This photo illustrates a horse in the "overflexed" position condemned by many critics. While an FEI special investigation could not prove that the practice actually harmed the horse, the new thinking is that the practice may constitute a form of mental abuse. The FEI supports the concept of "the happy horse" in the competition arena.
In the small type of the April 10th summary from the veterinary committee of the Federation Equestrian International (FEI), the world governing body of equestrian sports, is a paragraph of particular interest to those on either side of the debate over a training method commonly called "rollkur" or "bite the chest":
STATEMENT ON HYPERFLEXION (ROLLK?R): the following statement was adopted: There are no known clinical side effects specifically arising from the use of hyperflexion, however there are serious concerns for a horse's well-being if the technique is not practiced correctly. The FEI condemns hyperflexion in any equestrian sport as an example of mental abuse. The FEI states that it does not support the practice.
Rollkur was first brought to the public's attention by a German dressage magazine that was highly critical of Dutch dressage rider Anky van Grunsven's warmup routine before her Grand Prix performance. The criticism led to disputes between many factions of the dressage community. Researchers including America's Dr. Hilary Clayton and France's Dr. Jean-Marie Denoix presented evidence to the FEI at a special forum on the subject last year. Veterinary researchers could find no evidence of direct harm to the neck or spine of the horse.
In late 2007, a new book called Tug of War: Classical Versus "Modern" Dressage: Why Classical Training Works and How Incorrect Riding Negatively Affects Horses' Health by German veterinarian Gerd Heuschmann became a manifesto for condemnation of the practice. The book was an immediate bestseller and is the rare example of a horse book climbing into the upper atmosphere of Amazon.com bestsellers. Tug of War is currently #1 on Amazon in riding books, #1 in horse training and #2 in overall equestrian books. (Edgar Prado's My Guy Barbaro is #1 overall in the equestrian category.)
This debate is ongoing and how the FEI statement is interpreted should be interesting. Stay tuned for more rollkur news!