Tuesday, August 11, 2009

High time for a change

For a long time I've been disgusted by what is called "Dressage". Mainly that which falls under the general heading of competitive or sport dressage.

It was bad enough to see the wooden looking horses performing lifeless if accurate movements under the heavy hands (and often spurs) of grim looking riders. To my mind, if dressage is the art of educating a horse to be a light and responsive mount, so these riders weren't practicing dressage! And then someone thought that wasn't enough and perfected the already common system of tying the horse's heads and necks down, by any means necessary, by adding systematic hyperflexion of the neck to the training schedule.

Someone coined the term rollkur. The word is cobbled together from "rolling" as the neck looks rolled in. Rosskur is the german word for a medicine or healing practice for horses. In colloquial language, it means any rough and painful "fix" for a body, coming from the understanding that in olden days, some pretty rough treatment was doled out to "fix" horses. So you can see that rollkur is a pretty meaningful description when it comes to hyperflexion.

I've seen photos and video of horses trained using rollkur. Nothing, NOTHING that's said by the people who practice and propagate this crap can convince me that it does anything good or useful for the horse's health or it's education. All it is is a pathetic attempt to shortcut training and to control horses which are already so frustrated by the way they are ridden, that they are mentally fraying at the edges and are sometimes barely controllable.

Whatever happened to correct education of a horse's mind and correct preparation of it's body to carry out the task? Is this a sign of the times, that we need instant fixes, instant gratification and if there is a by-product in the form of an unsound or mentally ruined horse, well we do live in a throw-away society. So we just buy another promising young superstar and go and do it all over again in a quest for competition glory, money, prestige, ego....?

And just as I thought I need to become a hermit and move to an island, it looks like there is a movement to put an end to this idiocy. Little by little I see articles in magazines which decry the practices used in even the most famous dressage stables. Vets are speaking up, prominent horsemen are speaking up.

Dr.Gerd Heuschmann published a book called book "Finger in Der Wunde" in Germany in 2006 and the English version "Tug of War - Classical versus "Modern Dressage" in 2007. He also made a film which is still available to order in English or German from WuWei Verlag. But have a read on his website or go to Stimmen Der Pferde to see a trailer of the film.

I also take my hat off to Philippe Karl, who appears to have made it his personal mission to better the lot of horses in competitive dressage. If you don't know who PK is, google him, it's worth your while. His latest effort was a letter to the German Equestrian Federation. This letter was ignored until it was published in a magazine and over 10,000 people added their signatures by way of signing up on PK's website. Finally the Germans replied, in a fashion. PK has recently published his answer to that. Please take the time to go to PK's website where you can find the full text of all three letters. It makes for interesting reading.

I hope that Mr.Karl and Dr.Heuschmann have successfully jumpstarted a revolution of the competitive dressage scene which is long overdue. For the good of the horses, let's support them in their endeavour.

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