Rollkur, as an issue, has dominated equestrian debate for a number of years now. Contrary to popular belief however, it’s not a “new” technique. It’s use first caused debate in the late 80’s when a photographer took secret pictures of Nicole Uphoff (Germany) working her horse (Rembrandt) very deep and overbent. When the pictures were published, there was a massive public outcry about this but both herself and her trainer (Harry Boldt) denied this was any form of training technique. They argued that the pictures represented a moment in time where the horse had reacted and spooked during work and Nicole had ridden him very deep to regain control. Indeed, the “moment in time” defense has been used numerous times over the years when a rider has come under debate due to this technique.

Rollkur is a rather contentious issue drawing very outspoken advocates on either side of the debate. This frequently leaves some people in the dark, not actually knowing quite what rollkur is but fearing to ask due to the outcry that tends to errupt.

Rollkur is a schooling technique – modern in terms of the grand scheme of things (at least when you consider that the methods of Xenophon are still strictly adhered to by many). As a training method, it is characterised by riding with an extreme hyperflexion of the neck (that is to say, it’s very overbent and frequently with the chin almost touching the chest). Other common terms are LDR (long, deep, round) or indeed, hyperflexion itself. It’s a common site in dressage warm up arenas around the world and this in itself is one of the problems with rollkur.

Rollkur frequently also features strong lateral flexion as seen here.

It is worth noting that fans of LDR will argue there is a difference between it’s methods and rollkur (rollkur tending to be a derrogatory term these days). Their argument being that while they ride their horses in a state of hyperflexion, they also let them out to stretch for periods in between where as people riding in rollkur will not. Perhaps the strongest speaker over these differences is Sjef Janssen, trainer and partner to Anky Van Grunsven, both of whom started speaking openly about the use of these methods relatively recently.

Rollkur forces the horse into a frame that it would never hold itself. As such, it tends to be created either by the use of a strong hand (generally done in a double bridle to allow for hefty use of the curb rein), or via draw reins and other supplementary reins. It can be produced either under saddle or on the lunge (in this case obviously, addition “training reins” have to be employed to create the desired flexion).

Power and Paint - European Pony Championships 2007

I strongly disagree with the use of rollkur, for reasons that will be explained over a number of articles on this blog. I will, however, attempt to present both sides of the argument; looking at the commonly listed reasons for using rollkur.