring fever, but the thought was there! :)

It looks like we're in for a string of very nice days: 52 degrees today, 57 tomorrow, 60 and 61 for the weekend. And NO RAIN! Perfect for getting a few out of work geldings back into the swing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

today feels like monday to me

Late Sunday evening my husband announced he didn't have to go to work yesterday because of President's Day, so when I woke up and he was here, it felt like another chunk of weekend had been grafted onto our week.

Even going into my office last night didn't do much to shift that notion. It feels like Monday today!

First off I have to apologize to yet another reader/commenter, jme. I am suddenly getting many spam comments for both this blog and mystic-lit, and when I moderate, for the first time ever, I am hitting "reject" regularly.

And then my dyslexic thing kicks in, and I reject a string of spam comments, read a wonderful one, and as my brain thinks "publish" my finger hits "reject."

There is no way to get those back!

I'm not sure where the spam is coming from. There are many Chinese ones, and then lots of fake "normal" ones that are anonymous and sort of sound like maybe they're genuine. But their very blandness gives them away.

I guess if I employed the word verification system I might make life easier for myself but I wanted commenting here to be effortless. If it gets to be too much, and I keep making mistakes in my moderating role, I'll add it in.

On another note, I realized I'd left out a sure sign of spring here on November Hill. Our beloved hay man is now out of his gorgeous, non-sprayed, organically grown hay. This affects us on a number of levels. His hay is easy to balance minerally. It's reasonably priced so we can throw hay to horses with wild abandon and not stress the bit of wastage we get from using the big round bales.

We get eggs and some meat and vegetables from our hay man, so when we're no longer going out there for hay, it puts a snag in grocery shopping. I've realized I don't want the store eggs any more. They look... fake. Fortunately this weekend the kids had a party to go to out near the hay man's farm, so we got our stash of beautiful eggs.

Meanwhile, I bought one small batch of timothy hay from the feed store last week. The horses have been scarfing it up - the one up side of having to change hay right now is that they are already craving something green, and a new hay seems to satisfy that a bit. But the feed store hay is not cheap, and while we could go get small loads each week and enjoy ease of transport and loading, it's a big hit to the budget.

We bought a slightly bigger load of timothy from our secondary hay supplier. Normally her prices are just slightly cheaper than the feed store but this year it's the same. But alas, this morning my husband informed me these bales are wrapped in wire, which I really don't like.

Fortunately, awhile back, I came upon a new hay source and although we didn't need it at the time, I wrote the info on a scrap of paper and tucked it away. Of course I forgot about it. But on Sunday I was cleaning off my desk for no real reason and there was the hay info. I called and the hay sounds like a nice mix of timothy and orchard, and it's significantly less expensive, so we can transition onto that as we use up this timothy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

kudos to astrid appels and her eurodressage editorial on the FEI's recent announcement

Go to EURODRESSAGE to read the entire editorial, which ends with the following paragraph:

9th February 2010 - Redefinition

More than 40,000 people signed a petition against rollkur which was presented by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann to FEI president Princess Haya. This voice of a majority, no matter if they are experts or amateurs, should be seen in the big picture: as an outcry against abuse in the warm up ring no matter what training system. The huge amount of signatures reflects that the global image of the sport appears to be a bad one, in spite of the positive publicity a Totilas brings.

-- Astrid Appels

my almost desperate desire for spring

I'm generally a fall and winter person - I love autumn best, but the landscape of winter, with the bare trees and branches against a winter gray sky and the muted colors is also very appealing to me.

Most of the time spring is a bit too "busy" - everything coming to life again, color bursting into full hue, and the noises of insects and frogs - it all combines into one big buzz for me. Overstimulating.

This year though I am craving springtime. When I look out at the yard, the barnyard, the paddocks, the fields, all I want to do is head out there with the mower and the harrow, mulching the leaves into tiny pieces, dragging the manure out, and cleaning everything up. Problem is, between the cold and the rain/snow, it's either frozen or mush, and so everything sits out there looking forlorn and ugly.

I want to cut everything back: the trumpet vine on the front porch (have done that), the butterfly bushes, the small trees that have grown into beds. I want to go along the edge of the woods and push it back to where it's supposed to be before trees and shrubs leaf out and make the job more difficult.

I want to widen the labyrinth path and clear the underbrush and fix fencing.

I look at the barn and see the need for repair and sprucing up. I look at the deck and all I can think of is power washing. I'm thinking of things like white wash and resurfacing stall floors and ordering loads of crushed stone.

The urge to put things into order is huge.

At the feed store I found myself gazing lovingly at composters that turn and roll. Elsewhere I was looking at seed starting kits and thinking of raised beds in the back yard.

I don't know when spring will arrive, but there's a very good and reliable sign. Salina is shedding. She always sheds first each year, and once I see the sprinkling of loose hairs on her back, I know we're at least on the other side of the hump of winter.

The bulbs in the beds are also out, so I'm taking that as the first uprising of green that will hopefully lead the way for everything else.

When the redbuds bloom and the carpenter bees start buzzing, I think it will be safe to say it: spring is here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

writing group update

This weekend is the February writing group meeting, which reminds me, we probably need to give it a name, just for fun.

We are small but fiercely determined to make 2010 one of the best writing years in our lives.

The snowfall on Friday night melted away quickly on Saturday morning and it became obvious travel would be fine, so D. headed out from her place and we decided when she arrived to pack up our notebooks and laptops and head to the local coffee house to do the business part of our meeting.

We agreed when we formed that we'd use the group to set goals for ourselves, and to discuss all the issues that are coming up for writers in this age of digital media. The Kindle, the Nook, and the iPad all make it possible to publish independently and quickly, and while many people are viewing that as a decline to come in the overall quality of novels, we're choosing to view it as an opportunity for new and unique voices.

There's been so much to talk about these last few months, but it is satisfying to have a place to sit and not just gab, but write things down with intention to get them done before we sit together again.

It's even better when you're doing it in the embrace of a mini-retreat. D. comes bearing Mediterranean food and wine in fun print cloth bags that make you smile just seeing them. She arrived this weekend sporting a new haircut, and jewel-colored clothing, and when we agreed to drive to the coffee house, I threw on my brown boots and my black poncho/cape and it felt like we were heading to a party.

A productive party. I had an entire page of notes by the end of it, as did she. We had scheduled our next meeting, discussed a longer writing retreat later in the year, and inked in full slates for ourselves for the next month.

Back at November Hill, we laid out all the food for dinner and took a break from book business. Around 8:30, we met in the garret to read pages out loud. D. read from a new project she's writing, and I continued where I left off last month in my pony book.

The garret is now my sandplay office, and because I've done a lot of writing and a lot of reading out loud in the company of my sand trays and collection, it feels perfectly right to be doing it again. One of my favorite things in the world is reading my pages out loud to other writers who take it seriously and offer constructive feedback.

Which is yet another reason for this group: to celebrate the joy of writing, reading, and just being in the company of other writers. It rejuvenates the writing soul.

Today we made breakfast, took it back to our respective rooms, and are working for another chunk of time before reading out loud again, once more before D. heads back to her house and a jazz concert.

D. has started a wonderful new blog that chronicles her take on writing this year. I'm stepping into her fold, and I invite you to join us!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

lest we think the FEI is not listening or reading...

I just received this comment:

I'm Malina Gueorguiev, FEI Press Manager, and as you know I follow your blog with great interest.

On this particular topic, I wanted to let you know The low, deep and round (LDR) training technique, providing it achieves flexion without undue force, was approved as acceptable by the participants at the round-table conference. The term “low” was used in the press statement sent out after the meeting and in FEI Dressage Director Trond Asmyr’s video message posted on YouTube, but a typo resulted in “low” being changed to “long” on the FEI website. This has now been corrected to reflect the decision taken by the participants in the round-table conference.

Check it out here

All the best,

I wanted to put this comment out front, because I think it's important to give credit to the FEI for listening and reading, and now responding - as we "regular horse people" discuss and write about the issues we see in the sport as a whole.

Thank you, Malina. I hope the dialogue can continue, because this kind of communication can only help in making the sport one we can enjoy and support.

where are we with the rollkur/hyperflexion/LDR issue?

After reading (and sharing here) a lot of information over the past week, and giving myself time to sit with all of it for a day, I decided to stop researching and reading for a bit and try to make sense of where I think we are with reference to this issue.

The FEI had the round-table discussion. They received 41,000 signatures from people saying NO TO ROLLKUR.

One thing I want to clarify. My signature said no to rollkur, hyperflexion, AND the method Sjef and company are now calling LDR (Low/Long, Deep, and Round). People are saying we anti-rollkur folks are buying the trick. They've just (yet again) changed the name and everything is the same as it always was.

We haven't bought that. We know what's going on.

Whatever name you give it, this is a training method that not only doesn't work in terms of creating a happy, harmonious, beautiful ride, it does harm in the process. That is actually the easy part of this whole thing. It's simple to look at a photo or video and see what is WRONG with those pictures.

The difficult issue here is that the gestalt of the method, the people who use it, the people who are being rewarded for using it with sponsors, medals, and ribbons, and money for doing clinics, the fact that much money is made and followers gained, THAT is not as easily undone.

I am choosing to think of this as an onion. To undo the onion, you peel away the layers. You could smash the onion to smithereens with a mallet, but if we practice the same humane-ness we preach, what we do is peel the layers away one at a time.

This FEI meeting was one more layer. An important layer, because lots of people were watching, and reporting, and talking about the outcome. A huge number of people coordinated to get names on petitions and then get them to Gerd Heuschmann.

Those same people have a huge amount of power when it comes to coordinating for the next layer. Can you imagine 41,000 still and video cameras watching and recording from the sides of warm-up arenas?

41,000 people each educating 5 more friends about the damage this method does to horses? That many people writing to sponsors and refusing to pay for shows, clinics, and horses trained using these methods?

This issue is not resolved. The FEI can't resolve it. They do have a tremendous role to play, and that is to create objective, easy to apply definitions in place for judges and stewards. Interestingly, this requires ZERO change in the rules. Because the rules already support the horse: the correct movement, and the horse's welfare.

All the FEI has to do is step up and empower the people who enforce the rules. And take a stand against the money-hungry riders and trainers who don't comply.

But it's the 41,000 plus who have the power to resolve the issue.

Don't give up. Keep watching and talking and reporting. Take your video camera with you to shows. Use it. If you see someone using this (or any) inhumane method, turn them in.

Speak out, loudly. If you see a rider ribboned for behind the vertical riding, say something about it. Ask why. Quote the rules.

Don't support companies who support this kind of training and riding. Horse people tend to buy tons of gear and equipment. Make a list of sponsors who support riders and trainers using these methods. Check the list when you go shopping. Don't use these companies. Take it a step further. Send them a copy of your receipt and tell them WHY you didn't buy their product.

Don't ride at venues, or for judges, that support this type of riding. Again, let them know WHY. If you see inhumane methods being used and allowed, and nothing is done by show management to stop it, call Animal Control.

If there are no rollkur-free shows to go to, MAKE NEW ONES. Seek out judges who will judge by the current rules. Put stewards in place who will not back down when they see infractions.

Actively support riders, trainers, and clinicians who utilize effective, humane methods. Buy their books, go to their clinics, let them know you like the way they're doing things. Look up their sponsors, and let the sponsors know you support these riders.

The fact is, if everyone who signed the petitions acts in even one of the above ways, we'll peel more layers off that onion.

It doesn't happen in one meeting. It isn't instant gratification.

Change takes persistence. Change takes time.

The horses are worth it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Phillipe Karl's response, and a change of wording in FEI statement?

I just copied Phillipe Karl's response to yesterday's FEI announcement on rollkur and have pasted it below.

Very interesting - he points out something I didn't notice - the current announcement reads LONG, Deep and Round and the version I first read yesterday read LOW, Deep and Round.

What in the world? Why did they change that one word?

It is utterly confusing.

For some clarity on all these different terms and how they relate to position of the head and neck in relation to the rest of the horse's body, GO HERE.

10 February 2010

FEI: Rollkur/hyperflexion forbidden, LDR acceptable
On 9 February 2010, 20 FEI experts declared the Rollkur controversy resolved. Their conclusion: Rollkur/hyperflexion ist unacceptable, "Low, Deep and Round" (as stated in the first version of the FEI press release) or "Long, Deep and Round" (second version of the FEI press release) however is acceptable. The only question is: how do you know the difference?

Philippe Karl's comment on the FEI statement: "The FEI has bravely decided to make no decision at all. Rollkur isn't officially permitted, but the same posture persists under another name (LDR). The rules haven't changed and everything will go on as before, in the most perfect hypocrisy. But we're not giving up yet; rather, we will continue to fight against this catastrophe."

from barnmice: Equine Canada requests clarification from FEI

February 9, 2010

Barbara Fogler

Following the FEI announcement on Rollkur today, I spoke with Akaash Maharaj, Chief Executive Officer of Equine Canada, and asked him about the implications for dressage in Canada now that the FEI roundtable group has redefined hyperflexion/Rollkur as “flexion of the horse’s neck achieved
through aggressive force, which is therefore unacceptable.”

Mr. Maharaj informed me that he has already written to the FEI requesting clarification and written guidelines, as there is currently no precise definition of what Rollkur is.

He noted that: “Until this afternoon Rollkur was not banned as a practice, but now the stewards will be required to act and I believe it will be in the best interest of the FEI and the sport itself to come out with a precise definition of Rollkur.”

“Assuming there were a precise definition and it was observed by our stewards, they would be required to immediately intervene. We will of course enforce this ruling vigorously and the more objective the guidelines and criteria, the better for everyone involved.”

“The FEI has acted correctly to protect the image of equestrian sport and to respond to the public condemnation. It would have been better had they also provided veterinary studies of the impact of Rollkur so that stewards would know better exactly what it is they are to be stopping.”

Mr. Maharaj added a personal observation that, while Dressage Canada itself had chosen not to take a position because they felt there was not enough veterinary information available to them, “my own personal opinion is that Rollkur is and always has been wholly unacceptable and I welcome this ruling.”

“I think it is telling that the FEI chose to hold the meeting in the IOC offices rather than the FEI offices. This was meant to emphasize to the panelists that this was no longer an internal matter for the FEI, but to say that whole world was watching and would judge them according to their decision.”

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

fei speaks

Epona TV's response to today's FEI meeting and announcement


FEI posts account of meeting

FEI Round-Table Conference Resolves Rollkur Controversy 09/02/2010

Following constructive debate at the FEI round-table conference at the IOC Headquarters in Lausanne today (9 February), the consensus of the group was that any head and neck position of the horse achieved through aggressive force is not acceptable. The group redefined hyperflexion/Rollkur as flexion of the horse’s neck achieved through aggressive force, which is therefore unacceptable. The technique known as Low, Deep and Round (LDR), which achieves flexion without undue force, is acceptable.

The group unanimously agreed that any form of aggressive riding must be sanctioned. The FEI will establish a working group, headed by Dressage Committee Chair Frank Kemperman, to expand the current guidelines for stewards to facilitate the implementation of this policy. The group agreed that no changes are required to the current FEI Rules.

The FEI Management is currently studying a range of additional measures, including the use of closed circuit television for warm-up arenas at selected shows.

The group also emphasised that the main responsibility for the welfare of the horse rests with the rider.

The FEI President HRH Princess Haya accepted a petition of 41,000 signatories against Rollkur presented by Dr Gerd Heuschman.

The participants in the FEI round-table conference were:

HRH Princess Haya, FEI President
Alex McLin, FEI Secretary General
Margit Otto-Crépin, International Dressage Riders Club Representative
Linda Keenan, International Dressage Trainers Club Representative
Sjef Janssen, Dressage Representative
Frank Kemperman, Chairman, FEI Dressage Committee (by conference call)
François Mathy, International Jumping Riders Club Representative
David Broome, Jumping Representative
Jonathan Chapman, Eventing Representative
Roly Owers, World Horse Welfare Representative
Tony Tyler, World Horse Welfare Representative
Ulf Helgstrand, President, Danish Equestrian Federation
John McEwen, Chairman, FEI Veterinary Committee
Dr Sue Dyson, Veterinary Representative
Dr Gerd Heuschman, Veterinary Representative
Prof. René van Weeren, Veterinary Representative
Jacques van Daele, FEI Honorary Steward General Dressage
Graeme Cooke, FEI Veterinary Director
Trond Asmyr, FEI Director Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage
John Roche, FEI Director Jumping and Stewarding
Catrin Norinder, FEI Director Eventing
Carsten Couchouron, FEI Executive Director Commercial
Richard Johnson, FEI Communications Director

The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), founded in 1921, is the international body governing equestrian sport recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and includes 133 National Federations. Equestrian sport has been on the Olympic programme since 1912 with three disciplines - Jumping, Dressage and Eventing. It is one of the very few sports in which men and women compete on equal terms. It is also the only sport which involves two athletes - horse and rider. The FEI has relentlessly concerned itself with the welfare of the horse, which is paramount and must never be subordinated to competitive or commercial influences.

It appears to me we have inched forward just a little with this, but I am disappointed with the title of the article - the FEI has resolved nothing, and I think it's pompous for them to assume they have the power to do so.

Secondly, they have now flung yet another term into the mix, and the acceptance of Low, Deep, and Round is clearly there to appease Sjef and company.

HOWEVER, we must take the positive and turn it to our favor in continuing efforts.

This is not the kind of issue that is going to change in a 180 decision - but even a few degrees of change can, imo, lead to the next few degrees of change. Eventually we will get there. It all has to have time to ripple out. Meanwhile we keep watching and speaking out.

41,000 signatures is HUGE imo.

I'd love to hear thoughts from readers on how this can play in our favor - those of us who don't want rollkur or any of its offshoot methods used AT ALL.

Parellis join Walter Zettl in saying NO ROLLKUR

Tomorrow, February 9, 2010, there will be a Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) closed-door meeting to discuss the practice of hyperflexion, also known as "rollkur." This highly controversial technique is often employed at the upper levels of dressage training and involves hyperflexing the horse's neck until his chin is almost touching his chest; often the horse is forced to maintain this position for extended periods of time.

Pat and Linda Parelli stand with dressage master Walter Zettl in support of those who denounce rollkur. Rollkur represents artificiality taken to the extreme and performance put before the good of the horse. Convincing FEI officials to take a stand against rollkur will be a major step forward in ensuring that performance horses worldwide are being ridden and trained without force and mechanics.
Rollkur has a few passionate opponents who will be present at the FEI meeting next week, but they need our support to make an impression on the FEI officials. If you believe in the Parelli vision to make the world a better place for horses and humans, please add your name to one or both of the following petitions. Please share these links with your horse-loving friends, family and neighbors. Let's show the FEI that compromising the natural dignity of the horse for the sake of competition is NOT permissible!

The signatories to this petition ask the FEI to oppose the training method of the "Rollkur"/Hyperflexion clearly and resolutely. The FEI rules are to be adapted correspondingly to ensure that in future the use of the method of the "Rollkur"/Hyperflexion will be regarded as a violation of these rules.

Register your support to ban rollkur by adding your name to a petition which will be presented by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann – veterinarian, clinician and author of the book Tug of War; Classical versus Modern Dressage – at the FEI meeting on February 9, 2010.

Keep it Natural,
On behalf of Pat, Linda and everyone on the Parelli Team
February 8, 2010

German FN denounces rollkur

It appears that the German FN has issued a statement denouncing rollkur:

see article HERE.

Monday, February 08, 2010


The FEI is holding a closed-door round table meeting on Feb. 9th to discuss the training method known as rollkur, or hyperflexion, which involves pulling and holding the horse's muzzle to his chest. This practice is known to have many negative effects on the horse, both physically and psychologically. Gerd Heuschmann, the lone voice for the horse at this meeting, has my support and appreciation as he presents his case "for the good of the horse" along with petitions and letters saying NO TO ROLLKUR.

You can see a taste of this method in the Epona TV's footage in the previous post.

Please take a moment today and again tomorrow to think positively about the outcome of this meeting. It will make a difference.

helgstrand teaching piaffe/passage and assorted warm-up videos in arenas around the world

And CLICK HERE to see more footage courtesy of Epona TV of various warm-up practices using rollkur, draw reins, and more nightmarish techniques to control the horses and put them far behind the vertical. (once you get to part one, look to your right on Epona's site to see parts 2, 3, and 4)

And a powerful video from Nadja King:

Sunday, February 07, 2010

quick note re: FEI meeting Tuesday

Tomorrow evening (Monday) I plan to put up the NO ROLLKUR logo with a brief statement on both blogs and on my Facebook page and will leave it there through Tuesday afternoon.

I'm doing this in support of Gerd Heuschmann's attendance at the FEI round table meeting to discuss rollkur, and to say, again, that I do NOT SUPPORT this training method.

I suggested this on the Blue Tongue Facebook page as a way to quietly but powerfully hold up our signs around the world, simultaneously, as an indication that we are aware of the meeting and although not there, present our viewpoints.

I invite anyone who reads here to join in. You can take the image and/or statement from my blog and put it on your own blog and/or FB page. If you'd like me to copy and paste the html for you to make this even easier, send me your email in a comment. I won't publish the emails, but will send you the info to paste into your blog.

The more places this appears, the more powerful the message.

another great letter, to Gerd Heuschmann, in support

Letter from Colonel Carde to Dr. Heuschmann in preparation for the FEI Feb. 9th discussion.

Dear Gerd,

You have been invited to take part in the FEI roundtable discussion scheduled for February, 9th.

At the heart of the debate will be the hyperflexion of the horse’s neck. I want to personally let you know that like many trainers, judges and thousands of riders, all my thoughts will be with you on that day.

Rollkur must be strongly discouraged in riding/training and banned from competition:

- Because it has no place in a philosophy of training designed to develop horses into happy athletes.
- Because it is contrary to the classical Dressage principles applied in all the Schools.*
- Because it is dangerous to the horse's health when badly executed – which is the overwhelming majority of cases.

In Dressage competition, it must be forbidden for the entire duration of the competitions. In order to implement this rule, at the very least, the warm-up should be monitored by a judge and at the very best, it should be scored and that score should be included in the competitors' final ranking.

Good luck, we are counting on you.

Colonel Christian Carde
Ancien écuyer en chef de l’Ecole Nationale d’Equitation et du Cadre Noir de Saumur
(Former Head Rider of the French National School of Riding and of the Cadre Noir in Saumur.)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Klaus Balkenhol's Wonderful Letter to the FEI

(Translated from
the German)

Originally Sent Feb. 3 2010
Federation Equestre International
Avenue Rumine 37
CH ˆ 1005 Lausanne Rosendahl

February 3, 2010

Dear Sirs and Madames:

We submit herewith some comments concerning your upcoming roundtable
discussion, scheduled for February 9th, at which you will be
establishing a final plan for the handling of the topic of

Those of us who have signed this letter wish to point out sharply that
new or amended rules with regard to the accepted classical precepts of
riding, which are contained in the guidelines written down in your
Handbook, are absolutely superfluous and therefore unnecessary. These
precepts, which the FEI has up until now felt obliged to uphold, are
already fully developed, tried and tested! They are already recognized
world-wide as authoritative, and as fair to the horse. Based on
centuries of experience, they offer a stable and secure foundation even
for today's riding.

No changes may be made that constitute a burden to the well-being of the
horse, either physically or mentally. If you accept riding in
hyperflexion as a permissible training method, you legitimize aggressive
riding. We protest that in the strongest possible terms!

As horse people, we expect the FEI to maintain unaltered their
regulations, which have until now been valid, resting as they do upon
the classical precepts of riding ˆ for the good of the horses and
the continued good repute of international equestrian sport.

The undersigned support this statement:

Klaus Balkenhol (Olympic medalist)

(Joined by, in alphabetical order)
- Laura Bechtolsheimer (British Record Holder, 3. Europameisterschaften
- Wilfried Bechtolsheimer (Trainer)
- Ingrid Klimke (Olympic medalist)
- Ruth Klimke (Vice President of the German Riders Union)
- Beezie Madden (Olympic medalist)
- John Madden (Trainer)
- Debbie McDonald (Olympic Bronze medalist)
- Susanne Miesner (Trainer)
- George Morris (Chef d'equipe USEF show jumping team, Olympic
silver medalist)
- Martin Plewa (former German national Three-Day Event trainer, Director
of the Riding and Driving School of Westfalia)
- Michael Putz (Trainer and judge)
- Klaus-Martin Rath (Trainer, member of the Dressage Committee of the
German Olympic
- Matthias Alexander Rath (German Meister 2009)
- Hinrich Romeike (Olympic medalist)
- Hubertus Schmidt (Olympic medalist)
- Günter Seidel (Olympic bronze medalist)
- Christine Stückelberger (Olympiic medalist)
- Paul Stecken (Trainer)
- Hans Günter Winkler (Olympic medalist)
- Harry Boldt, Dressur. Doppel-Olympiasieger, früherer Bundestrainer
Dressur, GBR
- Beatrice Büchler-Keller, Swiss, FEI O-Richter
- Nadine Capellmann, Dressur, Olympiasiegrin
- Carsten Huck, Springen, Olympia Bronze-Gewinner
- Michael Klimke, Deuscther Meister, Dressur
- Ann Kathrinne Linsenhoff, Olympiasiegerin, WElt- und Europameisterin,
Mitglied im FN-Präsidium
- Michael Robert, Olympia-Gewinner Bronze, Trainer

Friday, February 05, 2010

horses and what they know

When I went out to the barn this morning I told the herd, "I'm okay, but I'm going to be slow."

The demeanor in the barn was absolutely quiet and respectful. Cody stood in the back door of his stall, as if to say "I'm giving you plenty of space, don't worry!"

There was no Hanoverian chorus, no pony hoof, no squeaky hinges. They were prepared to wait, even when I had to make 3 trips, a cautionary measure, as it is raining AGAIN and I normally have quite an armful when I walk out to make breakfast tubs.

Funny, though, when my daughter arrived to help, the volume went on and up. It was as if they knew: she has back-up now, so we can get back to our normal breakfast routine!

By the end of it, as tubs were being served, Keil Bay had held in so much anticipatory energy he was about to burst. He was bobbing his head wildly over the stall door, and drool was flinging everywhere. But when I got to his door and said "go to your manger" he did it, knowing that today I really couldn't tolerate any sudden moves.

It's the same as when someone who isn't used to horses comes to the barn, and they are that much more careful around that person, knowing somehow that they need to be a bit more mindful than usual.

It doesn't surprise me when the horses respond this way, because it's what they are wired to do - but it always gives me pause and a sense of awe.

I'm a little bit sore today from being bowled over, but I think a hot bath will help with that. Moving through the morning chores (slowly, carefully) already worked out some of the kinks.

Now if we can just get through this rain without floating away.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

a little bit of this and a little bit of that

I'm watching Salina, Rafer Johnson, and Redford marching down the hill in the front field. Since the snow, I've kept them separate from the geldings to avoid the possibility of a herd run. Although the snow is melting, it's probably the muddiest it's ever been here, and there are places where the footing is very slippery.

I can't stand keeping them in, though, so the geldings go out back and Salina and her donkeys go to the front, and at least they are moving and doing their usual routine to that degree.

Yesterday while I was mucking the bare paddock (which was a huge mess) my daughter took each horse individually into the arena and hand-walked for ten minutes. The arena is nearly clear now, except at the end by the woods, and I figured it would be good for muscles and joints for the horses to get in a little focused movement on footing they didn't sink into.

They seemed to enjoy the break from mud.

There's still quite a bit of snow scattered in patches, and it remains heavy all along the forested edge of our property, even after yesterday's sunshine and 52 degree temp. Today we'll warm up again but it's cloudy, in anticipation of snow, freezing rain, and rain tomorrow. Sigh.

We seem to be locked into a pattern of two days sun, and then some form of precipitation that undoes any drying out progress.

Meanwhile, I lost track of the 700th post, which I was going to make special, given it was the seventh hundred and my favorite number is 7.

I like 8 pretty well too, so I'll try again when that one rolls around.

On other fronts I'm 4 days into the herbal regime and thus far doing okay. I had one brief spell of woozy head, a short bout of achy knees (could have been the weather, not sure), and a headache one morning. Although I'm still struggling a bit with the notion of no bread, processed sugar, starchy foods, or anything fermented, I also noticed this morning that when my husband accidentally put sugar in my coffee (we had run out of half and half, so he used milk and a little sugar) I couldn't drink it.

I'm not a fan of sugar in coffee anyway, but the taste of the sugar was actually repulsive. It makes me wonder how our taste buds are affected by the amount of sugar and other flavorings we get when we eat most processed foods.

Hopefully going completely without will make it easy for me to be very careful what I add back in, when I can.

I've noticed a surge in energy this week. It comes and goes, in between the above side effects of the yeast die-off, but it's definitely present and has caused me to stop and think - now, right now I feel like my old self.

Right as I finish this first two weeks, I'll be hosting writing group, and that will be a great way to celebrate the end of the limitations and the move to stage two of the supplements.

Last month's writing group meeting was probably the single most inspiring time I've had with reference to writing since my last retreat, and I'm looking forward to another shot of that this month.

Lots of new and exciting things in process with that - will post about them soon.