Wait, what?! Because they’re so popular, many people assume that the abusive training method of Rollkur began with Anky van Grunsven and her coach-turned-husband Sjef Janssen.
Nope, not true.
Before Sjef & Anky, there was Nicole & Isabell.
At Aachen in 1995, both Isabell Werth and Nicole Uphoff were seen using hyperflexion with their horses. Both riders trained under Uwe Schulten-Baumer who has openly talked about the use of riding deep.
While it’s likely that the “technique” was further developed by Sjef & Anky, it was still Nicole and Isabell who first presented it to the world.
In fact, if you look at earlier footage of Anky when Rollkur first shocked onlookers, her use of it looks very much like what Isabell Werth elicited from Gigolo at Aachen in 1995 – a horse that is clearly frustrated and seeking some escape.
Nicole Uphoff’s Use of Rollkur
1995 wasn’t the first time hyperflexion was seen, just the earliest video we have access to. Let’s go back 5 more years.
Dressage judge and trainer Anne Gribbons says she first saw the technique at the 1990 World Equestrian Games in Stockholm. “It was used by Nicole Uphoff on her champion Rembrandt in the warm-up,“ says Anne, who has officiated and competed at top levels in the United States and abroad.
Elaine Pasco, Hyperflexion: Going to Extremes
Nicole Uphoff’s Use of Rollkur
Nicole Uphoff may have retired from the sport, but Isabell Werth continues to use this ugly training method.
Every time someone chirps on about what a great rider Isabell Werth is, that nasty riding is what I recall immediately.
Isabell Werth’s Doping Troubles
On top of that, there have been further complications to Werth’s legacy, as she has been caught breaking doping rules multiple times.
In 2009 Isabell Werth’s horse Whisper tested positive for a drug used to treat Equine Shivers, a substance which is banned. Werth claimed that Equine Shivers has absolutely no impact on Whisper’s ability to compete, but I have to doubt that when you consider that this progressive condition comes with the following symptoms:
- Muscle tremors of the hindquarters, hind limbs, and tail
- A spastic gait when they are asked to back up
- Farriery problems (e.g. difficulty standing on three legs)
- Muscle twitching/trembling
- Elevated tail head
- Muscle atrophy
- Reduced strength
- Exercise intolerance
- Facial twitching
Are you having doubts about Werth’s confidence that Whisper is just fine to compete with Shivers? Me too.
Of course, 2009 was also the year that the German Equestrian team was disbanded due to widespread doping problems.
Then in 2013, Isabell Werth was suspended after another doping violation with her horse El Santo. This time she places blame on El Santo’s stall neighbor. This seems fishy. If you know the substance is illegal for competition, then why would you manage your barn so carelessly as to allow such easy cross-contamination? I have doubts this was accidental.
If you’re willing to use Rollkur to win at all costs, why not dope your horses too and hope to get away with it?
In the end, it doesn’t really matter who started the Rollkur abuse. How do we end it?