There are currently some pictures circulating on the internet of the Spanish Riding School using rollkur. This is a particularly worrying move as the SRS has always been considered one of the most prestigious institutions of classical dressage. Today the word “flexion” is being used to redefine rollkur (as is “low, deep and round”) however, these “flexions” are not flexions according to the classical principles. True flexions are done without pulling and require a trainer with great tact and knowledge. The horse should turn through the neck and the nose should remain up or on the vertical, and when the horse softens his jaw, the rider’s hands soften. The horse’s head should never be pulled down to the chest, horizontal to the ground. With the pressure that needs to be applied to the bit for these deep flexions/rollkur, the horse can never soften his jaw.
Fexions were originally developed in the mid 1800s by Francois Baucher. He realized that tension in a horse was expressed by tension in the jaw, so developed a series of flexions to train the jaw to accept the bit softly. Baucher’s aim was to educate the horse to release the mouth to the slightest indication of the rider’s hand, resulting in relaxation of the muscles in the poll and neck.
Baucher’s flexions are started from the ground and require great skill and feel on the part of the trainer so the horse understands what is being asked and does not become more resistant. Throughout Baucher’s descriptions of flexions he places great emphasis on the tact that the trainer needs to teach flexions correctly, and the damage that is caused by poorly trained flexion.
Searching Google for rollkur pictures shows how unnatural and distressing it is for horses. Dressage should enhance a horse’s natural ability, and work only to develop the best each individual horse can produce, only then do you see the full beauty of the horse. No doubt the rollkur debate will continue, but as more people look for a different, more sympathetic way to train horses, classical dressage is more relevant today that ever.
Make sure you check back in a fortnight for more classical dressage tips and tricks. In the mean time, you can visit me on my Facebook and Twitter accounts for more information about all things classical dressage
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer