The internet is buzzing with a debate around the ‘Blue Tongue Video‘ published by the Danish website Epona.tv. Here one can witness how a top level dressage rider rides his horse in hyperflexion (Rollkur) with a hard hand until the horse’s tongue hangs out of his mouth, limp and blue, a sure sign of lack of blood supply to the tongue. Outrage, outcry and much discussion later, some action is being taken, BHS is speaking up, FEI is reacting in statements, riders pro and con Rollkur are voicing their opinions on every forum left and right. Amateur riders, pony club members, horse lovers, professional athletes, veterinarians and anyone who cares follows the developments. Lots of publicity is generated, some ride the wave for their own reasons, others passionately fight for what they think is right.
Then there are those who speak up, sounding something like: “Dressage horses lead a pampered existence, should we not focus on more pressing issues in horse welfare?”
Whoa…PAUSE…..and let’s start thinking a bit, instead of just letting the heat of the argument take over our grey cells.
I think the answer must clearly and loudly be: NO. World Cup level horses are in the public eye. Their riders set the standards. Young riders look to them for guidance and inspiration. A ‘training method’ that is essentially a short-cut to success and harms horses that give their all physically or at least (for those who want to continue doubting physical damage) degrades the horse in a body posture where he is stressed, totally dominated and cannot see, should be unacceptable at the highest level of competition. Those who have the power to set standards, should take the reins and do so.
This discussion is not about abandoned backyard horses, starved or mistreated equines and other atrocities. It’s about setting standards and bringing highest level equine competition back to traditional principles of respecting these generous animals enough to show them compassion and consideration.
Horses – ‘Celebrity horses’ and 4-H horses alike – are NOT SPORTS EQUIPMENT, but rather living, breathing creatures that totally depend on our mercy. Let’s make sure that celebrity riders show our young riders the right way to do it: with patience, compassion and consideration for the horse, according to time proven classical principles. Let’s raise awareness around this issue to create some buzz and get people to think about why there were 18 year old horses in Olympic competitions only 70 years or so ago, while the average age of a German sport horse euthanized due to unsoundness, is 9. (Karin Kattwinkel, author of several books on equine wellness, website link here, German only).
Setting the right standards and providing the right information will ensure that less amateur or backyard horses will stand abandoned and neglected after failed attempts to ‘Rollkur’ them into shape. Speaking up for ‘celebrity horses’ will help many horses in the end.
For more inspiration and information, I encourage you to visit Dr. Gerd Heuschmann’s website.