It’s been 5 years or so since I stopped competing in dressage, and when I stepped away from the arena, there were long- raging debates about the good and bad of a training method called rolkur, made famous by a multiple world champion, Anky Van Grunsven. Personally I despise this method – it does nothing for the horse but provide the potential for mental and physical damage, and does nothing for the rider but make them look brutal and ignorant.
I’ve started giving dressage lessons again, so I decided to browse the interwebby today to see where things are at in the world of dressage. It saddens me to see that nothing has changed, apart from some terminology. Rolkur has been dressed up now to be called “hyperflexion”. Reminds me of hypercolour but without the humour. It’s now been included in the FEI (International Equestrian Federation) guidelines as a legitimate process. So, in five years a controversial and barbaric training method has been sanctioned by the peak international organisation. In five years, my beloved sport has retrograded 500 years.
Reading a report on the latest Global Dressage Forum (a recent biennial event), I see the conversations surrounding dressage remain closed, locked in the past, defensive. At least now some international dressage judges are willing to admit that judging of the sport is at best ‘subjective”, if not incredibly opinionated and political. At least this can now be publicly stated.
Any debates about cycling, and the problems with my other beloved sport pale when reviewing the state of modern dressage. The absolute question that must underline everything we do with our horses is this: will this benefit the horse? Will the horse be happier/healthier mentally and physically at the end of an encounter with me? I am not sad that I no longer compete in dressage, such is the level of ignorance that still abounds within the sport, not just locally, but at the highest levels. I am stunned that instead of progressing, incorporating current research into animal psychology, physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, animal husbandry etc that instead the sport seems to have least stuck itself in the mid 1990's and is looking back into the dim past, instead of ahead towards more rewarding animal-human interactions.