Much has been written since 2001 on the Rollkur/Hyperflexion debate.
Recently, the tendency to ride horses in an over-flexed position of the head and neck has come into the limelight internationally thanks to YouTube. Video clips such as the Blue Tongue video have brought abusive horse training practices to the public’s attention and consciousness in an unparalleled manner.
On February. 9, 41,000 signatures were gathered and presented in Lausanne at the fifth FEI Round Table on Rollkur. Petitioners demanded that the FEI follow the rules of training and competition set forth in the FEI’s own Rules for Dressage Events (The Rule Book), and ban Rollkur/Hyperflexion from competition.
Unfortunately, while Rollkur and Hyperflexion were defined by the group as aggressive forms of riding that use force and thus were rejected as unacceptable training practices, the identical abnormal posture — very deeply rolled neck and head –- was deemed acceptable under the name LDR or Low, Deep and Round. The LDR posture was described as a “harmonious flexion obtained without force.”
I’ve seen many unhappy dressage horses being ridden in such an over-flexed carriage. In this position, a horse cannot see. Additionally, some veterinarians and scientists have argued that these horses’ airways are compromised (the FEI recognizes this), and that it is an extremely stressful position for a flight animal. In addition, there are unresolved questions about whether these postures contribute to neurological damage, career-ending injuries, and early arthritic changes.
In my opinion, these horses experience much pain in their bodies – in their necks, backs, haunches all the way down to their hocks, tendons, and feet. Not to mention pain in the form of mental anguish which leads to increased tension in the body and thus more discomfort.
In truth, Rollkur, Hyperflexion, and LDR are not the only training and management techniques that can contribute to a horse’s pain and discomfort. With the Tellington Method we address training techniques as well as the horse’s environment, resulting in the improved mental, physical and emotional well-being of the horse and therefore a more rewarding partnership between horse and rider. This in turn results in improved performance by the horse.
Why do some dressage riders force their horses into these uncomfortable frames? I believe it is because they simply cannot restrain their horses any other way.
Often, these horses are considered “hot” and reactive because they are confined to a stall or in the cases of lucky horses, at least a small paddock. Many are lacking socialization, and the opportunity to release tension through movement which turnout would provide. They are rarely if at all ridden recreationally, and often their training schedules do not include cross training and the opportunity to work different muscle groups and exercise the horse’s curiosity and interest.
The majority of these horses are ridden with nosebands so tight that they cause pain and at the very least discomfort. When any joint in the body is restricted – the jaw is one such joint – the movement in all joints is compromised. This is an interesting thought when you consider the freedom of movement and suppleness that is expected of a dressage horse. There is such concern about a horse’s open mouth that riders forget that it is desirable for a horse to be softly chewing.
Additionally, in spite of the very best attempts by riders to make sure their saddles fit, the girths are often so tight as to inhibit both breathing and movement.
Another cause of tension and even pain in horses can be as simple as a case of high cross ties in the tacking up area. I was recently in a barn with several upper level dressage horses that are routinely groomed and saddled in a state of high tension. Several paw excessively, throw their heads, and half rear in the cross ties. Some of these horses receive regular chiropractic treatment by veterinarians but many still have sore backs and hindquarters, standing stretched out in the cross ties – in my opinion, attempting to relieve the discomfort in their bodies.
I pointed out that these high cross ties do not allow the horses to stretch their necks and release tension in their long back muscles and the entire topline. By keeping the horses’ heads high, the restrictive crossties keep the back muscles contracted. Likewise, the high head carriage keeps the horses in flight mode, preventing mental and therefore body relaxation. The horses attempt to release this discomfort and tension through constant pawing, head throwing, and stomping or rearing. These “annoying habits” are the horses’ attempts to communicate their discomfort. It’s the only language they have to convey their pain. And when they are not heard, they are tense from the first moment their riders mount. Over time, they can become extremely reactive and spooky or be labeled dangerous and unreliable.
In many cases, if only the cross ties were lowered and the horses were groomed quietly in a comfortable way, with their head level at or below withers level with a little wiggle room, horses could look forward to their time in the cross ties. Then they would be more relaxed from the first steps under saddle.
Another practical, horse-friendly tip: if you have a horse that already has a bad habit of restlessness, offer a hay net or feed bag with dampened hay to quiet it while it is being groomed and saddled. Chewing engages the limbic system (the emotional and “learning center” of the brain) and helps to create relaxation and attentiveness before mounting.
Tellington Tools to Overcome Shortened Necks and Tight Backs
Our Balance Rein, Promise Wrap and Tellington Training Bit give riders new tools beyond the accepted equipment generally used. I have had such pleasure showing some of the riders I admire most for their communication and horsemen/womenship skills how these special pieces of equipment can help achieve the mental, physical and emotional balance they desire in their horses.
Ingrid Klimke discovered a new side to her lovely 5-year-old mare when she rode with a combination of the Balance Rein, Lindel, and Promise Wrap.
At the state of the art dressage stable of Klaus Balkenhol, I gave a one-day seminar on the Tellington Method for members of Xenophon. An esteemed dressage trainer who had traveled from Graz, Austria to Germany for the day stated that he was going to integrate the Balance Rein into his students’ training after seeing it in action. He saw how, with the help of the Balance Rein, the horses raised their backs, allowing for a lengthening of the neck and an increase in the suppleness, flexibility and looseness of the topline and the whole body of the horse, with very little effort from the riders.
Many years ago Belli Balkenhol felt the magic of the Balance Rein for improving her horse’s balance for tempi changes. Just the addition of the Balance Rein allowed her horse to come through the back in ways that had been perviously difficult for it to achieve.
Several years ago during a clinic I was conducting with Reiner Klimke in Los Angeles, many of the horses were spooking at flapping sheets of plastic at the end of the covered arena. With the help of the Promise Wrap, the nervous horses were able to comply with Dr.Klimke’s instruction to enter the arena moving forward on a long rein without panicking. Dr.Klimke was impressed with the results of the Promise Wrap, which helps to connect the whole horse,giving a sense of security and awareness. The Promise Wrap has also proven very useful in horses suffering from neurological problems. It is an integral component of the Tellington approach.
A few of the Tellington TTouches, such as head lowering, Ear TTouches, Lick of the Cows Tongue, and TTouches on the legs to ground a horse, in addition to the Tellington Ground Exercises (Playground for Higher Learning) give a horse a greater sense of its body as well as increased focus and balance before a rider ever mounts. These exercises and TTouches can save thirty minutes of warm-up time working to get the horse’s mind engaged.
My Lindel and Tellington Training Bit encourage horses to experience their bodies differently. The Lindel encourages a different kind of freedom and relationship between rider and horse, whereas the Tellington Training Bit encourages the horse to chew and stretch its topline. This is possibly due to the influence of the roller on the hyoid apparatus under the tongue. Using this bit, horses considered behind the leg or stuck will often step out willingly and use their bodies more fluidly. At a recent clinic, we used it on a very spooky Grand Prix horse with a tendency to tense and spook abruptly, and we saw marked improvement in its relaxation, ability to use the back and a dramatic reduction in shying at frightening objects. While we are not recommending that dressage riders ride in these daily, these tools are great for showing horse and rider a way to better posture, increased suppleness, less dependence on contact and to help break bad patterns to make way for new and better ones.
There is one very important caveat however, and it is that the Tellington Training Bit cannot be used with a closed-fist hand where the rein lies in the palm of the hand, the thumb pushes down on the rein and the whole hand remains closed and rigid. To work, the Tellington Training Bit must be used by riders with good fine motor skills and a rein holding style closer to the French school where the reins are held lightly between thumb and index finger, all the fingers are alive and listening, and an elastic connection is maintained. Because the Tellington Training Bit requires the rider to relinquish some of the tight (pulling) rein control they sometimes have been taught they need, riders new to it should work with someone on the ground who understands how the bit allows horses to un-brace and swing through their backs. This can only happen if the rein has enough slack to offer the horse the space it needs for its neck to telescope forward and out. I find it helpful for riders to develop lighter hands with the Tellington Training Bit by riding in the Vladimir Littauer style of holding the rein over the top of the index finger and stabilizing it lightly with the thumb.
The “classical” objective to develop a horse that is calm, keen, confident, attentive and loose, flexible and supple which embodies the Objective of Dressage in the FEI Rule Book Article 401 can seldom be achieved from the saddle with the level of horsemanship that we see in the 21st Century. These classical concepts took years of patient preparation in the past when riders expected to take many years to develop a horse mentally, physically and emotionally. Because patience and time are no longer the accepted norm or valued in today’s fast paced, instant gratification world, riders use devices and extreme methods including LDR (Low, Deep, Round) which seek to subordinate the horse rather than develop a partnership with it.
The Tellington Method offers a proven, humane, comprehensive approach that allows riders to develop not just the physique of their horse but its mental, physical and emotional balance — along with the trust in its rider the horse needs to be able to enjoy the training process as much as his rider.
The Tellington Method places the health and welfare of the horse first and adheres to the spirit of Article 401 which recognizes that a good horseman/woman is one who cares about his horse’s body, mind and heart, and ensures that in all aspects of its care, management, and training, every effort is made to promote a calm, attentive and confident horse that is happy in its work.
I believe it is important that we preserve the objective and principles of dressage and not allow LDR (Low, Deep and Round) to be accepted officially by the FEI as a “harmonious flexion obtained without force.” To that end, I have chosen to lend my support to this petition, which asks the FEI (Dressage’s official “guardian”) to
(1) uphold its own rules, and (2) protect the existing text and reject any proposal to alter the rules, and Article 401 in particular.
If you recognize the many gifts horses bring to our lives, and are willing to be an ambassador for horses, join me by signing this petition:
Please copy and paste this link http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/justsayyesto401/ to post it wherever you choose to be an ambassador for horses. Join me!