“Maybe there is something to that Rollkur huh?”

That was what Phoenix’s Owner jokingly said to me after watching Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas’s 90% performance. Rollkur has been around for YEARS and for some reason judges seem to always reward riders that use it. Anky is one of the top ranked riders in the world, and a known user of Rollkur. Edward Gal, one of her students. For those of you who do not know that Rollkur is, here is a video about it (I know…it is anti-rollkur, but so am I)

This video has a song overlay so if you are at work and want to watch it just turn off the sound. Now to me it is not an issue of Rollkur or not. I think Rollkur is abusive. That is my opinion and I don’t think that anyone can persuade me otherwise. My question is less about right or wrong and more about why. Why does Rollkur get rewarded in the show ring? What has gone wrong with dressage? How did this happen?

It is not just at Grand Prix either. Horses all the way through the levels are being trained Rollkur. I can even think of a blogger who uses Rollkur to train her horse and who has been very successful at the lower levels, even placing well at GAIG championships. This blogger does not acknowledge that they use this horrible training method (it came out through another bloggers pictures of an event) which means that they realize that it is wrong. And yet they use it anyway. Why? Why would you do something to hurt your horse? The only answer I can come up with is for the ribbons. Are 15 cent ribbons worth the damage your horses body is incurring? I think that anyone who uses Rollkur would answer yes.

Dressage is broken right now. The discipline that was founded on correct training now values short cuts, fancy movement, and abuse. What happened to 20 year old Grand Prix horses that could be used as school masters? When did we stop looking at the journey and only started caring about the end result? Is there any way to go back to a world without Rollkur? Rollkur makes me love and hate the fact that judges only judge what they see in the show ring. How does a horse like Moorlands Totilas get trained in such a harsh way and yet look so amazing in the show ring?

Can dressage be fixed? Or is it too late. Are we going to value results over horses in the disciple that was once so horse centered? What do you think?

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18 thoughts on ““Maybe there is something to that Rollkur huh?”

  1. Good post. I don’t know much about the technique, except for the fact that I don’t want it to be a part of my training regime, because I want to do it the right way – slow and correct. I can’t view utube at work, so I’m off to google it and learn more.

  2. Rollkur is a despicable practice that should be banned. Oh wait, it was, now they call it ‘hyperflexion’, so there is a way to around it. The judges need to be the ones who fix dressage combined with riders who train and show the classical correct way. If the judges educated themselves and were less impressed with big name riders and sponsors and only rewarded the correct humane way of going instead of the fancy flailing around
    of the current competitors dressage has a chance. Also, the trainers and competitors need to start training correctly and by not putting the ‘winners’ up on a pedestal to be praised and imitated eventually they will get the message that what they do is unacceptable.

    One other thing that would be nice ,but will never happen, if everyone stopped buying products endorsed by rollkur offenders then perhaps their sponsors would get the message that dressage riders are not impressed anymore. The only thing that works these days is to hit someone in their wallet.

    We all need to work our horses correctly and not care about a stupid ribbon or dressage (and other horse sports) is doomed. Not as easily done in the upper levels these days when sponsors want to see results. Everyone really needs to watch ‘if horses could speak video’ and also the Phillipe Karl (twisted truths of modern dressage)videos and read his book on the correct way to do dressage. There is nothing more beautiful than a correctly trained horse and this takes years, not months. Unfortunately, nowadays no one wants to take the time, it’s a instant gratification society and all horse sports are suffering from it.

    How’s that for a rant. I have plenty more to say but I’ll leave it at this, if you don’t care about the welfare of your horse then you shouldn’t have one and you shouldn’t be riding.

  3. It’s a training short-cut, plain and simple. People don’t have the patience to wait and do things the right way, so they find other ways to accomplish the same goal. I think it’s the same reason there’s so much jerking and spurring in the western disciplines. It’s not so much the slow movement and drooping heads that bother me, it’s how most riders accomplish this carriage. I totally believe you can teach a horse to do just about anything you want without jamming him in the sides, cranking his head in, or other hurtful practices.

    When a horse isn’t doing what we want, it’s almost always a problem in how we’re asking – not how the horse is responding. If we ask appropriately and then reward immediately, that horse will learn real quickly what we’re after.

    The reason the riders using the rollkur shortcut still get rewarded is that they are accomplishing the desired carriage – but they don’t use rollkur in the show ring. Sure they use it to train, and may even do it in the warm up ring. But judges can only use what they see in the show ring to determine scores. And if they don’t do it there, they can’t really be punished for it. I think you open a huge can of worms if judges start factoring in what happens outside of your test. Same problem as who you ride with, if you come from a big name barn, and the tag on your clothes playing a factor. There’s got to be a way to discourage this practice; unfortunately I don’t think judging is the way to do it – unless it happens or causes problems during a test.

    • I agree with you, the problem is we don’t stand up. What is dressage? Dressage is supposed to make a partnership. Not dictating the horse to do something. Praise the lord Im joining natual dressage.

      As for the trainers who use this thing, I hope the horses throw there head right in there faces, and trot off with there heads proud

  4. Ugh, in response to that question, “No, there is nothing to that Rollkur.” It’s not just in the dressage ring either. I see it at the big Hunter/Jumper shows too. Professionals cranking their horses into frames, totally behind the vertical, all the energy bottled up and the horse looking like it’s about to have a nervous breakdown. Don’t know about dressage-land, but in my world this is often accompanied by either a set of draw reins held way too tight or a bit that resembles a medieval torture device. It’s a cruel practice, the horse isn’t learning anything, and it’s not even a means to any justifiable end. Maybe I’m just physically too small and not strong enough to ever force a horse to do something, so I’ve always had to learn how to ask a horse to do something, but forcing that kind of carriage just looks like pure ego to me — literally making the animal bend to your will. I don’t get it.

  5. Hopefully with this tsunami of complaints about Rollkur, the FEI will actually ban it from competition venues with immediate effect.
    I have actually complained to the Chief Ecuyer at the ENE in Saumur about another matter of horse abuse, but frankly when you are just a steward at a dressage event, or somebody like me pointing out when something is abusive….the so-called ‘powers that be’ quote their little speech about ‘animal welfare and the happy horse being their priority’ – and do NOTHING !
    If it is actually banned at events, then we will officially be able to object.

  6. I think “all the way through the levels” is one of the key phrases in the article above. I’ve read articles that state rollkur doesn’t cause extra stress in GP horses and I’ve heard comments that “professionals like Anky know what they are doing”. However, even if this is indeed the case (which I doubt by merely looking at the horses’ body language during rollkur) you can be sure that for every Anky there are 1000 Anky-wannabees who are ruining their horses in search for reflected glory.

  7. There is nothing wrong with Rollkur. There is a lot that is right with Rollkur. For all of you who speak out against it nobody is forcing you to rider that way; why do you even care??

  8. Why do we care? Because we not only ride the horses but also care for their well being would be the answer I guess. Indeed, nobody is forcing us to ride that way, but those that do are forcing the horse, which has no say in it. A horse is not a tennis racket. If you fail to see a horse as something other than just an instrument to perform your sport with, you shouldn’t be riding at all. That’s my opinion about the matter.

  9. Anna, as Frank said, the problem with Rollkur is that it has been show to harm the horses. If done for enough horses will develop scar tissues on their BONES in their necks because of it. Not to mention how it impairs the horses breathing. And you are right, there is a lot right with Rollkur because of how sucessful people who use it are. That means that it has value to people who put show ring sucess over a horse. To me, and a lot of others, if you think that doing well at shows is more important than a horses well being you are a jackass and you should not be allowed to ride.

  10. Just and FYI, while Edward Gal may be one of Anky’s students, he has NEVER been seen using rollkur in the warm up. I am totally against Rollkur and in support of more classical methods, but lets not go making accusations without proof.

  11. Elizabeth, there are plenty of videos documenting Edward Gal riding in Rollkur: here is just one link:

    Also, when I was at WEG, the warm up area was OFF LIMITS, I very much assume because they did not want the public witness this.

  12. People do it because it “looks pretty”. Think of all the old statues and paintings of horses- almost all of them are over-extending and are in a severe bit. I just don’t understand A) how horses can move with their neck so flexed and B) how people don’t care that they’re creating a hard-mouthed horse. I love english and dressage, but not at a horses expense. Horses should enjoy their work, not dread it.

  13. Competitive dressage could only be ‘fixed’ if the whole structure of competitions was changed to value true engagement of the horse over precision and spectacular movement. This would involve removing the use of double bridles and spurs which are some of the main culprits in creating the false picture that is so common in modern dressage. The way horses are using their bodies could easily be analyzed, for example whether the diagonals are parallel, or whether there is true longitudinal stretching on a loose rein in all three gaits.

    Teaching that allows riders to understand how to use their own body to achieve engagement would also need to become much more widespread. Even within Classical Dressage that has the right intentions, there is so much basic misunderstanding of how the rider should sit, and how we actually achieve collection and balance without simply blocking the horse with the bit.

    Rollkur is just the extreme result of misplaced values which underline virtually all competitive dressage riding – it has become obsessed with the superficial appearance of movements and the focus on the QUALITY of the connection between horse and rider has been completely forgotten.
    This page explains why riders use Rollkur, and why it is a completely misplaced concept in dressage: http://www.happy-horse-training.com/rollkur.html

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