Sunday, February 14, 2010

What Do You Think?

I'm not one of these dressage riders who espouses a certain type of riding is the only way. We've learned a lot about horses in the last several centuries, how their bodies work, how they think, how best to train them. So, improvements in training methods are possible, and classical dressage can certainly change and evolve as horses change and evolve.

Rollkur is a word sure to spark hot debate on both sides. If you don't know what it is, take a look at the embedded video below and read this definition. I also found a good article on it here.

I've managed to stay out of the rollkur discussion because I really don't know enough about it. Ttrainers I respect have told me it works well with hot horses. I've seen it used to a point by a few trainers, and it's never bothered me. Yet, when I watched his video it really made me sick. I'm not sure why. The horse doesn't really look unhappy. He's not laying back his ears, not swishing his tail. Granted, he does have his tongue over the bit in the beginning. Maybe what sickens me is that the animal seems to have lost its spirit. Am I right or wrong? Who knows? I'd almost have to see the horse in the actual class after this warmup. I tried to find a video of the class and couldn't. I did find another video of him at the European championships. The horse looked fine.

In dressage, submission is important. But where is the line between submission as a willing partner and slavery? I have never been an opponent of rollkur, but now I'm not sure.

Regardless, I've been wanting to discuss this video which made the rounds a few months ago. Take a look, and think about it. I also found the wide range of comments on the video's YouTube page very interesting.

I'm interested in a civil, open-minded discussion, as I'd really like to hear both sides.


Linda Benson said...

The first thing this brought to mind was Anna Sewell's book "Black Beauty," written in 1877, which dealt with the cruel bearing rein, or check rein, which was used to keep carriage horses' heads fashionably HIGH at that time.

I am not a dressage rider, but I am a horsewoman, and this practice - rollkur - seems very WRONG to me. Horses do give us SO much - the least we can do is try to make them comfortable while they are working.

And thank you for a very thoughtful post, Jami. If horse lovers do not speak out about these issues, how can we ever hope to resolve them?

HorseOfCourse said...

What makes me so sad with rollkur riding is that it goes straight against all what dressage should represent.

To me, dressage is working in harmony together with your horse, in a partnership.

I would like to cite Egon von Neindorff, one of the old German dressage nestors. In his foreword to Walter Zettl's book "Dressage in harmony", Mr Neindorff writes:

Dressage training is systematic, structured, and nature-oriented education --- both the teaching and the being taught. Dressage does not mean total submission of the horse, not overtaxing him forcefully, nor getting into useless arguments.
Harmony means sensibility, synchronization, consistency and unison.
"Dressage in harmony" means to solve together a task in such a manner that rider and horse are enjoying the work. Then and only then will you feel the wonderful natural ease and subtle relaxation which every rider seeks in his or her daily work.

I wonder: Can anyone who agrees with Mr. Neindorff watch rollkur riders without a tear in their eyes?
I cannot.

Laura Crum said...

I know absolutely nothing about rollkur, but saw many, many very abusive things done to reined cowhorses in order to get the low headset desired. It turned me off from such stuff forever. I know I'm repeating myself here, but sadly, as long as people put winning a competition over the good of their horse we will continue to see abuse, in many, many forms. I cannot speak at all to whether rollker is abuse, but I trust Horse of Course's opinion. She is experienced with dressage and knows and loves horses. That said, I have also seen "abusive" western training practices used in moderate ways that did help a given horse to learn a necessary lesson. I cannot say that anything is truly black and white. It all comes down to the situation, the individual horse, and the ability of the trainer to use training methods effectively and compassionately, with the good of the horse always in mind.

Jami Davenport said...

Linda, I, too, remember the bearing rein from Black Beauty. You draw an interesting parallel, one I hadn't thought of.

Jami Davenport said...

Horse of Course,

I know watching that video made me ill. The horse seemed almost defeated. I also notice the riders who ride like this are usually leaning back, is this for leverage?

Jami Davenport said...

Laura, I got into dressage because of all the horse sports, it was the one that was supposed to be founded on what was best for the horse. I am sad to see this is not the case so much anymore.

Shanster said...

The students at our barn chipped in to buy the video Tug of War by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann. I think once you watch that, you couldn't think rolkur was good for the horse.

Very sad and yes, I have thought about Ginger in Black Beauty more than once...

HorseOfCourse said...

Jami. Leaning back for leverage, yes.