FEI Rollkur Meeting: Reactions from Around the Horse World

by Fran Jurga | 15 February 2010 | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com

The battle is over. Shall we examine the battlefield?

In this video clip, FEI Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage Director Trond Asmyr speaks about the outcome of the FEI’s closed-door meeting held February 9 to discuss the practice of rollkur, or hyperflexion, or LDR, in training and schooling for dressage. Before the meeting, the FEI received a petition reported to contain over 40,000 signatures in protect of rollkur, and a letter from Klaus Balkenhol, signed by many of the world’s leading riders, asking the FEI to seriously consider this matter and take action against aggressive riding.

The catalyst for this latest rollkur tempest was a YouTube video by the Danish firm EponaTV of a rider in the warmup ring at an FEI event; the video was posted on this blog as well, asking for interpretation. Was it abuse?

EponaTV isn’t finished. They have begun posting a series of videos on YouTube showing dressage riders in warmup rings engaged in various exercises that might or might not be considered extreme or aggressive examples of riding.

Since the FEI ruled that Patrick Kittel’s riding in the “blue tongue” video was not aggressive and that he didn’t do anything wrong, the question must be posed if the roundtable going forward would recommend that that decision be changed under the new definition.

How is the FEI’s report on the meeting playing in the field? Here are just a few reactions from around the Internet, representing the polarized reactions that this issue brings to the forefront of the horse world, as professional horsemen in the sport and horse-loving observers see things quite differently:

Triple Olympican Richard Davison, the captain of the British dressage team, quoted in The Times (London): “It’s the ultimate in a whole body workout for the horse ? and when it’s practised by experts such as Anky Van Grunsven [the triple olympic gold medal-winner] and not overdone I think it’s acceptable”, he said.

“You could liken it to an athlete’s warm-up ? I’ve been in the gym at several Olympic Games and seen them warming up for a race ? rollkur for the horse is similar to the extreme stretching which some athletes do when warming up for a competition. The difference is that a horse cannot tell you if something is hurting….The science behind it may be inconclusive in as much as we don’t really know whether it is harmful or not to the horse but the fact is it was creating an outcry from the public and the FEI have to accept that.”

The Eventing Nation blog offers a warning that, in spite of the FEI statement of enforcement, rollkur may creep into that sport. In “Rollkur: Why Should I Care?”, blogger John Thier wrote: “Since many eventers, especially top eventers, work with pure dressage coaches, the growth of modern dressage within the pure dressage discipline has led to a growth of modern dressage within eventing. This growth in eventing might be slower and weaker than within pure dressage, but, even just from watching warm-up arenas over the past year, I have seen more horses being ridden quite round and primarily from the outside rein…

“But as long as people who practice modern dressage, like Anky, keep winning, the trend toward modern dressage will continue until the FEI decides to take a stand against a particular frame, rather than a level of aggression.

From the EquineInsanity blog: “Consensus may be easy and obvious in a situation when someone repeatedly whips their horse in warm up, but what about when the aggression and force used are more subtle? It’s hard for me to imagine anyone achieving a low, deep and round outline without any force…

“Frankly, it simply looks like the FEI is unwilling to ban a training method widely used by their top riders, so they decided to change the name of it and make it legal. So what used to be called Rollkur is now called Low, Deep and Round (LDR). Only when it looks ugly enough to cause people to sign a petition, is it called Rollkur…

“I think that the issue on Rollkur is just the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of something much more vast and profound. There is a growing movement, a movement based on humanity and kindness, a movement that is on the horse’s side. It may not be a large movement as of date, but it is getting bigger as we speak; people are finding each other and organizing themselves.”

The day after the FEI meeting, three sequential videos appeared on YouTube: an English voiceover of a clinic with Anky van Grunsven explaining her training methods. Is Anky vindicated by the FEI’s new definitions?

Thanks to the Equine Ink blog for finding those videos before I could even look for them! Just click on the YouTube logo on the player to watch parts 2 and 3.

Last word goes to the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES). ISES came forward with a letter to the FEI proposing that the focus be taken off the horse’s neck and be placed on the reins and the rider’s pressure on them. ISES proposed using electronic reins in FEI warmup rings to gather data that could be used to educate stewards and judges and the FEI. In a followup document, published in The Netherlands, researchers Machteld van Dierendonck and Kathalijne Visser, with input from ISES board members, wrote:

“It is probably worth considering whether there can be good and bad hyperflexion, andwhether rein tensiometry or a self-carriage test might be used to distinguish between them. From a behavioural perspective, the application of sustained pressure by the rider or relentless resistance from the horse amount to the same thing: pressure in the mouth, which can lead to habituation. Research is needed to remove emotiveness from the hyperflexion debate by establishing, for a range of equine athletes, how much contact is neutral, how much rein tension is too much, how discomfort and pain could be measured and how learned helplessness manifests itself in horses (McGreevy and McLean, 2007).

“Only a small handful of novel studies have been published since the 2006 (FEI) Lausanne meeting on hyperflexion. Unfortunately, these studies have tended to be marred serious flaws in methodology, limited numbers or unhelpful parameters used. This leads us to conclude that there is still insufficient scientific evidence to confirm unequivocally whether or not there are welfare issues involved in training techniques using hyperflexion.”

The conclusion is obvious: there is no conclusion.

Follow @FranJurga on Twitter.com for more equestrian and horse health news!




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