So why use it? Clearly, there must be advantages to such methods? With proponents such as Anky Van Grunsven and Isabella Werth, people who’s list of achievements in the dressage world are vast, there have to be significant advantages to training this way. Afterall, their results speak for themselves, how bad can these methods be?

The number one cited reason for using rollkur is to help lift the abdominal muscles and encourage the horse to work correctly over it’s back. In addition to this, the argument goes one step further. Advocates claim that warmbloods these days are huge and many of the dressage riders are female; legs need to wrap around the barrel of these horses and weight and strength becomes an issue. It is argued, therefore, that the use of rollkur can help female riders activate the backs of their enormous mounts and of course, an underlying aim of dressage is to encourage the horse to round over it’s back correctly (a rounded back being the safest way for a horse to carry a rider without causing physical injury to itself. So for the longterm physiology of the animal, a rounded back is a necessity)

Secondly, the continued and longterm use of rollkur shortens the muscles that connects the base of the skull to the horse’s forearm (the braciocephalic muscle.) Ultimately, this will create a quite extravagent front leg action where the leg is lifted rather high (a trait that appears popular in the competitive world). In itself, this has a drawback however. While the prolongued use of rollkur effects the front legs in this way, it has no effect on the hind legs. The result? A rather disunited looking horse, particularly in the trot gait. If you were to cut the picture in half, the front end doesn’t appear to match the hind end. This disunited looking trot is commonly seen in international dressage arenas and is a tell tale giveaway of the training methods that occur behind the scenes.

In addition to the above points is the argument that it gives additional control to rider’s of excessively spooky animals, or those likely to bolt. Some claim the hyperflexion releases endorphine which have a calming effect. Indeed, the defense of Nicole Uphoff and trainer Henry Boldt over pictures of her training very deeply were that Rembrandt had just spooked and necessited such extreme riding.

Another advantage of rollkur comes from the demands placed on both the horses and riders in the modern dressage world. Expensive horses are saught out by trainers for their more novice clients. Often the fate of these horses is to remain on schooling livery with the trainers to ensure that their standard of work doesn’t deteriorate due to incorrect riding, insufficient work and so on. Many of these owners do, however, expect their horses to compete for them and produce results. An often seen situation is that the owners have neither the time nor the inclination to put in the work to learn how to ride these horses and the trainers are under pressure to produce results and keep these combinations winning. The solution? Create a more rideable animal or one that can, for at least a short term, hold an artificial frame with less influence from the rider. Working horses heavily in a rollkur position builds up muscles across the neck that support this frame. Many riders who support and employ these techniques will claim with jubilation that their horses are light in their hands and therefore must be displaying a degree of self carriage! This is very much not the case and having ridden rollkured horses myself, they are correct in a way. A horse trained heavily in a hyperflexed position will have neck muscles unable to stretch as they should. The result? You can put a novice rider on board and have a horse that maintains this neck curl position through the duration of the test.

In so many novice circles, it is the neck curl that is considered attractive. Untrained eyes don’t care to look over an unconnected back, an outline broken at the third vertebrae or a lazy hindleg; the neck curl is “pretty”. This enables trainers to keep their students content as they are able to go out and win in competitions with relatively little effort required.

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