ROLLKUR (HYPERFLEXION) and LOW, DEEP and ROUND (LDR)
Forward by Milly Shand
The International Federation of Equestrian Sports (FEI) has banned hyper-flexion as it defines it as flexion of the horse’s neck achieved through aggressive force, however, the FEI allows hyper-flexion of the horse’s neck that is not achieved through force, this is referred to as Low, Deep and Round (LDR).
The FEI has given no official ruling on the degree of flexion allowed in LDR, only that it must not be forced, so horses are allowed to be ridden in the over-bent LDR outline for 10 minutes at a time with no clear definition of how over-bent a horse may be in LDR or how long a break there should be between every 10 minutes of LDR. This 10-minute rule is impracticable for stewards to monitor unless each horse has its own steward who has a stopwatch. This 10-minute rule is also nonsensical because if LDR is good then why would it need to be monitored? Therefore the 10-minute rule appears to say that LDR is not good but 10 minutes is okay.
Unfortunately, horses can be trained to hold their necks in LDR by making any alternative to LDR a painful or uncomfortable experience, therefore the impression is that the horse is not being held there by force. They can also be held in an over-flexed position by a fixed hand that may also not be clear to define as force. Either way, hyperflexion of the neck is linked to airway obstruction, tongue damage, nerve damage, nuchal ligament damage, limited vision, musculoskeletal pathology, stress, fear and pain in horses.
We understand that horses may temporarily be behind the vertical, but our concern is not for a moment in time but for a prolonged practice of riding horses in an over-bent outline, something that is currently fashionable amongst many elite riders and therefore emulated at all levels.
Whilst it is agreed that more research is needed for conclusive evidence of each of the negative effects of rollkur and LDR, until conclusive evidence is found that these practices do not negatively impact on equine physical or mental well-being, Concordia remains against any deliberate training of horses in an over-bent outline and our position on these practices is shared by many classical trainers, scientists and vets.
Concordia concurs and aligns with the position statement released by the International Society of Equitation Science in regards to Rollkur and Riding Behind the Vertical: equitationscience.com/position-statement
Rollkur is the hyperflexion of the horse’s neck, which is usually gained through force (Borstel, U. U. V., Duncan I. J. H., and Shoveller A. K., et al 2008).
Rollkur is more commonly seen to be used in elite equines as opposed to the recreationally used equines, (Breda, E. V. 2010).
Borstel et al (2008) have also noted that when given the choice, equines will choose to be ridden at or slightly in front of the vertical, as well as equines ridden in coercive Rollkur being more likely to exhibit signs of discomfort, such as tail swishing, and have a stronger reaction to fear stimuli. This shows coercive Rollkur can add additional danger in to equine sports.
Oldruitenborgh – Oosterban et al (2006) have noted that Rollkur, tested on riding school equines, resulted in an increased workload (measured through heartrate and blood lactate concentration), but they found no increase in the level of the stress hormone cortisol, and saw no signs of increased stress in the equines. The studies found do not differentiate between Rollkur and the Low Deep Round riding techniques, with Oldruitenborgh – Oosterban et al (2006) using a ‘low and deep’ riding style as the definition of Rollkur.
When looking at whether this is a newer phenomenon or not, Lashley et al (2014) noted that in certain movements, behind the vertical (BTV) head position was more common in 2008 as opposed to 1992, and that in these movements, a BTV head position commanded a higher score in 2008. This suggests that the prevalence of BTV has been encouraged, consciously or not, by judges and the way that they score.
All studies note that more investigations need to be carried out.