The Rollkur Debate Still Hot in Great Britain

Tue, 03/20/2007 - 00:00
Eurodressage F.O.C.U.S.

The Rollkur debate hasn’t gone away. The controversial training method came to prominence in 2005 when the German equestrian magazine St Georg published an article about abusive training methods, such as over-bending

, just before the 2005 European Dressage Championships in Hagen, Germany.

In the latest instalment of the Rollkur saga, an interview with Anky van Grunsven in the January/February edition of British Horse, the official magazine of The British Horse Society [BHS] provoked a furious reaction from members. A selection of the responses published in the March/April edition of the publication branded the Rollkur training method, officially described as “hyperflexion of the neck” by the FEI and advocated by van Grunsven as “barbaric” and the interview with her as “sycophantic”.

Sylvia Loch, national instructor for the Portuguese Equestrian Federation stated that she was “horrified by the superficial portrayal of Anky van Grunsven’s training methods” regarding “a method of training which, in many of my colleagues’ opinion has caused untold suffering to hundreds of horses”.

BHS Gold member Eileen Keeling asked “Does the BHS approve of Rollkur?” and indicated that if they did she would be cancelling her membership. An e-mail from an “absolutely appalled” Esther Patrick demanded “a retraction in the next issue of British Horse, assuring members and readers that the BHS condemns the use of Rollkur.” Patrick, a former BHS local committee secretary stated the interview with Anky van Grunsven in British Horse “has made me question my loyalty to the society and wonder if it has been misplaced”.

Clearly stung by the reaction to the article Dave Prince the editor had to include an official response from the BHS Chairman Patrick Print FBHS, the BHS Chief Executive Graham Cory along with the views of a panel of experts in the latest edition of British Horse. In his “Editor’s Letter” column Prince reiterated that the views of contributors to the magazine are not necessarily those of the BHS. Chief Executive Graham Cory advocated debate rather than censorship as the best approach for the society in dealing with controversial issues.

Regarding Venessa Depre’s interview with Anky van Grunsven Cory wrote “Seldom has an article created such a stir – with a very strong reaction against Anky’s advocacy of Rollkur. Even though we state at the front of the magazine that not every view expressed in the magazine is shared by the Society, some drew the conclusion that, by reporting a view the Society shared it. Well, the article in this magazine shows that some of our most experienced coaches – all Fellows of the BHS- have the strongest reservations.” BHS Chairman Patrick Print stated bluntly “As a trainer, Rollkur is not a method I would use because of the wide range of talents and abilities of the horse and riders I work with. In many cases for me it would be akin to a razor in a monkey’s hand.”

Patrick Print recalled that he attended the first day of the British Dressage convention last year to watch Anky at work. Asked publicly at the convention if BHS candidates used controversial methods in an exam would they pass? He had replied “If the end result is of quality and of no detriment to the horse and rider they would pass.”

Putting the debate in a historical context Print said it was going on 150 years ago and that it was well documented that the Frenchman Francois Baucher used extreme hyperflexion of the neck in the nineteenth century (Baucher, The Man and his Methods by Hilda Nelson).

Nuno Olivera is one of Patrick Print’s great equestrian heroes and was a profound supporter of Baucher. Elaborating Print pointed out that the Frenchman did later in life refrain from using extreme hyperflexion of the neck and he had his critics, none more so than Count Antoine Cartier D’Aure who considered his methods of extreme collection and exaggerated position of the head and neck to be unnatural.

Patrick Print asked a panel of experts, all Fellows of the BHS and highly experienced dressage trainers, riders and judges to express their views on the subject. International judge Jennie Lorriston-Clarke stated “The Rollkur in the pictures that we see is detrimental to the horse”. She pointed out that “there are times when some hot horses run into the hands and become overbent, but with repeated half halts, these horses will learn to relax and go in a longer outline, as was expressed by Anky when teaching the riders.” Lorriston-Clarke concluded that “harmony, suppleness, control and relaxation surely are the main criteria of all riding.”

International rider Ferdi Eilberg said it was most important that the end result should confirm the Scales of Training – rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection. He highlighted the fact that “people should appreciate that on the one side gymnastic exercise and the ability to alter the horses frame is necessary to keep the body and in particular the back supple, but this must always be seen in relation to the engagement of the hindlegs. It would be of no training value whatsoever to force the horse into an outline which does not allow it to say in front of the rider’s aids.”

Another international rider Judy Harvey pointed out that “the top riders tend to ride horses that are bred in a ‘formula one format’ i.e. so highly motivated that it can be necessary to train in a deep round position to achieve relaxation, mental and physical.” However does not mean the neck has to be short. The Rollkur training method is not for the amateur or uneducated horseman according to Harvey.

The BHS decided to leave the last word to Nuno Olivera himself when he once stated that: “the correct position of the head and neck is the one that enables the horse to use his back most effectively”.

Text by Paul Nolan of

Eurodressage quickly ran this story by Sjef Janssen who commented the following: "We really don't feel like going into this debate again and definitely not with persons or clubs we've never heard of. To us, the discussion about LDR is closed. What other people want to do with it they have to decide for themselves."

Related Links
Sjef Janssen, Dr. Rene van Weeren and Anky van Grunsven on Hyperflexion 
FEI Dressage Committee Statement on the Rollkur Workshop 
FEI Workshop on Rollkur in Lausanne Leads to Redefinition 
German Judges' Association Responds to FEI Rollkur Workshop