Monday, November 30, 2009

Rolkur, it's not just for dressage anymore!

Today, I am going to address Rolkur. I had never heard of it until a few years ago, and I am not sure what the moron who developed the idea was thinking or if they even were. I do know that trainers and breeders alike want to make their mark on the equine world, but this is the wrong way to go about it. I also know that the practice of Rolkur has trickled over into other disciplines like western pleasure, hunter etc, and that is where I want to take this topic.

Lets start with the practice of Rolkur in Dressage horses.
When I look at the above picture, the one thing that stands out immediately to me, is the fact that the horses hind end is in a totally different county that the front end. The horse exhibits absolutely no freedom of movement in the front end thus there is no extension because all of the horses weight it is on the front end. It also looks to me like the horse has no where when they are looking for the release. These are the obvious things that affect the not so obvious things like mechanics of movement and the horses attitude. What you see above, is not Dressage, but rather it is an abomination!

I always want my horses to have some where to go when they work, in other words, there has to be a release, be it in a dressage horse or a cow horse. I never want to hang on a horse in any way shape or form. To me, that shows that the rider in uncomfortable with what they are doing with the horse.

I have seen this practice in the western industry as well, primarily in the Arabian horse industry. At the Scottsdale Arabian show a few years ago, I saw several trainers riding with their horses trussed up like a Christmas turkey. The horses chins were being pulled to the horses chests and they were being forced forward, and when the trainers stopped their horses, they continued to bump their horses faces to keep their horses heads in that Gawd awful position. If the horse moved a step after he was bumped, they were bumped harder. And this was being done by the BNT's that were there. A lot of it was being caused by the over use and abuse of martingales, side reins and draw reins.

But, it was not just the western horses where I saw this, it was also in the hunter arenas as well.

The difference between a soft horse vs. Rolkur, is that with a soft horse, I can bring his chin to his chest when I need to, not because I have to or I am forcing the issue.

Now, lets talk about the horses attitude. This practice does have a lot of adverse effects on the horses attitude. Remember, you can only hang on a horse for so long before that horse decides that he has had enough. And when the horse has had enough and decides to react to what is going on, there may be no warning what so ever. The horse will do whatever it takes to make himself comfortable in what he is doing and there will be nothing you can do to stop it, and there is no telling what the horse reaction will be.

For those of you that believe in the practice of Rolkur, I recommend that you put a bit in your own mouth, have someone pull your chin to your chest while you try to move forward on your hands and knees. Not only will it be tough for you to move, but it will also be harder for you to breathe and your mouth will be incredibly sore.

You all know that I like my horses quiet and soft as I have mentioned that on many occasions, if a horses chin is being forced to his chest, you will get neither!

And just a note, I am not an Arabian horse trainer, and I do not want any Arab owners thinking that I am picking on them. But other than in the Dressage discipline, I have only seen this practice in the Arabian industry, so that is the example I am using.


fernvalley01 said...

Man it just goes from soup to NUTS doesn't it? Western horses,scratch that ALL horses work better from a "look where you are going position. While I am against the "peanut roller" look This is as bad or worse . THEY ARE HORSES let them move like aa friggin horse! A comfortable balanced animal is a true pleasure to ride ,one that has a nice supple back and whos face is not being either dragged in the dirt or ripped off! its not that difficult!

TBDancer said...

It is also referred to as the "blue tongue" warmup because that's what you get after riding a horse in this horrid position for any length of time. I cannot remember what site it was (it's been several months ago), but someone posted a video of a horse that was warming up in an arena with others -- it was a dressage show -- and someone pointed out that their horse's tongue was blue. Rider was oblivious.

Makes me sick. This is not the "long and low" warmup that gets a stiff-backed horse moving better. There are some folks who do not know the difference there, either.

TBDancer said...

Forgot one more thing. The rider who is "credited" with using this method of warmup was a top winner in Europe and in the Olympics, and as with any "winning strategy," those who want to be there, too, will copy anything.

Win at all costs. Bah.

cattypex said...


I noticed a lot of overbent Arabs when I went to look at WP and huntseat/Sporthorse photos & videos recently.

Made me sooo sad - you used to be able to count on Arabs to look naturally beautiful in WP, and now they're just so stiff and stilted.

WHY do so many riders think that just because they stick a horse's head in a certain spot - they're "correct"???? When there's VOLUMES of material to the contrary?

SALLY SWIFT PLEASE HAUNT THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

horspoor said...

I was seeing it APHA this summer. Horse's in the warm up...chins to chests, riders hands 3' wide...just banging on their horses mouths. UGH

That 'blue tongue' video with the blond guy, OMG...hideous.

GoLightly said...

"The difference between a soft horse vs. Rolkur, is that with a soft horse, I can bring his chin to his chest when I need to, not because I have to or I am forcing the issue."

Brilliant, JR. Exactly.
I roll-cured a TB with the stiffest damn left side I'd ever felt, by teaching him he COULD loosen himself on that side, by slowly, carefully showing him it felt better when he loosened. That's all it's good for.

There's the good, the bad, and the ignorant, roll-cured into this issue.

This "exercise" of loosening of the horse's top-line, which has been practiced for kajillions of equine years, has reached an end-game.
I still will not dismiss Isabel, or even Anky, for that matter, as "winning at all costs", abusive riders.
Nope, I won't.
I will agree that less than professional riders at ALL levels, and in all disciplines, have been given a razor, and they're destroying the nuchal ligament and the minds of their horses.

whoah, someone give FV a cup of cocoa!Easy now, girl!

FV said "its not that difficult!"
Ah, but it IS, if you don't know what you're doing. Or you've watched a BNT do it, and HE's winning. Monkey see, monkey do, usually wrongly.

But self-carriage is what it's all eventually about.
Some cannot achieve it.
Sooo, they tie/force the horses head to it's most helpless, submissive position.
and the horse can, and does, eventually, explode.
Backwards, upwards, whatever.
If you don't release, you drive the horse mad.

Here's a lovely video, showing the bad, and then the good.

and another.
He is ridden deep, and then brought back up.
This is a masterful rider, as we all know.

It's the degrees that count, but not everybody gets that. They think a kinked neck is correct.It isn't.

GREAT post, JR.
Thank you!

CharlesCityCat said...

JR, you have seen it in the hunter world? Man, around here, anything even close to that wouldn't pin. Long, low and relaxed is what wins. Like you said, that interferes with the horse's over all movement. You could ruin a good mover not to mention a good brain.


fernvalley01 said...

Ok, GL, I am in a better mood now , but I wasn't nasty .It really isn't hard ,you know that .Its only difficult if you want it done yesterday

CharlesCityCat said...

On the lighter side,

JR, I just noticed on my blog following list that the forum you created appears as:

Home - JR's Neighborhood


JohnieRotten said...


ho ho ho..... It is close to Christmas ya know!

this whole Rolkur thing is something else. What gets me is that people who do not know anything see this and think that it is so beautiful.

I do realize it took me a while to post again and I do apologize. We have been working a lot on the crsecent
moon cutting horses website to get the tradin post ip and running.

This cold medicine is cool. I am taking a trip without ever leavin the farm.

CharlesCityCat said...

I like the name Crescent Moon Cutting Horses.

I think you are right about that, a layman would probably really like that look. It is a shame that many people are so shallow.

Sniff, sniff, cough, cough. You have anymore of that cold medicine?

horspoor said...

Okay, going behind the verticle a few strides can help you. But you can't live there, or use it as your main training tool.

I have a mare that is very hot, tends to rush and scatter. She's a froot loop..okay, but she's my froot loop.

When she gets rushy and scattered...bouncing in the front. I'll stuff her behind the verticle a few strides. It only takes 15 to 30 seconds...really. Her brain rolls back down into her skull...from where it had obviously become lodged in her neck. And she's good. I may have to revisit it a couple times during the ride...but it is better than her bouncing me off the arena fence.

GoLightly said...

"But you can't live there, or use it as your main training tool. "


GoLightly said...



I've seen it used in the jumpers, but as I'm trying to sputter, not for days and days. You supple them, IF it's done right.

Always followed by an immediate straightening/lengthening. A release from the pressure is it's own reward, it's a self-rewarding behaviour, in that regard..
They kinda "melt", when it's done right.
The back starts to swing, the stride lengthens.. They start to lighten, even as they lengthen.
It's lovely.

JohnieRotten said...


What is the significance of being 14th with you?

I am almost afraid to ask!

horspoor said...

But done wrong, too often, too long or inappropriately....huge mess and very cruel.

Kind of like, there is nothing wrong with spurs, or a curb bits or any bits...if used correctly. Hell, you can misuse a halter. Leave it on...kill your horse, or let a young one's face grow around it. Blanketing...see that done wrong.

But the prevelance and misuse use of rolkur, or softening has made it a huge issue. I'm pretty much for never using it again, if someone sees me do it, and then does it all the time.

I quit driving my horses at the barn in town. OMG...every yahoo expert in the world was doing it. Ripping horses faces off, beating on them, knocking them down...I mean really WTF...this isn't working if your horse is on the ground because you have screwed up, tangled your horse in the lines, kept pulling and tripped your horse. effing morons.

Remember when everybody and their mother discovered running martingales? You'd seem them hooked up with shank bits. GAAHHH!

Now it is drawreins, and dumping them on the forehand, and stuffing their faces to their chests. Oh, got my horse bridled...collected...whatever. And they ride with only drawreins on. No direct rein in sight. OH...yeah it is too hard to ride with two sets of reins. Well, then honey you shouldn't be using drawreins. You aren't at a place in your riding, and education that you can. Your ability isn't there yet. If you can't run two sets of reins, and stay off the draw until you need got no business hooking them up.

I had an on again off again student show me a picture this evening, of a horse she is riding for another woman. She is giving the picture to the woman for Christmas.

I said, "He's behind the verticle." She responds, "But it's pretty and I like it. Look how nice his necks looks." I was running late, shook my head and left. We will revisit this conversation another day. She knows I'm not pleased...perhaps she'll think on it. Either way it will be discussed.

horspoor said...

14th pushes you past the unlucky 13th JR. lol

horspoor said...

Oh no, horse people aren't crazy. Why do you ask?

Cut-N-Jump said...

HP- I am a kinder gentler person now. Didn't you all get the damn memo?

Sets down the cooler, stack of foil hats and the ginormous bag of popcorn... And waits. Patiently. For the explosion...

horspoor said...

Hell, I bought a bottle of rum for my pumpkin pie. What can I put rum in...I gots no coca cola.

Cut-N-Jump said...

Anything you want! Depending on the rum? It may not need no stinking mixing.

fernvalley01 said...

Hp ,where can you put the rum? In my glass would work... just sayin'

JohnieRotten said...

Well apparently I am correct. Rolkur does have adverse effects on the horse as it causes the rider to drink making him swerve wildly causing half passes to become whole passes, one tempis to become none tempis and piaffes become peeons.

So there you have it you fans of Rolkur.

horspoor said...

I need to find that video of the guy with his horse's tongue hanging out. It is horrid. So of course I feel the need to share.


horspoor said...

Okay, still haven't mastered the clicky things.

Trainer X said...

I myself am starting to see riders doing the Rolkur more and more, it's just sickening. There is a younger "cowboy" trainer who sometimes gives lessons at our barn and he "supples" the horse by holding them into the Rolkur posistion. No give, no release just holds them there and pushes and pushes and THEN gets pissy when they brace against his hands because they're trying to BREATHE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ugh, some people need to be shot...

kestrel said...

I am just shaking my head in disbelief. And here I've read all the Pony Club manuals and missed the part where you want to turn their tongue blue...pass the rum!

cattypex said...

OK, it's time to post it again:

"A horse 'held in shape' by his rider is only posturing in a seemingly correct form, usually for the benefit of inexperienced observers."

~Charles de Kunffy

Doesn't EVERY horse crazy kid read Black Beauty, and learn about the evils of the Bearing Rein??

And again I'll bring up the very awesome little photo essay in June's Practical Horseman, wherein George Morris reminds us all that you DO want a supple horse, but he flexes mostly at the POLL - you do NOT want an over-softened, rubber-necked horse whose neck is bending all over the place.

Do sports cars have steering wheels with endless amounts of play? How practical IS that when you want a quick, athletic response?

Not only are these people HURTING their horses, they're also compromising the very performance that they say they want.

Stretches are great for getting the body ready for a workout. But you don't do an extreme yoga pose and then tie the body part there, and THEN do your workout!!!!

Horses are breathing, living, delicately balanced and DYNAMIC structures, not carousel ponies.

Hey... I've seen photos of Troika horses in Russia with their heads all bent all over the place. Anyone know about ill effects suffered therefrom?

Drillrider said...

Another sign that a horse is unhappy is tail swishing and wringing. If you watch dressage, many of them look like a helicopter! I asked a dressage person and she said it is "normal".....I disagreed.

On a trail ride, there was a horse that was constantly wringing it's tail and I made sure to give that horse a very wide path.

JohnieRotten said...

Watched the video and all I can say is, not only does it make my toungue hurt, but my arms are sore just from watching.

SFTS said...

Excellent post, again.

HP's points are 100% right on.

Very sad all the way around. :(

horspoor said...

While I will concede that flexing your horse and keeping it supple is a good thing, and your horse should be able to put it's head to its chest if you ask, and go behind the can't expect the horse to stay there.

I think about it like this: If I hold any one position for any length of time, it gets difficult. Starts to hurt. Pick up a paperback book. Extend your arm out holding the paperback to your stand there motionless for 5 minutes. Hell...stand there for 3 minutes. Tell me how your arm feels.

horsndogluvr said...

I can understand rollkur as a way of teaching the horse to relax, but only as -R; that is, rewarding by removing an uncomfortable stimulus. I.e. "uncomfortable rollkur, now relax." Or as +P (punishing by adding an uncomfortable stimulus) for overextension or evading the bit.

But I can't see any horse relaxing while its chin is forced to its chest.

And using it for hours while warming up? (must... control... fist of death) That's just like tying WP horses' heads in the air overnight.

Sigh. No horse performance, beautiful or not, should be the result of pain being removed.

GoLightly, thanks for the videos. Peters is great! and Ravel can come live with me anytime he wants...


autumnblaze said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cattypex said...

Ravel has got himself some BIG FEETS!!!!! So massive, yet so light. Magnificent.

In my next life, if I am berry berry good in this one, I can haz long legs and no boobs???

About the tail thing... there's a difference between wringing, pissed off tail, and swinging, helping-keep-balance tail. Or even "happy tail." Some horses just like waving their tails around, and some do it in rhythm to their movements.

That frustrated "wringing" thing, though, is usually accompanied by "The Face" and a tightness in the body.

Horses under abusive WP trainers who've had their tails blocked still have unhappy faces and ugly stilted movement, even though their tails hang like dead squirrels.

horspoor said...

Do you ever wonder who came up with..."Here, will tie your horse in his stall, with his head up, overnight...oh he'll be fine, and he'll show better tomorrow." Did some stupid drunk redneck schmuck, tie his horse up, forget him and find him tied in the morning? And thus a training technique is born? (Hey Buford, you forgot your horse snubbed to that post all night).

And another thing...I don't warm up for 2 hours before my test. What the hell is that about? I might mosey around for that long. But actual warm-up...on the aids working? Uh no, hell no. My fit horses are pretty tired after 45min to an hour of 'serious' work with a lot of colleciton and lateral.

CharlesCityCat said...

GL, just got the chance to watch the Peters/Ravel. Ravel is wonderful, he is a big un isn't he? You can tell his head is not "forced and held" in that position.

HP, I have seen many people schooling at hunter show for hours on end. Jumping and jumping and riding and riding. If that is what it takes, go the fcuk home, you suck.

When I went to shows, I warmed up on the flat for a bit, then took them over the jumps once or twice, then I was done until shortly before my division. I would then warm up again on the flat, pop a couple of warm up fences then I was good to go. Do course A, come out, relax a few minutes, do course B and get off. None of mine would tolerate the kind of schooling that I have seen, I would just end up with a tired but very pissy horse.

Cut-N-Jump said...

HP & CCC- that can be referred to as 'winning the warm up'. Some people do it to show off, suit there own selfish ego or their horse is not trained properly enough to really be there. If they aren't ready, they aren't ready.

And if you are riding for the ego- your doing it for the wrong reasons.

cattypex said...

My dad has a cousin who breeds, trains & shows some nice Appaloosas, even though most of 'em look like AQHA with spots. *le sigh*

Anyway, they're really nice and fun people, but of course they're all about the WP thing. They actually have a TREADMILL in their poky little barn that they run their horses on before they leave for shows.

"This horse is good, but I found out he's even BETTER when he's tired!"

All I could do was look serious and nod.... it was not the time, place, or people to go apeshit.

*sigh* again.

fernvalley01 said...

"This horse is good, but I found out he's even BETTER when he's tired!"

Wow! just wow! probably a pretty common theory too

cattypex said...

Yeah..... their new stallion is by a lardass N/H AQHA stallion, too... at least their colt is N/N, nice markings too.

JohnieRotten said...

I showed a Reiner years ago that always seemed to work better the more tired he was. So we always took him out to the warm up ring and just took turns lopin him until it was his turn to go. Then I would get on hm and take him in and he would work really well.

Tje only problem we ran into was that the more we galloped him before the class or before we worked him, the longer it would take as he got into better shape.

So we ended up putting keeping a little extra weight on him so he had to work harder. That was when I was a lot younger and I realize now that I should have just trained the horse a little better.

I have had horses like that come into the barn later in my career that were like that. I have found that those horses come from trainers that have a reputation for 'over loping or galloping' their horses at home. In otherwords all they do is lope their horses and do notdo enough training at the slower gaits, so the horses are always revved. They also have those horses on hot feeds so the horses have what I like to refer to as a sort of horsie A.D.D. Like a child that is loaded on sugar all day, so they have to burn off all of that energy just so they can concentrate.

CharlesCityCat said...

When Spunky was a young thing, I would find a good place to canter him around for 15 or so minutes to take the edge off, especially when the weather was cooler. I don't have a problem with people doing that, but geez, schooling over fences for over an hour.

If you have to do that, there is something definitely wrong.

CNJ, winning the warm up ring, snork. Too bad they don't give a year end award for it, around here there would be plenty of competition.

horspoor said...

Yeah, I really like paying entry fees to 'win the warm-up'. lol What are people thinking. If I dont feel my horse or I are ready for the show...I don't go. I don't like donating.

kestrel said...

I retrained an Arab mare who's previous owner thought that running her up a mountainside would get her tired enough to calm her down...that mare was so fit that she could have won a 100 mile endurance race and not broken a sweat! You'd have fallen off in exhaustion long before that mare gave out.
Had to work for forever to get her to calm down and not run away when panicked, and everything panicked her. Poor girl. And she had the 'rolkur reaction' down pat. She could run away with her head in any position. Realllyreallyfast...
Catty, thank you!!!!! It's horrifying how many people can't spot the difference between a happy tail and a miserable tail.
Sadly enough, the BNT cult movements (and I'm not talking about just one, but the concept in general) have led too many people to put 'book learning' first and practical observation last.
Dang, I miss my old cowboy mentors...

fernvalley01 said...

call me crazy , ( I know you already do) but I would also not want to ride a horse that can travel with its head firmly pressed to its chest, once the horse is used to it ,how would you control it in an emergency? I kinda think you should be able to see the horses head (ears at least)

horspoor said...

Some of the Friesians I've ridden are masters at putting their heads to their chests. You got nothing. That sucked back feeling, no connection, no control. Yeah, I just love it. WUH!. Kind of feels like the dashboard just fell out of your car...empty empty feeling. It's like you are just perched up there with nothing.

Dena said...

Jeez I need to get out more. And widget the blog list navigator back in.
Gaited horses also do this to escape the bit(s).
That is my only experience with Rollkur is the horse that is trying to escape contact.
I can't imagine grabbing a hold of them like that on purpose.
And yes JR I agree a lot of professionally trained Arabians. Any AHA western pleasure class.
In what world does overflexion get you supple?
And the whole bumping thing? Man talk about taking something way too far.
Can we please have more on proper suppling?

Cut-N-Jump said...

We knew a woman who took one of her horses to a show. Lunged the horse for somewhere around 3-5 hours to 'settle' her down enough for their class. Because we all know lead line is the toughest class of all.

And yet she hosts clinics on natural horsemanship, gives lessons and offers training, aspires to dressage, but cannot get her diagonals right...

Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.

fernvalley01 said...

Would that be the crazy train?

rosesr4evr said...

Good Gawd JR, can't you keep the parasitic toxic T's out of here long enough for the rest of us to have a decent discussion?? Damn!

Sorry, just had to get that out.

"Excellent post, again.

HP's points are 100% right on.

Very sad all the way around. :("

Cut & Paste, Cut & Paste, Cut & Paste!!!! Ha HA HA

JohnieRotten said...


where the hell ya been?

Good to see you again.

rosesr4evr said...

Ahhh, JR, it's been really busy around here. Little of this and a little of that snowball's into...WTF??? and then it's...I just want to go to bed for three days. Or have a good night out drinking, but then I would be in bed for three days. Can't win for losing.

We've been working on Rosie's field shelter. Yeah there are those of us that make damn sure our equines have the necessary and proper shelter. Who knew horses really shouldn't stand out in the blazing ass sun or the blinding rain and snow, or the knifing wind without proper shelter?? So far it's gong pretty well. We have the frame up and are getting it put to rights. Then comes the walls and the roof. It's a pretty good size...12x12.

So how are you and yours??? I talked to your loving wife not too long ago. I hope all is well or is as well as can be expected.

I know I've been AWOL for quite some time. I've been trying to get the bugs worked out on the puter and the internet card. Damn machines. Then comes finding the time and energy. I've missed all of you guys and gals. Well, not one gal, but we won't muck that bucket.

I need to give you the number for a really good pest control company. You really should spray. LOL

rosesr4evr said...

CharlesCityCat said...
On the lighter side,

JR, I just noticed on my blog following list that the forum you created appears as:

Home - JR's Neighborhood


Now...CCC, just cuz the TT pokes it's big ugly nose in where she's not wanted, doesn't mean you can call her a HO. Oh what the Hell?? Go for it!! It IS X-mas.

CharlesCityCat said...


Nope, I am done with that!

Glad to see you back, little Rowan is doing well?

Dena said...

I get points! I know I get points!!!
I restrained myself.LOL

WTH happened to the Friday night party at the Rottens???

JohnieRotten said...

We are going to get back to the Friday night thing next week. Just got a little busy.

Cut-N-Jump said...

Now Dena, you know well enough, that even though we have talked about music, cars, coffee and a few other things, we always get blamed by one person as being a crowd of unruly, self indulging drunks who are psychotic and off our meds... Hopefully we will soon be back to keeping up with our new tradition.

rosesr4evr said...


You missed me huh??? Come on, admit it! I showed up and you got this nice warm fuzzy feeling. JR, just don't tell her where I got the matches, okay? HEE HEE HEE!!!