3 Reasons I’m Jealous of Riders Like Anky van Grunsven

It’s Rollkur, hyperflexion, LDR if you must. It’s all the same with small variations you can’t see with the naked eye. It’s been endorsed by the FEI, rewarded by Olympic judges and praised by the highest (one could argue the most successful) competitive Dressage riders. Rollkur was common in jumping before they even had a name for it, way before Anky van Grunsven and Sjef Janssen’s explorations. Supposedly even Classical Dressage Masters like Francois Baucher used Rollkur.

Since Sjef and Anky, Rollkur has woven its way down the levels of Dressage and crept past the discipline to find common ground with reining. And in all the time we’ve watched the Rollkur/hyperflexion/LDR debate unfold I’ve been writing about how detrimental it is. With that being said, I’M NOW READY TO ADMIT THAT I WAS WRONG. All my criticisms were actually evidence of my jealousy and it’s time I come clean.

Thankfully the community of Rollkur supporters is quite large so I’m sure I’ll find good company once I apologize. Here are the 3 reasons I’m jealous of and have been publicly criticizing the likes of Anky van Grunsven, Sjef Janssen, Patrik Kittel, Edward Gal, Isabell Werth, Adelinde Cornelissen, etc.

1.   I’m jealous of your riding skills

You have access to the top coaches and instructors. Your riding equipment practically does the riding for you and you still manage to make riding the horse look like a battle of wills. Using your upper body to leverage against the horse and drive your seat heavily into the saddle; and even with that you’re bouncing all over the continent. Legs shot out ahead of you, leaning from side to side.

I’ve seen auction riders put your seat to shame without starting a war with the horse they’re on, but you manage to earn the respect of nations which is beyond me. Teach me the ways of this special skill, where entire stadiums of horse riders can admire your [lack of] riding skills while the rest of us struggle along in the same way but are brushed off as nobody’s.

2.   I’m jealous of your quality horses

My full-time steed cost me a couple thousand dollars, twice (long story). Mostly my mounts run less than a grand in start-up. They aren’t bred to be high-performance horses and still they try their hearts out. Some even make it to the upper levels and shine as much as they can possibly shine. None of it’s easy but it’s all very enjoyable to see a horse blossom with correct training.

You on the other hand have horses (yes, multiples) who cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. They’re the cream of the crop from the cream of the crop and could make it to Grand Prix with a monkey on their back they’re so full of talent. Yes, I’m jealous of this. I’m jealous that you’ve got all of this talent in your horse and yet you have to make up reasons for the ride to be difficult. Here I am trying hard to make a challenging process easier for my 6th-rate horses and you’re doing the opposite while people praise your technique.

3.   I’m jealous of your influence with Dressage riders

Particularly young riders, who are more naive and innocent about the ideals of the sport. They walk into Dressage dreaming of the perfect ride, the perfect movement or test. A horse who is light and responsive and mutual harmony during their ride. Why? Because that’s how Dressage is billed – the art of horse disciplines, a dance, a ballet.

And those riders follow you, not out of intelligent or educated reasoning, but because you are considered to be the best. The best of all Dressage riders simply based on your competition results and coverage in the media. The quality and expense of the horses you ride, the fashion you ride in and tack you use. The elaborate facilities you train in and globe-trotting for Grand Prix competitions. It’s all quite dazzling.

When those riders become educated and their eyes opened a bit, their dreams dim a little and they become disillusioned. I was one of those riders once. Not favoring any one competitor but rather all at the Grand Prix level competing internationally. I always thought perhaps me, perhaps I’ll be one of those riders. And then I learned how it’s gotten, not by honest hard work, but by the appearance of it. By short-cuts and manipulations. Politicking and knowing the right people. It isn’t a sport about horses at that level, it’s a sport about winning, winning, winning.

The truth is I was never in the running to be an Olympic-level rider because I don’t have what it takes.

I’m not able to sacrifice my horse’s welfare in order to get a higher percentage on a test. I’d never sleep knowing I’d been the cause of disillusionment in horse riders who are looking to me as the “ideal”. I was never able to grasp the importance of appearances over reality.

Black horse ridden in rollkur or extreme hyperflexion during a competition warmup

So of course I’m jealous and I’ve used the debates over Rollkur to try dragging you down to make myself feel better. It’s a good thing your fan base has helped call me out on this little fact so I could see the error of my ways in criticizing your use of Rollkur.

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by Erica Franz

I've been riding since I was 9, and in love with horses from the day I was born. Living in Washington with my husband Jason, 2 horses and our 4 dogs.