What IS Rollkur?
Rollkur is a training technique, literally defined as “flexion of the horses’ neck through AGGRESSIVE FORCE”. It is currently banned by the FEI because they themselves have a definition between Rollkur and Long and Low flexion. There’s a few ways to train in rollkur, mainly it’s done by what most people see riders like Anky Van Grunsven, most of the German and Netherlands team train. It’s main emphasis is to train the horse DEEP, with their nose pulled into the chest to ‘flex’ the muscles of the neck and back. The main goal is to teach the horse to lower and flex their head and raise their back WITHOUT proper muscle training.
It’s origin is in Germany, where riders would do this while at the halt. Never in forward motion. From there, there are a few historical roots that aren’t worth talking about here because they’re all silly.
Now this technique can be done in a few ways. It has a few names: Deep&Round; Long, Deep, & Round; Forward, Down, & Out; Flexion Behind/Beyond the Veritcal.
Like I said, it’s over flexion of the horse behind the vertical with their nose pulled to their chest and done at all gaits. Most people see it being done in a forward movement, such as the picture below,
(Notice this riders position. Bracing backwards against the horses’ mouth with his upper body tilting backwards and hands held extremely high. Does this horse look comfortable to you?)
BUT, there are other techniques that people do not see with this Training ritual. There’s the side to side movement of the horses’ head to “teach the horse to round their sides and force the super development of the brachial muscles”. Sound confusing?
Rounding their sides means they are trying to get the horse to be more supple side to side while trying to force the upper muscles of the leg to develop faster and at a higher rate than proper conditioning would allow. A horse being ridden in the side to side motion looks like this:
The Double Bridle and It’s Use(s)
Some of you may be saying, “Well, isn’t it just the double bridle with the bits doing this? Aren’t they SUPPOSED to do this?”
The answer is a very loud NO! A double bridle has two separate bits, the Curb Bit(which has the curb chain) and the Bridoon Bit(normally known as a Snaffle, but some prefer French Bridoons).
The Curb Bit is heavy to a horses’ head. It may not feel heavy to you, but where the bit is placed in the mouth, plus the weight of the bit itself and the rein connected to it(no matter how small), this bit becomes heavy in a sense. It is always enacting a pressure on the horse to remind him/her to keep their mouth soft and accepting, their head on or around the vertical but not necessarily up. This bit should only be used in the softest of hands and with knowledge, which sadly doesn’t happen in most cases. Just touching the rein of a Curb bit can cause harsh consequences as well as extreme consequences. With this bit, only using your fingers in the slightest ways has an effect on this bit.
The Bridoon(Snaffle) is a normal, plain old snaffle. It’s your guiding bit, your normal go-to bit. The snaffle is the everything bit, it’s for the horse to lean on it and balance, to accept it, to do what is asked from this bit. It’s the main, thick rein that the rider should use.
Together, these two bits are regulated through the FEI and USEF because of the rather destructive combinations one can have. (I.E. A heavy curb bit with a slow or fast twist snaffle) Now, to do Rollkur you do not have to ride in a double bridle but it’s a little easier to really pull a horses head in with a double bridle. Riders of ALL levels can do Rollkur, with or without a double bridle.
Why Dressage? Why isn’t it in the other sports?
The sad thing is, it’s in ALL sports. This training method is seen in Dressage more simply because in the sport of Dressage you’re looking for that give in the horses’ mouth with the back raised and the ability to do all of the movements while on the bit and flexed and accepting. Dressage is a sport all in it’s own, it is in EVERY sport in some way.
Hunters want that forward moving horse that bends around the riders legs and accepts the bit when asked(mainly seen in Eq.)
Jumpers want a willing horse with well developed muscles and accepting of the bit when asked to come back from a gallop.
Eventing has Dressage in it.
Western events, especially those of the Pleasure and Reining events, want a horse to accept the bit and to really work well around a pattern.
Rollkur is often seen in Reining. Ever see the riders sit down and pull on the horses’ head? Yup, there’s your sign of Rollkur.
Anatomically, What Does Rollkur Do?
Looking at a horse from the anatomy view while in Rollkur is rather disgusting(more in the fact of how painful this method is).
Starting from the Bones on up. First, here’s a picture of the skeleton.
Notice something about this. The horses’ neck doesn’t go straight across the top of the neck, it curves downward towards the chest and then in. Keep this in mind as you read on.
When a horse over flexes, the cervical vertebrae in the neck become over stretched while the horse tries to tuck it’s head in. The back then hollows out in an attempt to support the neck and the muscles stretch to a degree that they do a lot of damage. When conditioning a horse(or yourself) you develop muscles through damage. You tear the muscle fibers so that when they heal, there’s scar tissue laid down and the muscle becomes stronger and thicker.
So, in Rollkur they do extreme damage so the muscle develops much faster.
The next step from here is to show you muscular and the effect on the Lymphnode system(hah, didn’t see that coming huh?)
Now, in the neck there are quite a few muscles that don’t run up towards the head or away from the poll. They run, in a directional sense, from top to bottom instead. Some do run head to tail, but those are the very inner muscles, the top layers are top to bottom. Now, these muscles are overstretched in one direction so they’re going to contract in the other direction. It’s not easy to describe in a simple way but the easiest way I can say is above.
In this picture above I would like you to look at N. That is, in fact, where the Salivary Gland is. When you round a horse the reason they tend to salivate some more is due to the pressure on the gland.
See the bulge just behind the cheek bone? That’s the Paratid Gland, otherwise known as the Salivary Gland. When this gland is bulged out like this it can cause problems in breathing because of the excess saliva as well as the pressure it exerts on the trachea. Most people would say, Oh the horse just Roars(forcefully exerting air due to nerve damage in the trachea). But no, the horse isn’t roaring because there’s no sound. It’s the horse having trouble breathing.
My Personal Opinion On Rollkur
I hate Rollkur. Simply put.
Why do I hate it?
Other than the fact I was taught classical Dressage, it is NOT a proper training method in the least. It’s harmful to the horse in a severe way. Here’s an example:
Anky Van Grunsven’s one horse broke his withers. Not because he rolled in the stall or anything, but BECAUSE OF ROLLKUR. It was actually found the force put on this horses’ withers caused them to break. Sad, right?
In traditional, proper riding you condition the horse to the level of riding you wish to ride in. Grand Prix horses, once taught everything, only take about a month and a half to two months after being off for 6 months of work to get back into shape. That’s not so bad, right? When riders become LAZY, they don’t want to condition a horse properly. Conditioning goes from the ground up and takes TIME. Teaching a horse the movements of Grand Prix takes time just to get them to learn the movements but the muscle development required for the levels of Prix St. Georges and up are a bit more than most expect from Fourth Level. There’s more required from the horse between the levels of Fourth and PSG than in any of the levels before that.
So, riders become impatient and lazy and found a new way to get to the level faster.
The Price We Pay
Now, us riders don’t pay anything, the horses do.
The horse is in a lot of pain, they break down faster due to the lack of proper conditioning, and don’t have the real quality of life they should. It’s not a good method no matter how you look at it.
It’s a split argument.
Most people who agree with it are either lazy and uneducated, or just uneducated. If you’re taught this way that’s all you know. If you adopt this practice, you’re being stupid.
Proper Way of Working
Here’s my FAVORITE way to get a horse to develop his or her back. It’s called Long and Low.
Notice horse the riders are riding forward and the horses are stretching with now rein contact really there. This is Long and Low.
It’s the method of engaging the horses’ hind end and using your NATURAL AIDS(your hands, body and legs. Yes, the body is an aid) to ask the horse to stretch down. The horse gets greatly rewarded for this because this method develops the horses’ back properly. In stretching the back out beginning at the walk and going on, you train the muscles of the back. You do this slowly and in short bursts at first because the muscles aren’t developed enough just quite yet and once they are, it leads to a proper horse.
I just like Milo, he’s a cutie :D
Disagree with me or Agree with me, that’s your choice. But here’s the info on Rollkur, it’s pityful advantage and it’s many disadvantages. Hope I was informing :)