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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Blue Tongue Dressage: Hyperflexion Still a Welfare Issue

by Fran Jurga | 23 October 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

This video clip was shot at an FEI World Cup Dressage qualifier in Europe last week. Luise and Julie from Epona TV were surprised that a rider at this level schooled this stallion for as long as two hours in a hyperflexion frame.

They grabbed the camera when they noticed that the horse's swollen tongue had turned blue. The horse's lips were curled and apparently even the rider could see it, as he stopped and put the horse's tongue back into its mouth.

Apparently the schooling ring steward did not see anything wrong with this rider's method.

Click here to read the full story about this videotape and about the effects of the curb rein and bit of a double bridle on the horse's tongue.

FEI rules discourage what is called hyperflexion, rollkur or "bite the chest"--riding with the horse in an overbent neck and head position for a prolonged period of time. The practice is the subject of last year's best-selling horse book, Tug of War: Classical vs Modern Dressage by German veterinarian Gerd Heuschmann.

Since last spring, Heuschmann's DVD If Horse's Could Speak has been on sale and goes even further than the book to tie overschooling, disconnected riding and especially overflexion/rollkur to unsoundness and musculoskeletal injuries in dressage horses. But it is very, very hard to prove the dots are connected.

Here's a clip from the If Horses Could Speak DVD (this is a German trailer, even though the actual DVD has an English soundtrack, not subtitles):

The DVD is 75 minutes long and is sold in North American format (NTSC) format. The cost is $60 per DVD plus postage. Click here to read more and order from our secure web page. You can order the book as well.

I thought that by the time the DVD was translated and available here in the USA the subject of rollkur would be forgotten but I guess that is not the case.

In a special interview with Olympics champion Anky Van Grunsven on Epona TV, Anky defends her use of hyperflexion as a training method, saying that she uses it for a few minutes at a time, then lets the horse relax, but that she only uses it on her advanced horses, and horses that are strong enough to do it, and for whom it is easy to go to that frame. She said she varies the time that she stays in the overbent frame from horse to horse, depending on how strong the horse is and how it reacts to being in that frame.

In a riding demonstration, Anky pointed out that her horse was pricking his ears while in the overbent frame.

Julie and Luise's Epona TV is a subscription-based library of equitation-science videos with interviews and demos by Gerd Heuschmann, Hilary Clayton, and many behavior and welfare experts. They are making a tremendous effort to provide a service that is a level above what you will find almost anywhere else on the Internet.

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Stephanie Abbott said...

Yikes, Fran! I read the rest of the story and just wanted to point something out. (Having shown Saddlehorses and Morgans for a long time,) the offical statement of the stewards said something like, "If the tension is high - which is to say that there is a marked change in the angle between the shank of the bit and the bars of the horse's mouth ...
If that's what they are looking for, it's mistaken. It's not the angle of the shank of the bit, it's the tension of the curb chain in the combination.
I noticed the guy couldn't even bother to release the tension as he pushed the tongue back into the mouth. Does he think he'll be run off with? ( I thought he was getting behind other horses,(away from the camera,) and the story held that same idea.)
I'm not one of those NO METAL folks, but give the poor horse a break once in a while.
I also remember the days that ANY overflexion, the face more than vertical, was the thing that would get you knocked out of competition.
It was considered to be bad horsemanship and not tolerated.
A horse well trained in a full bridle can be a beautiful thing, the amount of communication it allows is amazing, but it's both from and to the rider. I wouldn't place this clip in that catagory.
I hope something comes from this.

Aine said...

This is animal abuse. Is this rider going to be prosecuted and if convicted, barred from working in the equine industry for a period of time or will this just fall by the wayside? I train with dressage principles and I am ashamed that this should happen. Anybody out there want to discuss educating riders and training show officials to deal with these issues?


A Bay Horse said...

Whatever Anky says. Two hours like that is clearly not good. You don't have to be a horse person to understand that body parts should not be pinched for two hours until they turn blue. That just isn't healthy.

The FEI really needs to take a serious position on this. Something concrete that can be enforced by show officials. Right now their language has been too vague and leaves too much up to interpretation.