Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dressage: The Debate Over Biomechanics Goes Live in the USA This Week

In the last year, a new word has crept into the dictionary of dressage around the world. "Rollkur" refers to the hyperflexion of the horse's neck as a training procedure and it has rattled dressage cages around the world.

The man with a stick who rat-a-tats the bars of those cages is German dressage-specialist veterinarian Gerd Heuschmann. And to him, rollkur is just the tip of a huge iceberg. His book Tug of War: Modern vs. Classical Dressage has been a lightning rod for dressage purists, and has enjoyed a perch atop the bestselling horse books list for most of the past year.

This month, Heuschmann is speaking in the United States and his lectures are sure to re-open the debate. I will hope to catch his biomechanics lecture next weekend at the International Dressage Symposium at Maplewood Warmbloods in Middletown, New York.

Another clinic with Dr.Heuschmann is planned for February 12-14, 2009 by the Utah Dressage Society.

If you have a chance to hear him speak, in any language, make the effort but be sure to keep an open mind. It is his mantra that modern "sport" dressage as practiced by some trainers and riders is cruel and he provides compelling, dramatic, and emotional evidence that sport-type dressage is causing damage to horses' musculoskeletal systems. He, and many other proponents of the classical ways of training, believe that dressage training is a long process that can't be rushed. He is not condemning dressage itself, only the practices of certain trainers and the rewards of the current judging system.

Heuschmann's upcoming 60-minute DVD, "Stimmen der Pferd" ("If Horses Could Speak") on the biomechanical exploitation of horses in sport dressage is said by its producer to be the most expensive production ever attempted on the subject of horses.

As riveting as Dr Heuschmann's arguments may be, and as lavish as his filmmaker's portrayal of the horse, the debate over rollkur lost some of its teeth following the technical and scientific forum by the FEI on the subject, which included Hoofcare and Lameness consulting editors Drs. Jean-Marie Denoix of France and Hilary Clayton of the USA, among others. The researchers and the FEI stopped short of condemning the practice, partly because of a lack of biomechanical evidence. Instead, that forum issued stern warnings about possible misuse of the practice and stressed that it should only be used as a training method by experienced riders and trainers.

The sport of dressage suffered another blow last week when a German television news broadcast showed a hidden camera's' video of a well-known rider/trainer repeatedly whipping a horse while lunging on a small circle.

With this post, Hoofcare and Lameness and The Hoof Blog begin sharing with you some exciting original video about equine sport, and especially sport science and biomechanics, produced by our friends Louise and Julia through their company, Epona TV.

Epona TV is a subscription-based video library that includes content from Dr. Hilary Clayton and Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, among others. All video is individually produced by Epona TV. A subscription is reasonably priced at the Euros equivalent of about $14US. Click here to go to Epona TV's home screen, where you can learn more about their service.

Epona TV offers the full length interview feature "Dressage Astray" with Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, and the first in a series with Dr. Clayton, among many other offerings. Epona TV does not contain advertising, and the subscription fee is very reasonable for what you will see and learn. Julie and Louise are long-time readers of The Hoof Blog!

Please do not confuse Epona TV's interview with Dr. Heuschmann with his actual DVD, which has not been released yet.

Dr. Heuschmann's book, Tug of War: Modern vs Classical Dressage is available from Hoofcare and Lameness. The cost is $25 per book, plus $6 postage in the USA, $15 postage elsewhere. Click here to read the review of the book and more about rollkur as published on this blog in October 2007. Click here for our printable/faxable order form or call 978 281 3222 to order; email orders to

Sample image from the upcoming Gerd Heuschmann DVD; this is a 3D model of the horse used to explain the effects of tension and improper movement in dressage.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing, also representing Epona TV and Wu Wei Verlag. Images and clip used with permission.

Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online or received via a daily email through an automated delivery service.

This post was originally published on Sunday, October 12, 2008 at

1 comment:

Grey Horse Matters said...

I'd love to go and hear him speak about rollkur. I feel it is one of the cruelest forms of "training" you can put a horse through. I did a review of his book on my blog a while back and it seems people are interested in the subject. Thanks for bringing it to the forefront again.