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 Post subject: 1. Rollkur explained. The importance of the neck structures.
PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 11:23 am 
White Lady
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Joined: Wed Apr 06, 2005 4:18 pm
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Location: Eriksbråten, Skotterud
Rollur, the taboo of the century.

It is time to take on the hype of the century: The rollkur hysteria. And I will admit at once that I have been a part of it. Actually I was there from the very beginning, propelling the movement on and sustaining it for a long time.

And let me be clear: I am still against rollkur as we see it in most anti rollkur pictures. I only think that many of these pictures are of bad moments in a training session, or of riders that have other problems and are using stretching methods in an exaggerated or wrong way. Which is of course a bad idea.

But let me be straight: Hysteria does not get us anywhere. Knowledge does. So let us look into WHY this method has been created, and why it is still used by many of the best riders in the world. And why the way it is shown in most horror pictures is wrong, and detrimental to the horse.

This is a complex topic, because it involves not only the neck, but the whole structure of the horse, and the rider as well. So it might be that I will need more than one post, and it would be nice for every reader to have read everything I have written before, to get the whole picture, but I will try.

The objective of the rollkur

The point of the rollkur is of course not to curl the neck of the horse, so the horse is stumbling blindly along on its forehand. The people who promote the method also wish to ride with the nose slightly in front of the vertical when in a test or for normal riding. The point is neither to oppress the horse or hinder it's vision. That is just propaganda from the opposition. And to understand something, we must not fall into the trap of declaring the others to be devils.

The point is to open the neck and withers, and to help the horse move over the back. Sadly, few riders manage to do this properly, but it is actually not the rollkur that is the reason for this. Almost all riders suffer from this problem, whether the wither is up or down or the nose is in front of or behind the vertical.

Riding is not so simple that you can judge it only by watching the position of the nose. One must watch the whole horse. So, bear with me, I have to go back to the basics. And even if you think you know the basics, you will need to pay attention, because the devil is in the details.

The principle of carriage from behind.


Since Pelle and I try to follow the principle of showing both the bad and the relatively good with pictures of ourselves only, we will have to do with a picture of me first. And since we are never trying to promote the perfect, we will excuse that the illustrations will be the ones I have and make do with them.

In this picture, we can see that the horse has a relative weight on the hindquarters (look at the fetlocks and how much they are flexing in the hind leg relative to the front leg), the nose in front of the vertical, and parallel hind cannon and lower arm. That means we may assume that the horse is able to carry the weight of the rider with its hindquarters as well. Which is the whole point of dressage training.

Let us have a look at a horse running free:


Here we can see the same signs on Ares when trotting in his paddock. And he is not even collecting, just trotting along, looking at a mare he is trying to court. The most important difference between this picture and the one above, is that Ares is happily free from my 80 kilos on top of his forehand. The influence of this weight on the horse's movement is extremely important to understand and examine. This is the core of all riding theory.

Because, when we add the weight of the rider onto the horse's back, we alter its entire biomechanics. We must therefore use the horse's natural biomechanic structure in a relatively natural, but different way, to teach the horse to carry us in a healthy way.

If we study the two pictures again, we see that the horse with a rider up is shorter in outline and flexes its hind leg joints more. The horse running free actually has one of its front legs carrying most of the weight, and under its center of gravity, which is as we know, in the center of the chest, right behind its shoulder.

So, what goes wrong when mounting?

As we know and have studied at length, a whole plethora of wrong things can happen when we add a rider to a horse's mechanical system. It's complex. But say that we understand all the things about the hindquarters having to bend and come under the center of gravity. Let us watch what happens if that and only that is present:


What about this? Here the hindlegs are bent, the horse is definitely on its hindquarters, but the withers are down. The horse is not able to carry the rider in this outline.

This is a common sight all over the world, and especially in communities that have a phobic relation to the horse nose behind the vertical. It always end up in the horse throwing its head in the air and tossing the forehand upwards, instead of lifting it from behind. This is not carrying, it's jumping with the forehand.

Let us make a physical experiment. Look at this, which is a picture of the same horse as a foal.


Is this horse on the forehand or on the hindquarters? Of course it is neither. So, the horse that has no weight on the forehand may not have all its weight on the hind legs. It all depends on how the movement is flowing through the horse, and how the back is able to carry.

The "levade" in the picture higher up may thus have moved into this position just by tossing its front into the air, leaving less than 100% of the weight on the hind legs. (That was not the case at the moment of the picture, but let us assume that for illustration's sake)

Before we move on, we might want to observe that the horse in the "levade" has opened its mouth, even though the rein is quite loose and does not pull. And I'd like to add a picture of a horse that does lift its withers in the levade:


Here we can study the same horse in trot at about the same level of training. The nose is in front of the vertical and the legs are parallel. But the horse is not over the back. Because the top line is too short. The horse is open behind.

This picture is taken some months after the former picture. The moment of the movement is different, but we can see that there has been a change in the neck area of the horse.

I will get back to what we did to help the horse change his posture, how this influenced his whole body, his attitude, his mental state, his rank in the herd and many other things.

How did we do it? With hyperflexion. Not the rollkur torture we usually imagine when hearing that term, but gentle and long term stretching exercises. And of course, that is what hyperflexion really means, you bend more than what is done when on an ordinary circle. I will also show how this works exactly the same way in humans.

Now, it is really not my intention to make people angry. But we need to be able to bear several things in mind at the same time. One of the reasons this horse got so severly constricted in his neck and hindquarters, was that he was ridden in a too open form for too long in his youth.

We take full responsibility for this, it was understandable because we had kids, little time and weak health, and needed a kind horse for beginners and others to ride, but that meant that his problems were not addressed as they should in time. And hands up everyone who has not been there, done that.

Problem is, our lack of time and perhaps also willingness to see the problem, and to just help the horse get into the correct outline was a bad decision. But guess what, it is not too late to fix it. And a good thing is also that I may use these pictures to show the mechanics of the horse and how the neck and pelvis and their positions and movement are closely related.

I will try to keep this as understandable as possible, and use muscle names and technical terms as little as possible. The reason is not that I am afraid of them, or think that you are not able to understand them. I choose so because too much detail is blurring my point. In order to see the forest here, we must not focus on the trees. Else we get lost in the complex mechanics. As in other engineering, we must be able to study parts of the structure and how they work together with other parts.

Breaking complex structures apart to study them always brings on danger of over-simplification. Looking at only one part of a system also may lead to forgetting important influence that comes from other parts. I will try to not fall into that trap.

And I started with using the word "Rollkur". That was partly to get your attention, I admit that. But there is an important point. I will try to show how the bending of the neck is not the important fault in rollkur, but the lack of bend in the hindquarters. And how most riders never get that hindquarter activity anyway, so who are we to smack others.

I will also get into the similarities of the equine and human bodies, how we influence each other when riding, and how humans also may benefit greatly from hyperflexion exercises when done correctly.

I will not be able to do all this in one article. But to soothe those of you who still think I am promoting rollkur as a training method, I will list a kind of preliminary index here, so you know where I am getting at.

1. How does the neck and the pelvis interact when moving and in our postures?
2. How is the neck position essential for the carrying ability?
3. How can stiffnesses in the shoulder, withers or neck block the activity behind?
4. What is back swing and why is back stabilisation important?
5. Midline stability and shoulder/hip mobility and how they are reciprocally dependant on each other
6. What is correct carrying technique for both horse and human? How does faulty posture influence our health and carriage?
7. How does the rider seat and leg position influence the stability of the horse's back?
8. How does the shoulder and neck of the horse tense up when the back is not allowed to move correctly?
9. What kind of stretching exercises may we use to help horse and human to relieve these tensions and get back to a good posture and thus a good movement that prevents strain injuries?
10. What kind of mental stress and problems come from tense and short neck muscles? What comes first, the mental or the physical problems?

Stay tuned and be patient, all this and more will come.


Paradox is a pointer telling you to look beyond it. If paradoxes bother you, that betrays your deep desire for absolutes. The relativist treats a paradox merely as interesting, perhaps amusing or even, dreadful thought, educational.

Frank Herbert.

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