Rollkur: Is It Really That Bad?!

Matthias Rath and Totilas
Ever since I wrote about Matthias Rath getting caught riding Totilas with his head buried in his chest, there has been quite a few photos linked to my Facebook page with horses being forced into a similar position. It really does make me quite uncomfortable to see it as the horses just look so sad and beaten down, not the look of a happy horse being submissive and happily accepting the contact. Rollkur has been a controversial issue in the horse world for quite some time but thanks to the London 2012 Olympics it has become a hot topic once again with many people starting petitions to ban and heavily penalise riders caught using rollkur (it is already banned by the FEI but many people feel they aren't doing enough to penalise those riders caught using it).

Rollkur is also know as ''low'', ''deep'' or ''LDR'' (low, deep and round) and is essentially hyperflexion of the horse's neck by means of aggressive force. Training involves forcing the horse to lower his head and neck below the height of the withers and placing the head behind the vertical which, in turn, causes curving of the neck. The head and neck are held in this position for a considerable period of time (not just a few seconds!) and is used through walk, trot and canter as well as lengthening and shortening of the paces. Followers claim it stretches the horses neck while strengthening the back. It causes flashy knee action which is why it is so popular with dressage riders. It is also an extreme method of control as it limits the horse's oxygen supply, range of vision and hugely alters the horse's balance.

Anky van Grunsven and Salinero 

Rollkur shouldn't be confused with a horse being ''behind the bit'', as this is caused by the horse tucking his head behind the vertical to evade any contact. Rollkur on the other hand is done so with intent and using force so as to pull the horse's head into it's chest.

Rollkur is most commonly seen among dressage riders but it is also becoming more common to see it being used in the showjumping and western circuit. However, one thing is clear and that we are definately seeing more and more of the top riders using this method. Their motive? Possibly seeing other top riders using this method as well as the huge prize money on offer ... people get strange and tend to use banned or cruel methods of training if they think it achieves positive results.

These positive effects are short lived. The horse's neck is not designed to be held in the rollkur position and causes microscopic tears in the muscles, and can actusally lead to stiffness over time as the muscle is constantly sore and trying to repair itself. As well as msucle tears, rollkur also causes muscle fatigue and longer term can cause bone spurs and bone degeneratiuon due to the vertebrae being held in a position they were not designed for.

One such rider cause using this at the London 2012 Olympics was Swedish rider Patrik Kittel. He was seen using it on his horse, Watermill Scandic, during the warm up at Greenwich which cause huge uproar among viewers and equestrians alike. This isn't Kittel's first time being caught using this method - It was actually Kittel who promted the FEI to ban rollkur following a video shot in 2009 in Denmark where his horse's tongue turned blue as a result of the force used! Watch this and try tell me that that is a happy horse!

Of course, not wanting to get into even more trouble with the FEI he stated that the photographs were taken at an inoppertune moment and have been misinterpreted. Sorry, given your record, I'm just not buying it!

Rider's need to be shown that the FEI are going to be taking a stand on this and that they could possibly be banned for a period of time. They need to be given some sort of serious motive not to use rollkur - what do you think would be an adequate and realistic punishment?

Patrik Kittnel and Watermill Scandic

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