Rollkur Training: Is it really gone?

Let’s have an open discussion about Rollkur, and the way some riders are still riding in a similar manner.

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Rollkur is defined as hyperflexion of the horse’s neck achieved through aggressive force. This training technique was banned by the FEI, but it doesn’t seem to be as gone as the federation believes.

Riding in a deep frame to encourage suppleness is not the same thing as Rollkur, but lately a middle frame between Rollkur and a deep frame has become acceptable.

Although these riders are not using what the federation would consider aggressive force, the frame of the horse is too close to that of Rollkur. When a rider see-saws, or alternatingly pulls on the outside and inside rein to pull the horse’s head down, the horse’s nose comes behind the vertical. This is not a deep, relaxed frame that allows the horse to stretch over the back, but one that begins to pull the nose into the chest and doesn’t allow for correct forward movement. The horse soon learns to sit behind the bit, and the rider mistakes a lack of contact for self-carriage. Self-carriage is soft contact as the horse works over the back and carries himself with impulsion from the hind end. It is a perfect balance between horse and rider, without one leaning on the other. Pulling a horse’s face down behind the vertical and thinking it is self-carriage is only the beginning of the issue.

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When the nose begins to disappear behind the vertical, and the rider shortens the reins to ask for more collection, the neck and head form a “u” shape. There is no flexion or suppleness involved, and this frame is referred to as fake. The rider’s hands come up to the chest, pulling the horse’s head lower, all while using leg aids to send the horse forward and attempt to increase collection.

This frame results in an under-track, meaning the horse’s hind legs are not placed in the front hoof prints when they come forward, also referred to as tracking-up. This then leads to the horse being on the forehand and not using the hind legs to push himself forward. As the horse pulls down and leans on the rider’s hands to compensate for a lack of hind end movement, the frame becomes even lower, the nose comes closer to the chest, the rider pulls more to try and bring the horses head higher, the impulsion decreases, and the cycle continues.

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Many times the horse can become so uncomfortable with the rider pulling, he opens his mouth in an attempt to get away from the painful pressure. This problem is exacerbated when the horse is ridden in a double bridle rather than a snaffle, and a horse’s mouth can be easily ruined in this manner.

Unfortunately this way of riding has become more popular, and high competition scores seem to be rewarding this poor training. Proper dressage training should lead to the horse pushing from behind, creating a good over-track of a few inches or more. The picture below demonstrates a good over-track, with the head on the vertical, and the poll horizontal to the ground. You’ll notice that the neck and head form an “arc-like” shape, rather that the “u” shape discussed earlier.

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Whether riders are knowingly riding incorrectly, or not, this “u-shaped” frame should be penalized in the ring, instead of being rewarded with high scores. Hopefully as people become more aware of the issue, they will begin to analyze their own riding and seek out correct training.


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