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07Oct 16

Rollkur, classic dressage, one-armed riders and social media

It seems to get more intense by the minute. The equine world is using social media in order to give their opinion with pictures of horse cruelty, whether it be rollkur, classic dressage versus whatever other dressage or statements about one-armed riders harming their horses when using a double bridle. 

I really don't get it. This thinking in little boxes and condemning all else, more often than not with no real fundamentally correct arguments. I guess one could say that by writing my blogs I am doing the same thing, however, I am hoping to bridge gaps, rather than deepen them. It is not possible though, to bridge gaps when the the heated arguments are made by people who have not made the effort to inform themselves sufficiently about their subject.

I am still not quite sure about the whole rollkur discussion; I need to read and learn more about it. What I am sure about is that the images circulating to attack rollkur look to me more like horse abuse than rollkur. A horse tied down, head on chest, with only a thin piece of string through its mouth I do not think is rollkur and a picture with a horse looking distressed with its tongue hanging down could have been made yesterday of my own horse when we had a momentous small upset which only lasted a split-second, because of a shy on my cat running out of the bushes,and is definitely not the norm when I train. I do at times for a very short spells ride horses deep when they are ready and I feel they can cope and this is the same thing my physio does standing still in order to flex and loosen the horse's neck in order to achieve greater suppleness. Yes, by overdoing it you can harm your horse and that is wrong of course, but you can do that with everything!

Yesterday someone told me blatantly that they loved classic  dressage and hated that 'show dressage'. When I looked obviously puzzled and asked her what she meant she said: 'Well, you know, what they do at the Olympics.' I did not even know what to answer for being utterly gobsmacked.

I seem old when I write this but when I grew up and had my first dressage lessons, I learned that you did what was needed to supple your horse and engage its back. Generally that meant riding in a deeper frame before you would lift in the desired frame. Later, when I became more experienced, I learned to use different methods and adjust my riding for different horses: a horse that would hollow you would ride deeper longer and a horse that would naturally go deep you would ride more up, some horses needed more leg, others less.... but it was all called dressage. And it was all done so that the horse would grow the correct muscles in order to have a longer and healthier life.

Last but not least, a statement appeared last week about the fact that there ought to be a rule to keep one-armed riders from using double bridles. I am sure there are one-armed riders who are not capable to use a double bridle properly, just as there are tons of two-armed riders who ruin the mouth of their horse with the same tool.

But when I watch Dutch one-armed subtop dressage rider Maarten van Stek and I see the softest happiest horse with a slightly looser curb rein and I then think of all these badly founded statements, I get so very angry and am ashamed to be part of a dressage world which now seems to gradually deteriorate into below-the-belt ignorant statements. 

I think social media can do so much good and a healthy discussion is a good thing, but in these cases I feel that the comments become hurtful rather than powerful, obviously caused by ignorance.

What can we do about this? I asked my 'guru' Maarten. His answer was: 'I think that we trainers, also at the highest level should not  become defensive but rather show transparency through education.'

Okay, Maarten, point taken, instead of wanting to push the delete button I will keep on trying to build bridges! 


Top picture: social media at its worst!

Bottom: Maarten van Stek with William


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Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

About Liz Barclay

Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.


My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.