Tag Archives: hyperflexion

Parsing the Aesthetics of the BHS Letter to Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein Regarding Hyperflexion

This is what I posted yesterday in The Color of the Tongue Is Not the Issue.

❝Please note that we pass no comment on the aesthetics of seeing a competition horse contorted in a way it never appears to choose for itself. Our concern is only to speak out when we believe that the welfare of horses demands it.❞

Esthetics? I was unaware that mere esthetics were the issue. Why the British Horse Society bothered to comment at all is a mystery when I try to parse the actual meaning of the sentence above. They are speaking, but what are they saying? Have they been taking lessons on communication from the FEI?

It was hard to understand because the last part of the sentence was omitted by my source. Here is how it was written:

Please note that we pass no comment on the aesthetics of seeing a competition horse contorted in a way it never appears to choose for itself when in its natural state.

My apologies to Mr. Print for the incomplete quote. The fact that the anti-hyperflexion is becoming a cause celebre in the popular press is a double edged sword. Misquotation gets readers riled up.

A negative comparison between what a horse does under the forceful influence of a rider to what he does in a natural state should have the intended effect; however, I don’t believe that modern dressage gives a damn about the natural movements of horses. I know I will receive flak about that statement. So be it. When top riders abuse their horses for money and recognition, and create a false foundation of pseudo science and training lore to support that abuse, a blanket statement about the discipline is warranted. I wish with all my heart that I felt differently.

I still can’t comprehend the true intent of that one sentence: We don’t care how contortion (a word with negative connotations if there ever were one) looks, but we feel we must speak out on behalf of those who are forced into contortions because it endangers their welfare? Am I getting this right?

Nonetheless, I am pleased to print the remainder of the letter here. It is actually quite a firm statement, particularly in the penultimate paragraph.

HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein
President Federation Equestre Internationale
Avenue Mon-Repos 24
PO Box 1571005
Lausanne
Switzerland

29th October 2009

Your Royal Highness,

You cannot be unaware of the disquiet – not to say anger – which has arisen following the depiction on Epona TV of Patrik Kittel’s horse in apparent distress as it competed in Odense on 18th October. As you are doubtless aware, in terms both of membership and breadth of interest, The British Horse Society (BHS) is the largest single equestrian organisation in the UK. Our examinations system, and the training and education which underpin it, have earned for the Society international recognition. No less important is our work to promote the highest standards of equine welfare, which suffuses every facet of our work.

I am pleased to report that our commitment to equine welfare is shared by all our colleagues within the British Equestrian Federation, although on this occasion I am writing solely on behalf of the BHS. Let me acknowledge straight away that no representative of the BHS was present in Denmark to witness the horse’s apparent distress, nor do we have the benefit of a contemporaneous veterinary report. Moreover, we do not for one minute suggest that Patrik Kittel at any time sought to treat his horse other than with proper care and respect.

Nevertheless, in matters of equine welfare, the precautionary principle must always apply: if, despite the absence of conclusive proof, the wellbeing of a horse is called into question, there will exist a strong moral obligation on the FEI to respond immediately. In our view, the concerns so widely expressed are reasonable and therefore deserving of an urgent two-part investigation: first, an inquiry into the treatment of this particular horse on this particular occasion; and, second, a broader inquiry into the ethics and consequences of hyperflexion.

In this second aspect The British Horse Society stands ready to assist the FEI in any way it can. Please note that we pass no comment on the aesthetics of seeing a competition horse contorted in a way it never appears to choose for itself when in its natural state. Our concern is only to speak out when we believe that the welfare of horses demands it.

Yours sincerely,

Patrick Print FBHS
Chairman

I sincerely hope that more letters like this are written, and that they find their mark. Maybe someday soon, the entire discipline of dressage will not be painted with the brush of hyperflexion.

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The Color of the Tongue Is Not the Issue

The Color of the Tongue Is Not the Issue

In a January 3 Daily Mail article on 2012 Olympic Boycott Threat, Roly Owers, of the World Horse Welfare charity, said of the use of hyperflexion in dressage training:

In the right hands it is a valuable training method, and it cannot make a horse’s tongue go blue, no matter what people seem to think.

Has he seen the video and photos? Even if the video and images had been enhanced (and this is NOT an intimation that I feel they have), heaps of other evidence prove that hyperflexion is harmful to the horse in both body and spirit.

In contrast to Owers’ statement, Lady Sylvia Loch, dressage trainer and author, told the Observer,

It is a shocking symptom of where the sport is going, it’s the tip of the iceberg. What is going on behind closed doors in the training of these horses is very wrong.’Rollkur is so, so cruel. The horse can only see its own feet, so it is reliant on the rider for balance which is simply psychological torture.

Patrick Print, chairman of the British Horse Society, has written a letter to the FEI, asking it to investigate. In it he wrote,

Please note that we pass no comment on the aesthetics of seeing a competition horse contorted in a way it never appears to choose for itself. Our concern is only to speak out when we believe that the welfare of horses demands it.

Esthetics? I was unaware that mere esthetics were the issue. Why the British Horse Society bothered to comment at all is a mystery when I try to parse the actual meaning of the sentence above. They are speaking, but what are they saying? Have they been taking lessons on communication from the FEI?

Maybe they had just read A Beginner’s Guide to Rollkur, where I found this image reproduced from Horsetalk NZ. If they tried out the head and neck position depicted here, it’s possible that their clarity of focus and communication were compromised.

I’m delighted a rag like the Daily Mail has taken up the cause. No one likes a good kerfuffle like the British newspapers. Awareness outside the realm of the insular horse world may just bring the kind of scrutiny needed to call a halt to this crime of training methodology.

Take a look at two nice posts about the nature and disadvantages of hyperflexion at In Pursuit of Classical Perfection and Writing of Riding

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Dressage Disgrace

To learn what hyperflexion does to a horse, physiologically, emotionally, and developmentally, visit Dressage Disgrace.com, read all about it, and if so moved, sign the petition to request that the FEI ban hyperflexion in competition. This site has a lot of interesting articles. Thanks to Shoshin for pointing it out!

As I have said before, (hopefully not ad nauseum), rather than stridently protest something we think is wrong, let’s be active in showing those whose methods offend our sense of horsemanship a different way.

I welcome responses that demonstrate different ways of achieving flexion at the poll and the self-carriage so desired in dressage.

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