Fit to Ride: The truth about rollkur, part 1

This week Biz Stamm turns her attention to the hot-button issue of Rollkur, explaining its origins and the physical and psychological impact this method has on horses.

Top photo: Wikimedia Commons

From Biz:

In this picture that has been widely circulated around the Internet, the great Totilas is being ridden in Rollkur.

All right, Horse Nation.  This week I’m getting real.  I want to talk about a hot button issue that has to do with the health and fitness of our equine partners. I’m talking about the “R” word, people. Rollkur.

I’m sure just about everyone reading this has seen the above picture of Moorlands Totilas being trained with the controversial method know as Rollkur. Many people were outraged (I would have been if I had not suspected it all along) when they found out that the the big, black stallion of there dreams was being trained with what many people consider an abusive technique.  Some took this as an opportunity to get on their soapbox and talk about how wrong this training method is.  I was going to as well, but being the scientist that I am, I wanted to see what the science said about this controversial training method. So I went on a fact finding mission to learn as much as I possibly could.  I don’t like passing judgement on something without having all the facts first, so I would like to take you a long as my journey and come to a final conclusion regarding the use of Rollkur.

What is rollkur?

Rollkur involves riding a horse that is overly flexed at the poll with its nose far behind the vertical, often with the nose touching the chest.  This is done in an attempt to soften the horse to the bit and increase the elasticity of the gaits. Rollkur is also associated with “coercive riding,” meaning that you have to force the horse into these postures.  The low, deep, and round (LDR) posture is essentially the same as the Rollkur posture, but is suppose to be achieved non-coercively.  The FEI has banned the use of Rollkur in warm-ups but not the use of LDR.  To me it seems like it would be quite difficult for ring stewards to differentiate between the two techniques.

On the left is a horse being held in the rollkur posture. On the right is a horse in a natural posture.

While rollkur is typically associated with dressage, it is commonly used by hunter/jumpers and western riders.

The origins of rollkur:

The earliest record of the rollkur method being used dates back to the mid 1800’s. French riding master François Baucher diverted from other French, classical masters who emphasized creating power and energy from the hind end, and developed a new school of thought.  Baucher’s training method was based mostly on the concept that  a horse should be completely submissive to its rider, and be ridden primarily from the front end.  He recommended an exercise that involved the rider using a great deal of hand and a great deal of spur to essentially trap the horse between the aids.  This feeling of entrapment was suppose to make the horse submit to the rider’s demands.  Baucher also encouraged the use of vertical and lateral hyperflexion to create a horse that was responsive and light to the bit.

François Baucher


One thing notably lacking from Baucher’s training system is any kind of exercise encouraging energy and impulsion in the gaits.  Baucher’s students were often criticized  for sluggish gaits and lack of hind end engagement.

Join me next week as I get into the science and look at the physical and psychological impact training with the Rollkur method has on horses.

Go riding!

Leave a Comment


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *