Stand Up to Roll Down

Tue, 10/23/2012 - 12:07
Eurodressage F.O.C.U.S.

With non-equestrian organizations such as PETA now getting involved in the battle against rollkur, Eurodressage's Sarah Warne got in touch with Fair to Horses, a growing network of people whose goal is to make the world a more horse friendly place by giving voice to those who can't speak for themselves.

“Our organization is taking a stand for equitable riding and training conditions as well as the adequate housing of horses. We certainly do accept equitation as such but want to see the horses be treated fair and as partners. As athletes really. We welcome everybody interested, regardless of his or her riding style," says spokesperson Claudia Sanders.

Founded in 2009 with their first petition against drug use in equitation, the group have gone on to tackle many highly controversial and widely publicized issues, and have gathered much support from the equestrian community along the way.

"The network itself is a mix of both amateurs and equestrians with a more professional background. Therefore, our daily routine in the network is to have topics such as housing, feeding etc, picked up and discussed in our forums. Furthermore, we organize non-profit seminars for participants with and without horses dealing with different aspects of equitation. We discuss and we learn from one another."

And knowledge in itself can go a long way to better caring for our friends.

"It’s common that not every case of inadequate handling of horses happens in ill faith. Very often it is plainly just lack of knowledge and experience. This is where we would like to step in, to educate horse lovers so they can avoid unintentionally placing stress on their horse.”

Currently in a battle against the use of the highly publicized rollkur in dressage training, Fair to Horses is determined to made a difference in the lives of the animals we love!

“The use of Roll Kur/LDR/Hyperflection needs to be prevented in top competition. What is commonly accepted in championships might too easily be adopted by amateurs before they can critically evaluate it. Do we as an organisation have the power to ban rollkur: certainly not," said Sanders. "But the many thousands of signatures in the petition will hopefully convince those who have. That’s basically the FEI but also heavy-weight sponsors who don’t want their brand to be tainted by cruelty to animals."

To achieve this goal without singling out a particular rider, the organization has begun a silent campaign, that will hopefully be loud enough to get the right people's attention.

"We do not want to bash any one rider. We know “Rollkur / LDR / Hyperflexion” etc. are heavily in use these days and we just want to have them banned across the board. To publicise our position, we have prompted the “Stand up!” campaign to go alongside our petition. This is a rather silent but clear message: Stand up, maybe turn your back and show your shirt saying “No Rollkur” in any such case of abusive riding. Other than that, out of respect for the horses and riding equitation in general, we disapprove of any “louder” protest."

With signatures already on the petition, Sanders says she hopes the number will grow quickly, and she knows that this support can really help to make a difference!

“We no longer need to really seek people out to get them to join our campaign. Using the Facebook groups for the first time during the “No Blood Rule” campaign unleashed incredible group dynamics. People no longer believe their single voice can’t make a difference. It can make difference and it can make a change - especially in this case. Horses have no voice, so we can’t let them suffer in silence. Our first campaign against Rollkur in 2010 gained 27,000 signatures and as a result, LDR had been limited to 10 minutes during warm up. Back then this was something of a success, but we realise today a rather bad deal. In 2011, we fought against the proposed “Blood Rule”, again with roundabout 20,000 signatures. We wouldn’t want to claim it our credit that the FEI has finally disapproved of any such rule in May 2012, but we would like to think we supported the ones with the power to take the right action.”

However although the use of rollkur has been restricted, the organization, and the many who have signed on feel that even ten minutes, is ten minutes too much.

“It all gets too complicated when the lines get blurred! The FEI’s code of rules already says that the horse’s welfare is paramount. Having said that to enforce just this is difficult. To give you an example: the proposed “Blood Rule” suggested to allow a horse displaying blood to resume a dressage test - after a vet had briefly stated an only minor wound. We know from the feedback of officials we had been in touch with that this might have exposed judges and vets to extreme pressure. Can you really diagnose a minor wound and no pain in a few minutes?  And can you disqualify a rider on this rapidly made decision? Like during the Olympics? Now over to “Rollkur”: If any such training method leads to sporting success, other riders who would actually condemn it, might feel urged to do the same. And what about the stewards? Today, 10 minutes of LDR during warm up is accepted. So do they prepare to caution a rider in minute 11? Or has it only been 9 minutes? The answer is simple: Blood on a horse means disqualification. And Rollkur / LDR/ Hyperflexion should lead to the same result. Clear and comprehensible decisions for stewards, vets and judges. Same conditions for all riders. No compromise to fair treatment of our horses."

Currently aiming to gather as many signatures as possible, Fair to Horses is also continually searching for other ways to help protect and improve the lives of our horses.

"In addition to the aforementioned, we try to achieve our other goals through petitions such as the current one. We leave the boundaries of our home network and gain further interest in Facebook groups. Any petition we run is only working if there is worldwide attention. And the Facebook groups are great tools to motivate people - even outside “Fair to Horses” - to design and send emails and letters to riders, officials, sponsors, businesses etc. and basically just everybody interested in equitation in order to get as many signatures and as much support as possible. It really becomes viral, so to speak. We are pro horse welfare and anti abusive treatment. Thus, it is the unnecessary exposure of horses to pain and suffering we want to stop. Especially when dressage is commonly understood to portray an image of elegance, beauty and unity between horse and rider to an audience of sometimes millions. We want the riders to live up to their responsibilities, and present us with good examples. This is why we (successfully) fought the “Blood Rule” and this is why we now want to have Rollkur / LDR /Hyperflexion etc. banned. Sporting success at the expense of a creature with basically no choice is simply unacceptable."

And the goal for the long term? "To make life a little bit easier and a lot happier for the creatures we love so much, and in fact owe so much. For centuries horses gave their lives for us in war and in labour. It’s time to pay that back, if only with love and respect."

by Sarah Warne

Related Links
German Branch PETA Files Charges Against Totilas' Owners
Sign Petition Against the Proposed Blood Rule!
Blood Rule Withdrawn, Nomination Dressage Committee Rider Rep Postponed