Rollkur. Or, more gently put, Riding Deep.

Many of  you have asked me to write about Rollkur.

Up until this point, I didn’t want to approach the subject of Rollkur because it is such a hot button with Dressage and Western Pleasure riders – I didn’t want to do it badly.

You see, I’m not a Dressage or Western Pleasure rider and I didn’t even know what ‘rollkur’ meant until I looked it up.  (Literally, the term Rollkur is a German word for the act of taking an antacid and then rolling on the floor to make it work around in your stomach.)

But, I realized that you don’t really have to be that learned to look at photos of Rollkur and kinda scratch your head and wonder, “Is that good for them?”

But, what do I know?  So, I decided to do some research.

ROLLKUR - chin to chest


Oy.  All I can say is that both sides of the subject are equally passionate.

My take was that the ‘pro’ group says it is the only way to really get collection and success in the upper level dressage show ring.  And, they may be correct… It is true that most of the upper level ribbons go to riders who train with rollkur.

The ‘con’ group says that it is inhumane.

Well, it is tough to argue that the winning horses have not been trained using rollkur, which to me is a comment on modern dressage.  What it reminds me of is the human athlete ‘doping’ argument…

Sure, doping isn’t good, but if you don’t do it, you cannot compete.


On the con side, the FEI did ban rollkur from all shows and show warm-up arenas.  In fact, many show venues have gone to the extreme of putting cameras into the warm-up arenas to be sure.

Western trainers use it, too...


After reading pages and pages of ‘this and that’ regarding rollkur from all sides, I came to the gut conclusion that rollkur was a quick-fix.

Now, I’m probably simplifying it here because I’m sure it takes a long time to make rollkur effective in training.

I guess what I’m saying is that not using rollkur in dressage training would take even longer to achieve winning results.

My initial hit was that rollkur is one of those dreaded training devices that skips a few steps of the proper technique, if you know what I mean…

But, even after all of this research, I still didn’t want to write about it because I felt like I was bringing up politics or religion at the dinner table…  it would just start a huge debate and no one would digest any of it well.

Until… I came upon this one, very astute, very clinical and logical webpage.  I have linked it here.

Chin to chest again - during training


The article is titled, Rollkur – Why Not? by Theresa Sandin.

Her article had photos and diagrams which made my tired mind feel happy.

Suddenly it all started making real sense to me – but for a different reason… the ‘debate’ (name calling and hash slinging) was shelved.  Instead, the author used common sense, physics, physiology, science and logic to let the reader come to their own conclusions.


They say most all of the winning horses are trained using rollkur


The article was really long and intense.  Some of it was beyond my dressage understanding.  But, most of it was based on the ‘if this, then that’ type of logic.  If you put your hand on a hot burner, then you will get burned.

I won’t re-print the entire article here, but I thought I would restate the several items that made total sense to me in a mechanical way.



Normal field of vision




Once the ligament is over stretched, it cannot retract. This damages many young horses started with rollkur.


A diagram of what happens to the tendon at the poll







Relaxed vs rollkur - curvature of spine



This is so telling... horses trained in rollkur have an odd, painful bony growth at the poll






Makes sense to me...


DAP – DIAGONAL ADVANCED PLACEMENT (I had never heard this term…)


Interesting... she also goes on to say that DAP is desired and bred into modern dressage horses.



Can't argue this logic...



It isn’t tough for me to see why I would never allow this for any of my horses.

On the other hand, I know how tough it is to NOT use something that all of your competitors use…  I’m not agreeing with it, I’m just commenting on the new character of ‘winning’.

For me, I’m glad I did this walk today because I will look at all those over-extended dressage horses and say to myself, “Wow. That horse is a real gem to allow that rider to make him do things so against his nature.  What a fine horse indeed.”

I won’t comment on the trainer or rider – except to say that many riders don’t learn for themselves.  They believe their trainers.

I know that I have…

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!

HELP the newly found UNLUCKY 29 make it home! Click here




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HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!

11 comments have been posted...

  1. Marti Masters

    The fine points of dressage are what make the difference between a happy horse willingly cooperating with the rider and a robot moving from the trauma learned helplessness. You can see it in the head carriage, the expression on the face, the placement of the hindquarters and the lightness. It is certainly recognizable at the piaffe, because the robot trained with rollkur can not collect himself in the hindquarters because years of torture have shortened his neck AND if there bone growth between the vertebrae in the upper part of the cervical bones (near the top of the neck and the head), he will have to overbend to avoid pain. In dressage, the nose of the horse is required to be slightly ahead of the vertical. Rollkur robots can not assume that position, so they are bent at the 3rd or 4th vertebrae, which hollows out the back and prevents collection of the hindquarters. So, at the piaffe, the front leg on the ground will not be straight up and down, it will slant back because that is the only way the horse can land without buckling at the knee.

    Is the duty of judges to concentrate on the fine points of horse and rider. A precision robot with flashy front legs and precision movement is not a joy to behold. We need to re-educate our judges or simply throw them all away and ask the headmasters of the Spanish Riding School, Culver Military Academy, and the Cadre Noir to take their places.

  2. Shannon

    Thank you for this article! The excuse that people use for competition most of the high level people are using this just sucks. I mean if you look at Charlotte dujradin she is amazing and doesn’t ever use rollkur but it does “take longer” to train horses correctly. But how much longer do they have them then?! Ugh people are ignorant. It is funny though how so many people ship European trained horses here and then screw them up with improper training. I have seen it too many times to count!

  3. nicole

    Steffen Peters is strongly against rolkur, using his photo saying many top riders use rolkur is not appropriate can you change that photo please, he would be mortified ! Thanks

  4. Mary J

    The very first picture in this article made me stop and think to myself how hard the horse was trying to just SEE. His eye is white, he’s straining to look ahead in a normal frame but it’s not possible. Then I read the article. People are idiots to follow a method that goes against all logical training if they’d just think for themselves and believe. But there are so many thousand ‘trainers’ and ‘riders’ out there who will win at any cost. Grrrr!

  5. Alexis Lukoff

    I just moved my horse from out of state to where I live. He wasn’t at the stable I’d picked out a week when I went up to the owner to report a horse left in his stall with his reins tied back and his neck in hyperflexion. I was devastated to learn it was HIS HORSE! We got in an argument about what is and is not acceptable “training”, his attitude was, essentially, “everything is acceptable to some degree and this method has been around forever so piss off”. I’m currently looking at other barns and can’t wait to post a lovely review of their facility once I’ve moved.

  6. Jaime Foutty

    I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Rollkur. Your article was forwarded to me by someone on your email list and I came here to read the formatted version. Like you, I am way more apt to believe the physiological (and just plain logical) arguments presented here than the proponents of either side. I have forwarded this to a couple of trainers I know as well. Thanks again.

  7. RiderWriter

    Thanks for the scientific explanation – very interesting! However, all I’ve ever needed is my own two eyes to tell me that this sort of training has got to be “unpleasant” for the horse, at the very least. ANY training that absolutely forces a horse into a totally unnatural shape is wrong, IMHO! Enhance NATURAL self-carriage? Fine. I don’t even mind rubber tubing and LIGHT weights on Gaited horses. But yank and jam and bit and spur and tie, regardless of the discipline – NO. But nobody wants to take the time, and judges reward the short-cut results. Glad the FEI has done something, anything about it in dressage… how about Reining now? Makes me sorry they don’t have Western Displeasure events!

  8. Linda Horn

    Show veterinarians may play a part in this as well. Do they ever say anything at competitions, or choose to look the other way?

  9. Linda Horn

    Do Rollkured horses look relaxed and happy? Not from photos or videos I’ve seen!

    Rollkur is a result of human egos, and the obsession to win no at all costs. Also “national pride”, which results in more support for their country’s equestrian programs.

    IMO, the judges are the real culprits. If they’d stop rewarding the “unnatural”, no matter the discipline, these brutal methods would be abandoned. Not just Rollkur, but soring, abusively-tight bearing reins, and too many other “training tricks” to mention. I’ve read that some western trainers have actually cut muscles in horses’ necks to bring their heads down!

    One of the ways I rate training for show is how well it translates into a second career. This is one rider’s comment about Rollkur. I’m sure there are many others.

    “I used to ride a lovely ex-professional dressage horse and he was completely ruined because of his countless days of having his head tucked in. He had Ataxia which is a degenerative disease / condition of the nervous system, we know that this was caused by the hands of his ex owner and professional dressage rider – and guess what as soon as he was too knackered to compete. She sold him on so that she could buy another young horse.”

    Great … another horse to abuse! Once she’s ruined that one, she’ll just move on to her next victim … without a care in the world.

  10. Joanne Friedman

    Excellent summary of the discussion and a silent finger-point at the underlying problem…judges! Fortunately, in many areas of competition this “look” is considered outre, but as long as judges continue to award high scores to horse and rider teams that are unbalanced and unnatural in carriage, this sort of training will continue. Sad for the horse and a poor commentary on horsemen in general.

  11. rose

    I have always enjoyed watching dressage. I like the “dancing” feet. But the curled necks look so false and painful somehow. Have you ever watched something on TV with your hand covering up part of the screen……

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