Essays of an Equestrian

“Ride up into heaven, and not down into hell”  ~ Walter Zettl


“A horse ‘held in shape’ by his rider is only posturing in a seemingly correct form, usually for the benefit of inexperienced observers.” ~ Charles de Kunffy

“If you act like you have all day, it will take 10 minutes. If you act like you only have 10 minutes, it will take all day.” An old cowboy saying

“Firm and fair, NOT firm and frustrated” ~ Gigi Nutter

“There isn’t such a thing as a training system, there is only good or bad riding and that’s where we have to work on.” ~ Johan Hinnemann

Brutality begins where knowledge ends. Ignorance and compulsion appear simultaneously.” ~ Charles de Kunffy

“The leg energizes, the seat modifies and the hand verifies.” ~ Charles de Kunffy

“If training has not made a horse more beautiful, nobler in carriage, more attentive in his behavior, revealing pleasure in his own accomplishment…then he has not truly been schooled in dressage.” ~ Col. Handler

March 27, 2010

Rolkur: What is it and why does it suck?


Rolkur is a method of dressage training currently in style in the show ring. It is just as bastardized as the extreme peanut rolling you will find in western pleasure circles. This style of riding has become further legitimized by recent winners in the Olympics and other international dressage shows sanctioned by the worlds equestrian organization, the Federation Equestrian International, otherwise known as the FEI.Rolkur is also commonly referred to as “hyperflexion” and it basically describes the forced submission of the horse via manipulation of the neck in an extreme manner which causes the horses face to exceed beyond the vertical, often resulting in the horses chin either touching, or close to touching, the horse’s chest.There is an ongoing, lively debate within the equestrian community regarding rolkur, hyperflexion, and now it’s offspring recently named Low, Deep and Round (LDR). I’ll get into the genesis of LDR in a little bit.

In order to simplify the two opposing sides I shall, in the interest of clarity, refer to them as prolkurs (those who support and are pro-rolkur) and nolkurs (those who find the practice inhumane).

The nolkurs (such as myself) find the practice abhorrent, and akin to abuse. As such there is a worldwide movement to compel the FEI to enforce their own rules regarding the treatment of horses in their competitions.

The rule book for the FEI gives acceptable standards of performance. I’ve clipped Article 401 and have highlighted some of the more relevant terms:


The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education. As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the athlete.

These qualities are revealed by:

• The freedom and regularity of the paces.

• The harmony, lightness and ease of the movements.

• The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating from a lively

1. The acceptance of the bit, with submissiveness/throughness (Durchlässigkeit) without any tension or resistance.

2. The horse thus gives the impression of doing, of its own accord, what is required. Confident and attentive, submitting generously to the control of the athlete, remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.

3. The walk is regular, free and unconstrained. The trot is free, supple, regular and active. The canter is united, light and balanced. The hindquarters are never inactive or sluggish. The horse responds to the slightest indication of the athlete and thereby gives life and spirit to all the rest of its body.

4. By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of the joints, free from the paralyzing effects of resistance, the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally.

5. In all the work, even at the halt, the horse must be “on the bit”. A horse is said to be “on the bit” when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace, accepting the bridle with a light and consistent soft submissive contact. The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the athlete.

6. Cadence is shown in trot and canter and is the result of the proper harmony that a horse shows when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion and balance. Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot or canter exercises and in all the variations of these paces.

7. The regularity of the paces is fundamental to dressage.


Now watch this video of an Olympic medal winner and see if the riding meets the criteria as stated above. Please note the color of the horses tongue (prolkurs would have us believe it was the lighting; they might as well have said it’s because the horse was part Chow!) Look for other criteria: Nose in front of
the vertical, poll high, harmony, happy athlete. Note the horse kick at the spur.

You will be witnessing what is called Forced Submissiveness.

And it is riding like this that compelled 41,000 people to write a petition to the FEI demanding that the current rules and regulations be enforced. Nolkurs around the world ranging from schmucks like me to the highest of Masters, veterinarians and National Governing bodies have signed the petition and written letters and emails to little avail.

So what does the FEI do? They hold a meeting and long story short, have stated that aggressive riding will be punished, but that this training style is actually Long, Deep and Round. Here is a quote from the horse’s mouth (pardon the pun) regarding the round table conference.

“Hello, I’m Malina Gueorguiev, FEI Press Manager, and I have been following with great interest your discussion. (The discussion was on a popular posting forum, Ultimate Dressage)

I wanted to let you know that the low, deep and round (LDR) training technique, providing it achieves flexion without undue force, was approved as acceptable by the participants at the round-table conference. The term “low” was used in the press statement sent out after the meeting and in FEI Dressage Director Trond Asmyr’s video message posted on YouTube , but a typo resulted in “low” being changed to “long” on the FEI website. This has now been corrected to reflect the decision taken by the participants in the round-table conference. Check it out

To my mind, this is unacceptable. Unacceptable to my sensibilities and to others as well.

You would ask why, as we all do. Can it be due to the FEI being afraid of being sued, as some of these riders and trainers are quick to call “lawsuit”? Can it be due to the people at this level spending a lot of time together or engaging in business together?

Read other comments against LDR/Rolkur/Hyperflexion. This from

Blue Tongues at World Cup Qualifier


  • A quick glance at the warm up arena at the World Cup dressage qualifier of the season in Odense, Denmark, revealed hyperflexed horses and blue tongues.

    For a minimum of two hours, Swedish Olympic rider Patrik Kittel trained his stallion, Watermill Scandic, in various degrees of hyperflexion, on Friday ahead of Saturday’s Grand Prix Special. was passing by the warm up at 3.45 pm, and at this time, the rider was well into his session. At circa 5.45, the session ended.

    During the training session, spoke to a spectator who claimed to have notified one of the show’s officials of the prolonged hyperflexion. Odense’s Chief Steward confirms to that a complaint was lodged against Patrik Kittel’s riding, but it was not deemed necessary to comment or take action, because Kittel was no worse than other riders using the same method. has spoken to Patrik Kittel, and asked him if he thinks he is riding in accordance with the FEI Code of Conduct.

    “I think you should send the questions in an email along with the footage, so I can give it to my lawyers,”

    said Patrik Kittel. follows up by asking whether he himself is unaware of whether he rides in accordance with the FEI Code of Conduct.

    “Of course I do. Otherwise a steward would do something about it. But I don’t want to discuss it with you now. Have a good day,”

    concludes the rider.

    There were more horses at the World Cup qualifier whose tongues were blue. Here, the retracted lips clearly show how the curb is pressing down on the tongue, impairing blood circulation. Note the difference between the colour of the tongue and the mucus membrane of the bars.

    Blue tongue due to ischaemia

    “When we see dressage horses with blue tongues, it’s because blood circulation is reduced in the tongue. When the blood supply is reduced, tissue hypoxia ensues in the tongue, and it turns blue,”

    says Marianne Dahl, DVM, a Danish equine welfare specialist. She elaborates:

    “The explanation is in the horse’s mouth and it’s the curb bit and rein tension which cause the problem. As long as a horse is not bitted, the tongue is relaxed and takes up the entire oral cavity. The tongue is a very dextrous and sensitive organ. In a well fitted curb, the tongue can still be relaxed and fill out the oral cavity as long as there is no rein tension. The moment the rider puts tension into the reins, the angle of the curb to the mouth is altered, and pressure on the tongue is increased. The tongue, which consists of muscle tissue, becomes tense and may be flattened.

    If the tension is high – which is to say that there is a marked change in the angle between the shank of the bit and the bars of the horse’s mouth – and if the pressure is held for a prolonged period, ischaemia and hypoxia may follow. The tongue will become discoloured and turn blue or purple. If the chain on the curb is tight, the pressure on the tongue will be stronger, and if the nose band is tight, so the horse can’t open its mouth, the pressure on the tongue will be even stronger still.

    Hypoxic muscle tissue is extremely painful. So therefore, it’s completely unacceptable to subject a horse to riding techniques which causes hypoxic discolouration of the tongue.”





    Angry yet? You should be, but maybe not surprised. Abuse like this is all over the horse world and can be found and is just as alarming with many western trained reining and western pleasure horses, and it’s just wrong!

    If we do not police ourselves, others will do it for us. Idiots like PETA can run our horse shows. Oops, I forgot, PETA would have us not ride our horses at all!!


    When you look into the eyes of a horse ridden in rolkur you can see stress and anxiety. You see pain. What you don’t see is the relaxation that the mandates of dressage hold true to good riding.

    Do you call yourself a horseman, a lover of horses? If you do you must take action and have your voice heard.

     But more than that, you must educate yourself and ride with the inspiration of what it could be. Don’t aim for the Olympics. They have become a freak show with freak show riders and horses competing in them. If the FEI won’t enforce their rules, and would rather resort to doublespeak rather than protect their athletes, then I submit it’s time for either them to go, or us to go.

    The FEI has chosen to wimp out. But we can’t let them unless we’re willing to go. In their feeble attempt to soothe the masses, discussion has begun to place video cameras in the warm up ring. That sounds like a groovy idea, but if LDR/rolkur/hyperflexion is alright as long as it isn’t “outwardly” aggressive riding, what the hell good does it do?

    We must keep the pressure up.

    And if you need further convincing, check this out. Click the links. Read the book. Watch the video.

    Oh, btw, that Blue Tongue video you watched……. the FEI, after watching it, declared it as not aggressive riding and perfectly within the realms of acceptable training.

    If that doesn’t say it, nothing will.

    Before you go, a few words from the Master, Walter Zettl from his website  

    Do Something Now!


    (please note you do NOT need to make a donation for the signatures to be registered).


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The good will of the horse is like the scent of a rose. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.