Sunday, October 07, 2007

Rollkur: Book Slams Overflexion

You may have heard about the debate going on in the sport horse world about the use of overflexion, hyperflexion or "rollkur" methods of training and warming up horses. Last year, the dressage world erupted when the Germans accused Dutch champion dressage rider Anky Van Gruvsnen of cruelty to her horses by training this way. (That's not Anky in the photo, by the way.)

What was first dismissed as the same old "Germans vs Dutch" arguments at the top of the dressage competitor legions segued into an argument of classical vs "modern" dressage. An FEI special forum on the subject, aided by presentations by Hoofcare and Lameness consulting editors Jean-Marie Denoix of France and Hilary Clayton of the USA was inconclusive.

The photo at the top of this page is posted on the web site of our friend Andreas Hausberger, a bereiter with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna who frequently gives clinics in the USA. The black squares over the rider's face are my addition.

This debate just won't quit; recently the Dutch trainer Coby Van Balen was secretly photographed overseeing a lunging session in which the overflexion or "bite the chest" frame seems to be imposed on the horse. The spy photos have been posted freely across the Internet and the reputation of one of the world's top trainers is being smeared.

I won't even begin to compare the European furor with everyday practices of show horses in the USA. You all know the scene over here, but the Europeans and the horse welfare scene in Europe exist in a separate reality and you can't just dismiss this.

Dutch national team farrier Rob Renirie will present a special half-day workshop on sport horses at the Laminitis Conference in Palm Beach next month; it will be intersting to hear his take on rollkur; he is the personal farrier to Anky Van Grusvnen and sees it all.

Adding more fuel to the flames is the publication of a book that will be sold through Hoofcare and Lameness Bookshop...though I wish I had a book from the other side, as well. "Tug Of War: Classical Versus Modern Dressage" is thoughtfully written and beautifully illustrated by German veterinarian Gerd Heuschmann. It's one of the best treatises I have seen on functional anatomy of the dressage horse and I hope it outlives the rollkur debate!

Here's the publisher's description:
In a detailed yet comprehensible fashion, Dr. Heuschmann describes parts of the horse’s body that need to be correctly developed by the dressage rider. He then examines how they function both individually and within an anatomical system, and how various schooling techniques affect these parts for the good, or for the bad. Using vivid color illustrations of the horse’s skeletal system, ligaments, and musculature, in addition to comparative photos depicting “correct” versus “incorrect” movement—and most importantly, photos of damaging schooling methods—Dr. Heuschmann convincingly argues that the horse’’s body tells us whether our riding is truly gymnasticizing and “building the horse up, ” or simply wearing it down and tearing it apart.

DR. GERD HEUSCHMANN trained as a Bereiter (master rider) in Germany before qualifying for veterinary study at Munich University. There he specialized in equine orthopedics for two years before accepting a post as the head of the breeding department at the German FN, which he eventually left to start his own practice in Warendorf. He has been an active member of the “hyperflexion” (previously referred to as Rollkur) debate, weighing in at the 2005 USDF National Symposium and the 2006 FEI Veterinary and Dressage Committees’ Workshop.

144 pp • 6 ½ x 9 • 76 color and 5 b/w photos, 20 color illustrations • $25 plus $5 postage in USA; $12 postage outside USA.

Click here for our printable/faxable order form or call 978 281 3222 to order; email orders to