We’ve all seen and heard a lot about rollkur by now, and I think we can all agree that it’s disgusting. Pretty much everyone seems equally horrified and shocked to see it. So the next question is – why is this method of training being rewarded in the show ring?
If you haven’t watched the video of Edward Gal warming up at Aachen, you should. It’s eye opening. Sadly, he sure isn’t alone in his methods.
What’s more eye opening is the excuses that so many people make for this. “Oh, it’s only for a few minutes” or “Oh, it’s just to stretch his muscles”. Bullshit. This is abusive riding and it’s not ok. The way these horses are trained behind the scenes is very evident in how they show once they’re in the ring. They turn into tense leg-flingers with tight backs, necks bent in an unnatural place, poll low, nose behind the vertical, contact tight, mouths clamped tightly shut with borderline air-restricting nosebands. And yet they are rewarded with good scores from the judges. WHY? This isn’t beautiful, and it isn’t what dressage is meant to be.
The FEI Rules describe the object of Dressage to be “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 his rider.”. What you see above isn’t harmony, it’s force and dominance. And these are some of the supposed “best” horse and rider pairs in the world, in the eyes of competitive dressage.
There was also uproar last week about the World Young Dressage Horse finals. Something else you must see. The second place horse looked like this:
If that’s what scores well in competitive, top of the line, international dressage, I want none of it. The only word I can come up with is atrocious. I don’t care how much those legs are moving, this is not beautiful. This is not right. Yet the scores were as follows:
9.3 walk, 9.2 trot, 9.2 canter, 8.5 submission, 8.9 general impression. Total 9.02
A 10 is perfection and they think that’s a 9?
As the article states: “If this is dressage, then we must throw the classical principles out the window,” said one enormously successful trainer of young, and Grand Prix, horses… Aside from a clutch of wildly patriotic Scandinavians, I could find no experienced observer who was not outraged.
What is being rewarded here, with judging like this? Are we saying it’s ok to train young horses to be tense, overbent, and man-handled, all for the sake of flashy gaits? Are we condoning the kind of training that breaks down horse’s bodies and minds (enjoy your retirement, Totilas) and creates a false presentation? Dressage should make a horse better. Stronger. More elastic. More relaxed. Since when has it been a contest to see who can get the flashiest leg movement, at any cost? Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro have been such a breath of fresh air for the sport, incidents like these are a slap in the face to progress.
This has to change, and if you aren’t outraged you aren’t paying attention. Or you just hate horses. Or you’re completely delusional. Let’s call a spade a spade here – this kind of training is brutality and abuse, plain and simple. We know it’s wrong… the question is: what are we gonna do about it?