Much has been written on the subject of hyperflexion of late. It seems that since the initial public outcry for it’s abusive effects, a multitude of evidence has since been designed to prove just that in every media – web, print, video and audio. There are seminars, there are lectures, books and so on. Some popular topics of debate include –
- Physical Ramifications – proving the structural and muscular damage that occurs from the use of hyperflexion in training and riding the horse, from temporary to permanent, though the emphasis is on permanence.
- Psychological Effects – the comparison has been made, that the use of hyperflexion (extreme) develops two types of horses, those that becomes mentally unstable and perhaps will not stand up to this kind of training for one reason or several, and those that have popularized the term “learned helplessness” in the horse world.
- The use of hyperflexion by Classical masters, wholly those unpopular by riders adhering to the Gueriniere model of dressage. In particular Baucher and the Duke of Newcastle.
It often seems to require that such an extreme form of any of our riding habits come to light before we recognize in any way that we too have been participating in the same methods we now despise, but it has not yet become popular to despise all forms of hyperflexion aside from those which are extreme…
Hyperflexion has found it’s way into almost every barn and stable, through the simple lack of awareness to it’s presence. From english to western, and even the ‘classicists’ of dressage. It is a loss of the horse’s posture. Why is that? Because correct posture is what dictates our ability of balance, strength, coordination and health. When we lose our posture, we lose one or many of those elements. The same goes for the horse. His loss of posture may show up as him being on the forehand, or being less coordinated in his movement. High level dressage horses are commonly seen losing their coordination in the basic gaits – broken trot diagonals, four beat canters, lateralized walks. When they move up to perform the collected movements it is often seen them almost falling over their own feet. Of course the splendor of tense energy often blinds us to these components, instead we see the legs lifted almost to the ceiling and the stark comparison of slow (almost dead energy) piaffes transitioning into explosive ‘extended trot’.
We fail to understand even what our own posture looks like when it is correct or incorrect most of the time, unless we’ve been specifically educated in that area. What is viewed as correct has fallen to what is most appealing to our eyes and pleasing to our senses, rather than what functions most efficiently to keep us healthy and capable.
As riders, our posture in the saddle frequently mimics that which we have disposed our horses to taking. We lean, we hunch, we have no balance, no center. We have no strength, though that is the very means we rely upon to direct the horse, and we have little coordination of our limbs without dependence upon the others. We have created in our horses the things we struggle with ourselves.
The use of the horse’s neck as a means of leverage and control has been a long standing tradition in the world of equestrians. When we fail to understand the depths of communication, we then resort to physical means of accomplishing our goal. We can be strong, or we can be precise. We cannot be precise without strength, and we cannot be strong without precision. When we rely on strength solely, we lose our precision, our ability to sense pressure becomes dulled. It is through the release of pressure and the relinquishing of our strength that we once again find precision. They both support each other, and they both deter the other – to find the balance is to perfect them both.
The issue of hyperflexion continues to arise and stir the emotions of equestrians, and still it has been allowed. It has been given support to be utilized by ‘professionals’. A privilege also given to the users of draw reins and other gadgets, which have long been purported to only be effectively used by the highly skilled, and by the same token unnecessary tools to the highly skilled. A double edged sword. Some rules, often not followed in competition only serve to support the breaking of more rules and subsequently the misunderstanding and abuse of the horse. For example:
The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the rider.
The neck should be raised, the poll high and the head slightly in front of the vertical.
FEI (on the halt)
The walk is a marching pace in a regular four time beat.
When the fore leg and the hind leg on the same side move almost on the same beat, the walk tends to become an almost lateral movement. This irregularity, which might become an ambling movement, is a serious deterioration of the pace.
FEI (on the Walk)
Irregular steps with the hind or front legs, swinging the forehand or the hindquarters from one side to the other, as well as jerky movements of the forelegs or the hind legs, dragging the hind legs in the moment of suspension or double beat are serious faults.
FEI (on the Passage)
The hindquarters are lowered; the haunches with active hocks are well engaged, giving great freedom, lightness and mobility to the shoulders and forehand. Each diagonal pair of legs is raised and returned to the ground alternately, with spring and an even cadence.
The neck should be raised and gracefully arched, with the poll as the highest point.
Moving even slightly backwards, irregular or jerky steps with the hind or front legs, no clear diagonal steps, crossing either the fore or hind legs, or swinging either the forehand or the hindquarters from one side to the other, getting wide behind or in front, moving too much forward or double beat rhythm are serious faults.
A movement with hurried, unlevel or irregular steps, without cadence or spring cannot be called a true piaffe.
FEI (on the Piaffe)
More from the FEI…
“Submission (original bold) does not mean subordination, but an obedience revealing its
presence by a constant attention, willingness and confidence in the whole behaviour of the horse as well as by the harmony, lightness and ease it is displaying in the execution of the different movements. The degree of submission is also manifested by the way the horse accepts the bridle, with a light and soft contact and a supple poll, or with resistance to or evasion of the rider’s hand, being either ‘above the bit’ or ‘behind the bit’ respectively.
“Putting out the tongue, keeping it above the bit or drawing it up altogether, as well as grinding the teeth and swishing the tail are mostly signs of nervousness, tension or resistance on the part of the horse and must be taken into account by the judges in their marks for the movement concerned as well as in the collective mark for ‘submission’.”
The heels should be the lowest point.
FEI (on the Rider)
Article 419 OBJECT OF INTERNATIONAL DRESSAGE EVENTS
The FEI instituted an International Dressage Event in 1929 in order to preserve the Equestrian Art from the abuses to which it can be exposed and to preserve it in the purity of its principles, so that it could be handed on intact to generations of riders to come.
How have we traveled so far from these ideals? That the very simply stated rules of the FEI have been pushed to the side, and those being rewarded are guilty of breaking nearly every one of these rules. Poll high, head in front of the vertical, is sacrificed for false submission and the use of force.
One of the most popular of recent rides, that of Andreas Helgestrand with his very young, 9 year old mare, shows many of these broken rules. Though not including rollkur/hyperflexion, it is still a prime example of how the slow breakdown of rules leads to the fast breakdown to abuse. Easily caught on tape, but glaringly present in photos…
Note the raised heel of the rider. The horse’s face is behind the vertical, swishing tail, mis-shapened lip and excessive foaming of the mouth. The horse is far from collection with hind legs trailing behind her. This is the horse who won the competition…
If we have allowed the laxity of even the basic elements involved in Dressage, it becomes no wonder that we would then turn a cheek to the presence and growing popularity of hyperflexion. Any means possible to win, to become a star, to create the movements that require an artist’s touch to perfect. Get involved, speak out, make this unpopular. Why are we afraid to protect our horse from abusive training methods, to save face from those who are popular at the moment. Have we never left high-school and the cliques and peer pressure? The horse must come first!
Links of Interest :
- USDF Statement of Animal Welfare
- Rollkur Comments from USDF Region 4 News
- Sustainable Dressage’s Explanation of Rollkur
- News Release – Power & Paint
- Sjef Janssen – His Method
- Horses For Life – A Rollkur Pictogram
- Walter Zettl on Rollkur
“Learned Helplessness” with Ulrike Thiel
- **English Translation of “Dressur Pervers”**