Rollkur and the blue tongue

I've been meaning to write about this all week, but reading the exclusive in Horse and Hound about the controversy tipped me over the edge.

For my non-horsy readers, rollkur is a training/warming up technique used by some dressage riders. It basically involves riding the horse with its jaw pulled in virtually to its chest, in order to increase suppleness.

Patrik Kittel , a Swedish competitor in Odense was videoed riding his horse in this way. If you watch the video, you'll see the horse's tongue hanging out - blue. It takes a while before the rider notices this. When he does, he stops, puts the horse's tongue back in, and carries on.

There are two things which bother me about this. Firstly, I am fully aware large sections of the dressage world, and some of its brighest stars, consider rollkur perfectly ok, but the FEI guidelines state this practice should only be for short periods, allowing the horse to rest. Patrick Kittel apparently rode the horse for two hours in rollkur, albeit with rests: look at those round about him in the video. None of them seem remotely bothered, which suggests to me riding your horse this way is not unusual enough for anyone to notice, comment, or do anything about it.

Secondly, Patrik , in Horse and Hound, said "Scandic sometimes plays with his tongue. During the filmed period of my training, he caught his tongue over or under the bits. I stopped when I noticed, and put it back in the right place." And so he did, but he didn't get off the horse, and carried straight on with a bit more rollkur. If my horse had had a blue tongue, I would have thought that sufficient reason to STOP. To stop, get off, and let my horse recover, during which period I would be checking his tongue, and not carrying on until I was certain he was ok.

I don't like rollkur: it is not a natural process. You might see a horse piaffe, or do extended paces in the field, but you will not see it canter round and round with its chin tucked into its chest: it can't see, for one thing. I am constantly amazed at what horses let humanity do to them. If you can't achieve the higher echelons of dressage without rollkur you shouldn't, in my opinion, be attempting them at all.

Read more about it here and here. Thank goodness the British Horse Society have come down off the fence, unlike Horse and Hound.


Megan T said…
Thanks for the post! I wasn't aware of this practice, but as a horse-lover I'm glad you've brought it to my attention.
haffyfan said…
I won't really comment for fear of causing too much offence however this clearly backs up my personal opinions on the evils of stressage and it being anything but natural!
Jane Badger said…
Thanks Megan. Haffy, I'm pretty sure I share your feelings. I saw one comment defending rollkur talking about how well cared for the horses were. Well yes.... I'd love to know if any of them actually ever hack out, let alone jump or hunt.
Stacy Gregg said…
Hi Jane
I've tried to be open minded about Rollkur but I fail to see how jamming a horse up at the front will lead to self-carriage - putting aside the misery that it inflicts. It's a tricky subject because so many very established riders with enormous status in the dressage world continue to support Rollkur. Clearly videos like this one make it obvious that it's not getting the best performance out of the horse.Nor does it have their best interest at heart.
Jackie said…
I've worked for top level (including World Cup) riders, and with some of the World's greatest trainers - not a one of whom would have condoned this crap. Scuse my language.
Just the same as so many other sports, trying to get to the top without putting in the hard yards.
I blame the international judges who can see quite well what's been schooled the slow, correct way, and what's been nailed into an outline, and yet do not score accordingly.
We could start with a zero for a certain horse who can't halt or stand still to save his skin, couldn't we ;)
Jane Badger said…
Hi Stacy - I quite agree. The whole process is completely counter-intuitive, and I'd love to know what happens to the horse's stress hormone levels when it's undergoint this procedure. For a flight animal to be unable to see must be extremely stressful.

Jackie - exactly. Unlike other equestrian sports, dressage seems to be immune from elimination. If a horse shows major resistance: eg rears (as a certain well known horse did in the Olympics) that in my view is completely contrary to what dressage is about and should mean elimination. And as for the whole not being able to halt issue... you wouldn't see Ellen Whitaker allowed to take a fence again because she's so talented, or Oliver Townend allowed to get back on his horse again just because it's him.
Jackie said…
It's called 'backstory' and I once argued black's blue with an international rider, and a trainer/judge of world renown, that in theory, an unknown horse and rider could perform an outstanding test, and beat all comers in an FEI big tour test.
I was told repeatedly that it simply isn't possible, because the judges can't judge without 'backstory' - so to use your analogy it's like the course judges at Badminton saying, oh look, Clayton Fredericks is over time, but hell, that's not like him, so obviously we'll ignore that.
As for showjumping, I grant you the idea of this point of view affecting the judging is absurd. But I think it might have a place with the selectors!
Jane Badger said…
Jackie I absolutely agree with you over the selectors and showjumping. I was infuriated by the whinging when Britain was relegated to the second league. All that moaning over procedure when we SIMPLY WEREN'T GOOD ENOUGH. Pah. The facts the make up of the British team hasn't changed but that we're not getting don't seem to have been connected by the selectors.
Jane Badger said…
sorry - should have said "not getting anywhere"!

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