Monday, April 19, 2010

The FEI, extreme flexion, and the ongoing battle

The FEI recently published the new guidelines for stewards, without fanfare or any announcement I could find on any of the sites they previously used for communicating with those of us who have been watching and waiting for this information.

According to Horses For Life, late on Friday an additional link was added which led to the following. Please go directly to paragraph number 3 and note that they have now inserted a rule allowing up to ten minutes of what they are calling "extreme flexion." As far as I can tell, this is the new term for rollkur.

As usual, you are welcome to leave comments; however, I would actually prefer if you used the energy to write, not to the FEI, but to the sponsors of riders who use rollkur in their training and riding.

I recently bought a Thinline saddle pad, and I know they sponsor Eliza Sydnor, a classically trained rider/trainer who does not use these techniques in her work with horses. I plan to write Thinline and let them know that I bought the pad because they sponsor her, and that I am adamantly opposed to the use of rollkur, hyperflexion, and extreme flexion, and hope they will choose carefully the riders they support.

Although I am disappointed and frustrated, this is not really a surprise. As I have written many times here, this is not a one-time issue but an ongoing battle. It doesn't only have to do with the abusive bending of a horse's head and neck, but with international competition and its perspective on winning, on the horse as vehicle to fame and fortune, and probably most of all to human ego. 
It's important to get angry, once again, and use that anger to fuel some action. Boycott, videotape, flood the FEI with reports of rule infractions, and most of all, every single time you buy an item for your barn, yourself, or your horse, take the extra few minutes to research the companies. Reward those that are not sponsoring riders who use the items you need. Contact those who are, and let them know why you cannot support their company with your purchase.

I also suggest a quick email to the above address, from the FEI's own website, FEI CLEAN SPORT. Let them know you are concerned with an integrity issue - THEIR integrity in inserting a paragraph on extreme flexion into the stewards' manual, and allowing even 10 minutes of an abusive practice.

15 April 2010, Geneva (SUI)
FEI Stewards Manual


Pre and Post Competition training techniques – position of the horse’s head -

1. Background

The use of correctly executed stretching techniques, both before and after training and
competition, is recognised as an important and long-established practice in almost every
physical sport. In equestrian sport it is used for the on-going suppleness and health of the
equine athletes.

2. Permitted stretches

Stretching principally involves the lengthening of the horse’s ligaments and muscles (soft
tissue) and can be done at the halt (statically) or in  motion (dynamically).
Athletes should aim to stretch all the relevant groups of muscles within the horse’s body,
especially the muscles involved in hind leg locomotion, but the part that will be most
visual to both stewards and the public will most likely be the horse’s neck.
Neck stretches may take several different forms. ‘Long, deep and round’ (see diagram i)
and ‘low, deep and round’(see diagram ii) and ‘long and low’ (see diagram iii) are just
three commonly used examples but there are other variations involving both longitudinal
and lateral flexion which result in different neck positions.

3. Extreme flexion

In assessing the position of the head carriage the Steward will be mindful of each horse’s
natural conformation, especially in relation to native breeds or ponies, and will therefore
use discretion in determining this.
Deliberate extreme flexions of the neck involving either high, low or lateral head carriages,
should only be performed for very short periods. If performed for longer periods the
steward will intervene (refer to diagram and photos for examples of extreme head and
neck positions).

Movements which involve having the horse’s head and neck carriage in a sustained or
fixed position should only be performed for periods not exceeding approximately ten
minutes without change. Change may constitute a period of relaxation and lengthening or
a movement which involves stretching the head and the neck of the horse (refer to
diagrams and photos for examples of sustained fixed head and neck position).
It is the steward’s responsibility to ensure that riders respect the above procedure and
intervene if required.

4. Variation of stretches & neck positions.

Stretches of the horse’s neck maybe specific and appropriate to each horse and equestrian
discipline, but no single neck position should be maintained which may lead to tiredness or

5. Method of achieving stretches

It is imperative that stretching should be executed by unforced and non aggressive means.
By unforced’ is meant that the rider is not permitted to use rough, or abrupt aids or apply
constant unyielding pressure on the horse’s mouth through a fixed arm and hand position.
It is the responsibility of the steward to intervene if these requirements are not respected. 

6. Action by the Steward in the case of incorrect behaviour of athlete in
relation to flexion of the head and neck 

Ref. Annex XII, Guidelines to the FEI Dressage Stewarding Manual

The steward will intervene should he observe;
 Neck stretching achieved through forced, or aggressive  riding
 The  use of extreme flexion  if it does not comply with the above 
 A rider deliberately maintaining a sustained fixed head and neck carriage longer
than approximately ten minutes 
 In cases when the horse is in a state of general stress and/or fatigue 

The steward may also ask the rider to walk for a certain period in situations where the
rider’s stress may cause undesired riding.

7. Maximum duration of pre-competition warm-up and post-competition
cooldown periods

Only in exceptional circumstances and with the permission of the Chief Steward, may a
training session exceed one hour. The training session must include a number of
relaxation periods. Riding the horse at the walk whether prior to, or following the training
session, is not considered to be part of the one hour training session. There should be at
least one hour break between any training/warm-up periods. 

Repetition movements carried out in the practice arena, following a rider’s performance in
the competition arena, may not exceed a period of ten minutes.

8. Exercise / Training arena 

All training sessions, including pre-competition warm-up, may only be performed in the
official training arena while under the supervision of stewards. Use of a training arena
outside the official training period, and/or in an unsupervised arena, may at the discretion
of the Ground Jury lead to the rider’s disqualification.
During competition preparation periods, and the duration of the competition itself, the
Chief Steward must be present in the training arena, or be in a position to observe the
training arena at events where numerous training arenas are in use. 
If the Chief Steward is unable to be present himself, it is his responsibility to ensure that a
steward with the required experience and knowledge is appointed to supervise the training

9. Appointment of Chief Stewards

The Chief Steward at CDI-4* and higher level events and above must be of three-star
level. He is appointed by the FEI on the recommendation of the Organizing Committee.  

10. Revision

These directives may be subject to review and Stewards are advised to check for periodic

8 April 2010


jme said...

i do need to be more vigilant and let these companies know what i think of their sponsorships. i will have to start making a list! i know i am guilty - i have always refused to buy anything 'anky' but, for example, i did buy that girth even though they used amy tryon to endorse it :-\ i can't be sure they sponsor her, and i don't know anything about the rider who designed it... guess i have some research to do!

sadly, this flexion is not just a dressage/jumping thing, and not just for competition. i was watching a bit of rfd tv the other night and clinton anderson was advocating riding horses on the trails in this position, frequently yanking them up and running them backwards every few strides to 'make them listen' to the rider. he demonstrated and i nearly hurled.

it's bad enough when the competitive world is doing it, but when some jerk is using it to sell videos to untrained amateurs to torment the horses in their own backyards, we've got serious problems.

billie said...

You're right of course - it isn't just dressage or show jumping. It's everywhere.

I think we should all make a pact that when we purchase an item we do a blog post about it sharing the research we've done, and giving some blog time to the positive riders we find being sponsored. I'll try and do a post later on Eliza Sydnor and Thinline. I'm very happy with the pad, and Keil Bay is too!

When we come across products we like but companies that sponsor cruel riders, maybe we could do small petition letters to the company, letting them know we like their product but are struggling about their endorsements.

jme said...

deal! i buy enough horse stuff to make myself a real nuisance ;-) and i'd get in on any petitions/letters for companies sponsoring creeps. i'm betting most don't even know the difference - they all just want big names associated with their product and probably have no idea what most of these riders are about...

Grey Horse Matters said...

You are right about doing something with the sponsorships and writing letters to let companies know that most of us don't appreciate who they sponsor and why. I'm in.

I read the comments and can attest to the fact that jme does buy lots of stuff and can make a nuisance of herself given the proper motivation!

billie said...

j, I wrote an email to Thinline yesterday. I am hoping to get a response from them so I can incorporate that into a blog post.

billie said...

LOL - j, you're outed! :)

Both of you already do an excellent job of product review and recommendation - if we can add this piece in, it will be perfect. Thanks for joining in.

Anonymous said...

Hello Billie,

The new Guidelines for Stewards were issued on 15 April 2010; they were announced that day and published on the FEI website. I tried to post a comment on your blog to alert you to the fact but it never appeared. That might be because I included a URL, I've had that problem before.

In any case, I wanted to clarify that, according to the new FEI Guidelines for Stewards, any head and neck position achieved through force or aggressive riding is unacceptable for any length of time. Even a head and neck position achieved harmoniously and without force can only be maintained for a maximum of ten minutes.

Also, just to confirm that the FEI has stated categorically that the use of rollkur/hyperflexion is unacceptable and the Stewards will intervene. The diagrams that will be provided to Stewards will illustrate what head and neck positions are acceptable. The new Guidelines will be implemented from 15 May 2010.

All the best,
Malina (FEI Press Manager)

billie said...

Malina, I just received this comment today, April 22nd, just fyi.

Did not receive any earlier comments with or w/o links.

I am posting your comment as a new blog post so that folks will be sure to see it, along with several concerns and questions I have that perhaps you will be able to answer.

As I'm sure you know, a lot of people are very upset with the FEI right now, so if your organization has concrete relevant responses, now is the time to share them.