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Posts Tagged ‘rollkur’

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German Olympian Isabell Werth is one of the most successful horsewomen in the world. With six Olympic gold medals and scores of championship titles to her name, there are few her equal on paper.

In Werth’s authorized biography FOUR LEGS MOVE MY SOUL, readers get the inside scoop when it comes to the dressage rider’s amazing accomplishments—and her failures, too. In this exclusive excerpt, Werth shares her personal thoughts regarding one of the biggest controversies to rock the dressage world: Rollkur.

Rollkur for me is the forced “screwing in” and “rolling up” of the horse’s neck in front of his chest. The horse is held in this too-tight position for a certain time. When this happens, the necessary stretching and lengthening of the neck is completely neglected. It doesn’t correspond to my understanding of dressage training at all. Truly gymnasticizing a horse is something completely different. The templates are out of place in every respect. Xenophon’s standard still holds true today: A horse’s nose should ideally stay in front of the vertical. Yes, but the way to this ideal has to be adjusted to each horse. For example, when I am starting a young horse whose body is not yet trained or muscled, I want to form that horse into an athlete with appropriate gymnasticizing. This means that, among other things, the horse is made more supple and elastic through frequent bending of his neck and stretching of his entire body.

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Isabell Werth and Gigolo winning gold at the 1996 Olympics. Photo by Jacques Toffi

This, however, has nothing to do with rollkur. The aim of the right kind of gymnastic training is that the horse can use his body elastically and be supple, just like a high-performance athlete, a gymnast, or a figure skater.

Total obedience, the achievement of so-called “blind obedience,” is an essential aim of rollkur. With this in mind, I have also pondered how such an exaggeration of position might relate to other exaggerations in training, such as remarkably frequent repetitions of movements. I have asked myself why a pirouette is constantly repeated, even after it has been carried out successfully several times before. Even in the time of Xenophon it was said that praise for the horse doesn’t only mean patting his neck or giving him a treat. “Calling it a day” when something goes well is another reward through which the horse learns to identify when he has done something right. That is a guide post that Dr. Schulten-Baumer firmly installed in me: If it goes well, it’s “home time.” The only explanation that I can find for the constant repetitions we so often see in dressage schooling is that they are hoped to lead to an automatization of the horse. People must feel that mistakes can be eliminated this way.

I principally respect my competitors’ achievements and don’t want to denounce anyone. My goal is to advance myself. But the great pleasure I take from my work mainly results from the fact that I work together with animals that have their own personalities, that are confident, and that I am on par with. A horse may and must live his own personality. Of course, I expect obedience, I wish to be in control, and I want to be the one who decides what happens when. But, my horses are also allowed to resist; they are allowed to tell me what they think. Live and let live. I have to lead my horse so skillfully over the years he is in my barn that he plays along voluntarily and has fun doing it…. Only a horse that has fun can develop the kind of charisma that captivates people in the show ring. The foundation of what connects us to our horses every day is affection and respect. It helps us see through all phases of doubt.

Read more of Werth’s personal thoughts on the world of international dressage, including the Totilas controversy and her long rivalry with Dutch Olympian Anky van Grunsven in FOUR LEGS MOVE MY SOUL, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE. 

CLICK HERE to find out more.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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“In the mid-2000s the German veterinarian Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, working with German Olympic dressage champion Klaus Balkenhol, created headlines when they publicized the findings of Heuschmann’s anatomical and biomechanical studies of hyperflexion,” writes Jennifer Bryant in “Rollkur: Dressage’s Dirty Word,” a recent article on TheHorse.com. “Heuschmann said that hyperflexion not only fails to develop the proper musculature for upper-level dressage, but the exaggerated flexion can also restrict the horse’s airway. Heuschmann published a book, Tug of War: Classical Versus ‘Modern’ Dressage, detailing his findings and arguing against the practice of hyperflexion.”

According to Bryant, “Some dressage enthusiasts remain convinced that rollkur still occurs. During the dressage competition at the 2012 London Olympic Games, some photos circulated on the Internet, appearing to show Swedish competitor Patrik Kittel on Scandic riding in a hyperflexed position. Online forums and the FEI’s Facebook page, among others, were barraged with expressions of outrage and accusations that the FEI was failing to enforce Annex XIII of the Stewards Manual.”

Dr. Heuschmann agrees that, despite the online uproar, there continues to be a troubling acceptance of certain training techniques amongst those who ride, train, and show horses. Heuschmann says this is not only an international issue, but a local one, and not only a dressage issue, but one that is relevant to the show jumping community and those who participate in competitive Western sports, namely reining.

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Heuschmann’s new book BALANCING ACT: THE HORSE IN SPORT–AN IRRECONCILABLE CONFLICT? is his attempt to keep equestrians around the world focused on the problems at hand, while at the same time offering well-researched, fair, and proven techniques for retraining:

-the tense horse,

-the rein-lame horse,

-the horse with gait deviations, and

-the hyperflexed horse, among others.

BALANCING ACT is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.

CLICK HERE NOW TO ORDER YOUR COPY OF BALANCING ACT TODAY

And check out the complete article about the debate involving the 2012 Olympics by Jennifer Bryant on TheHorse.com.

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The disturbing image I accidentally caught while photographing a recent polo match.

It had been almost 20 years since I’d seen the game played when I recently ventured near a polo field. A childhood friend had handled a string of ponies for a local player, and I distinctly remember the challenge of exercising them (rein, seat, and leg aids were a whole new, well, “ballgame”). To be honest, I really hadn’t thought much about the sport since those days, but being a horse lover who generally enjoys any excuse to sit in the sun and gaze at glossy four-leggeds, I eagerly accepted an invitation to attend a match a couple of months ago.

While admittedly the horses were finely bred and in excellent physical shape, I found myself decidedly uncomfortable as the afternoon wore on. I couldn’t help but think of the developments in other horse sports over the past decade, and how we have become far more cognizant of the fact that horses suffer, often needlessly, due to rough or careless riding and ill-fitting or harsh tack and equipment.

I am prepared to state that I am very conscious of the fact that many polo players are excellent riders with a secure seat, and no doubt they spend a lot of money to keep their string in good health and peak condition. However, the need for control of the ponies’ movements in such a fast-played, stop-and-go game, and the use of what appear to be fairly severe bits and strong hands, made it very apparent to me that many of the horses were hurting.

I was spinning through my photos from the day when I got home, and sure enough, I was gutted by one particular image I had captured, quite by accident, that in my mind was equal in horror to many of the images we have seen publicized during the Rollkur/LDR debate. My eyes were truly opened, just as this horse’s eyes were rolled back in his head, the whites showing, as he obviously reacted to extreme pain in his mouth. Now, I can’t help but notice, everywhere I see a photo from a polo match, there is undoubtedly one or two ponies exhibiting similar expressions. It saddens me greatly to know that so many of the activities we pursue with these wonderful animals cause them pain and distress.

Public outcry has helped to change training methods and decrease the use of training devices in many of our horse sports. Perhaps it is time to reconsider what has traditionally been acceptable in the sport of princes and kings?

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