February, the FEI hosted a round-table discussion about the dressage world?s biggest problem: rollkur or hyperflexion. When it was over they disbursed a wishful press release proclaiming, ?FEI Round Table Conference Resolves Rollkur Controversy.?
I’m sure that the 41,000 people who signed an anti-rollkur petition and the hundreds of thousands who watched the YouTube video last November of Swedish rider Patrick Kittel drilling his horse, with the horse’s chin tucked to his chest and his blue tongue hanging from his mouth, are relieved.
Some German and Dutch dressage trainers and riders developed rollkur in the ?90s to do two things. First, they needed a way to control the high-powered, extremely sensitive horses they?d selected as their international mounts, and they discovered that holding their chins on their chests prevented them from bucking, rearing and bolting. Second, World Champion Anky van Grunsven found that she could also use rollkur as an extreme stretching and strengthening exercise that, she claims, increases their ability to extend and collect.
So, since she and others began winning everything, copying ensued. But van Grunsven can, somehow, show her horses with their heads correctly placed. Few others are able to do that, causing a glut of horses showing behind the bit. Even worse, far less-able riders use the technique to control high-powered horses they shouldn’t be riding.
Some horsemen claim that hyperflexion blocks the horse’s airway and causes lameness in the back and hind limbs. So far, this is unproven, although it can look uncomfortable.
Classical trainers cry that it’s cruel and training a horse for competition only, not to be a better riding horse, which is supposed to be the purpose of dressage. And that’s what it all boils down to: What’s the purpose of dressage’
Rollkur is symptomatic of that conflict, and van Grunsven sits smack in the middle. Her two superstars, Bonfire and Salinero, could extend and collect like no other, and their piaffe and passage showed elevation rarely seen before. But it’s not harmonious. it’s a Herculean effort (by rider and horse).
So rollkur has swirled around this unresolved conflict. Meanwhile, the FEI concluded, ?asking a horse to maintain any head/neck position for too long a period is not advisable. During the warm-up it is both necessary and beneficial to change the head/neck position periodically and not to ride the horse all the time in the position required.?
And FEI officials gave the responsibility for enforcing this bold edict to the already harried warm-up ring stewards, promising to provide them with new guidelines. It won?t help.
What they should have done was to mandate that the judges stop rewarding tense horses with their heads in their chests ? because riders emulate what wins. Mandate that they reward harmony and self-carriage, that they not reward dramatic extended gaits unless they’re accompanied by harmony and teamwork. If they did that, the rollkur controversy might actually resolve.