Can You Do Better?

For all of you readers of my blog, who know nothing about horses or the world of horses, I would like to tell you what it is like to be a ’horse-person’ who dares speak up.

First a little link to the pictures- some of them, 60 out of 2000- my friend and I took at the Danish Championship in dressage 2013 about a week ago.¨

Now, in my world, these pictures are unacceptable, which is why we chose to publish them online and sent them to

Here is what we have been met with from fellow Danish horse-people. Some people just make me so proud to be Danish…

First, the most common argument for why this is not abuse;

You can’t tell from a single picture! It could be a bad moment! We all have bad moments, I bet if we took 2000 pictures of you, we could find one just like it!

Okay, yes, it could be a very bad moment. Yes, we all have bad moments. And absolutely NO! I Have about 20.000 pictures of me and my horses, I am not afraid to share my bad moments and there have never been, nor will there ever be, a moment as bad as any of these ones!

Besides, it is hardly the point, is it? I am not one of the “best” riders in Denmark. I am not riding dressage at the highest level. Of course I am not allowed to ride like this, no one should be, and really, most people don’t!

The real question should be, do we allow these kinds of “moments” in our professionals? Is it all right that Akeem “momentarily” (read irony here, it takes a long time and a lot of pressure,) has a BLUE tongue? And is a series of 2000 pictures still “just a moment?” How many moments do we need?


All horses are tense when ridden!

Well no? They are not? How do people who make such arguments ride their horses?

Some horses hyper flex themselves!

Oh you are kidding me? Of course they do and would you please go tie your own head to your chest, and see how you like it? Yes, some horses have a tendency to “duck under veridical” when ridden. My own Saleem does it once in a while, my old star Apollon did it a lot. Why? Because with Apollon, I wasn’t skilled enough to handle it. With Saleem, I am. And again, I am not an elite dressage rider.

So why would a horse go under? Simple, to avoid using it’s back and  hindquarters. When a horse isn’t strong enough to carry himself correctly, it starts to cheat. Some go up and over vertical, some go down, but the effect is the same, the horse escapes the pressure of having to carry himself correctly. So if you ride a horse who go under at random, you need to seriously consider how it’s muscles are build and if it is strong enough to handle what you ask of it.

That said, NO horse, EVER roll kur on its own, and even if they did, LOOK at these pictures and tell me that this horse is not pulled, torn, forced around by the cruel hand that holds the rein?

IMG_2848 IMG_2729

What these riders are doing, is making the horse lower its back, raise its head, and throw it’s front legs into the air like some sort of freakish circus act, and it has nothing to do with dressage. It is cruel, disgraceful, and downright animal abuse.

But not to worry, I just read an article in where a vet states that horses now a days are bread to keep their front legs in the air longer, to the point where the beat and the cooperation with the hind legs are compromised…

IMG_2712 IMG_3325

My head implodes to hear a trained professional make that kind of excuses. Stop, just stop before you embarrass yourself anymore and tell me this, IF horses these days were bread to keep their front legs in the air longer, and to leave the hind legs dangling behind  like a stray satellite, with little to no radio contact, why then, do the horses only do it when ridden? I mean, look at a Friesian for instance, they raise their front legs high, but they do it on the pasture as well, that is how they are made. Trotters are unmistakable by their wide trot. Danish Warmblood have a special gait, they only use when ridden? Sure…

Why not contact the officials at the event?

There were none. No one in sight. Believe me, if there had been, we would have been kicked off the grounds with our cameras before we had a chance to complain to anyone. I guess it goes both ways, we couldn’t complain, but neither could the riders, and they saw us, and sent us dirty looks but it didn’t stop them from abusing their horses.

Why are you better? What makes you think that these riders don’t know what they are doing, they wouldn’t have got this far then, would they?

First off, I never said I was better, I just posted the pictures of our supposedly best riders. Second, I AM better, because I don’t knowingly, abuse my horses. I am sure I make a lot of mistakes, I sure have spent a lot of sleepless nights and cried a lot of tears when something went wrong with any one of my horses and I felt that I came up short in the matter of how to help them in the best way possible.

Third, how they got this far? Money…. And make no mistake, I never said that they don’t know what they are doing. I believe that these riders know EXACTLY what they are doing.

But this is the world of horses for you. If ever you dare criticize someone, the answer is always, “can you do better?”

Do you think that “little Lise” back home don’t ride her horses like this?

By little Lise, there are referred to amateur riders and children. Well, first things first. If she does, who do you think she looked at to learn? Shouldn’t our top riders set an example for little Lise to follow?

If she does ride her pony like this, it is not okay, but it is much more excusable, because she MAY NOT KNOW ANY BETTER and we all need to help educate her. Our professionals know better, there is no excusing these pictures.

Saying that it is okay for our top riders to ride like this, because it happens all the time, everywhere, is about the same argument as saying well, my neighbor beats his children, so I can beat up mine as well. Do two wrong really make one right in the world of horses???

To wrap this up, I would like to repeat, I didn’t go there to take ugly pictures. I didn’t mean to become the front figure of a new anti roll kur campaign. I never intended any of this. That said, I am glad to see the ball rolling again and I hope we just might make a difference some day, if we keep it up. Mostly, I have only had positive responses to posting the pictures, (not to the pictures, but to me posting them,) from people all over the world. Only in Denmark do people seem to keep asking questions like the ones above, which makes me wonder.

What kind of people are we, when we so readily defend our own to the point of the ridicules?

Well you can count me out. I cannot ever defend pictures like these ones, and I would never consider anyone who rides like this, even for a “moment” a friend of mine. Some things are just unacceptable.


About Starstone

-Owned by horses. Writer, Photographer, Director, Musician.
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117 Responses to Can You Do Better?

  1. jen says:

    You know, I never gave bits a whole lot of thought until I got Tequila. Once we discovered her mangled tongue, I pretty much lost faith in bits altogether. You can imagine what a weirdo I am – hoof boots AND a bitless bridle. It’s downright scandalous! The picture of the horse with the blue tongue makes me sad…he looks like he’s so miserable. 😦

    • Starstone says:

      A bit is a horrible instrument, if used by cruel hands… What we have to remember is that no bit is harder than the hands that hold the rein…
      And you know what, I think it’s cool that you are using a bitless bridle. I think I would too, if it was allowed in competition… but it’s not…
      So my horses have to get used to having it in their mouths, and it’s up to me to make sure I don’t abuse it….

      • Eilico May says:

        Well said, dear Starstone!!!!! I fully agree with all your arguments!!!!!!!!!!! The horse is the mirror of his rider!

      • Mary Sadler says:

        I’m sorry, but now you’ve nullified everything which was good you’ve said before. That the bit is only as hard as the hands that hold the reins is as ridiculous an argument as the inevitable subsequent claim: ‘But I have soft hands so I don’t hurt my horse’. No rider has 100% control over his hands, check it out with a piece of cotton thread instead of reins.
        As for riding bitless in competition, it’s allowed already in certain disciplines/countries and the others will follow as soon as competition riders take a stand and refuse to ride otherwise. Don’t hide behind But it’s not allowed, boohoo…!

      • Jannie says:


    • Starstone says:

      and just to prove the point of this post, I guess I will let all coments through, even from someone like Mary Sadler, who I really can’t be bothered with even replying… Welcome to the world of horses 😉

      • Mary Sadler says:

        You prefer to hear ‘Oh very well written’? Actually it was, but you spoiled it with the inane comment about a bit being only as cruel as the rider’s hands. I’ve heard that one too often by heavyhanded riders to be impressed by it and it certainly doesn’t go well with what you wrote before.

      • Mel Pi says:

        I don’t get Mary’s and your points. Both of you are saying that a bit is an instrument to be handled carefully – so what are you argueing about?
        And Mary – I have to support Starstone’s thesis – a bit is only as cruel as the hand that holds the reins, but – who’s to judge the hand? Like with Rollkur riders, no one will ever admit to having hard hands or not beeing good enough to ride with four reigns and two bits, or being to scared to ride bitless etc. pp.
        So … yes, there’s more work to be done but compared to the Rollkur-ridden horses, the “only” bit-ridden horses have – in relation – the better fate, that’s what I think.

        To those writing “my horse hyperflexes all by itsself” – I can relate to that as I have such a horse, also. She used to be a CIC** sports-horse and she does it all the time (even when ridden with a neck ring only!)…. I think some horses have been taught that way by hard hands and riders. Also, please bear in mind that a lack of oxygen supply will release certain stimulating hormones in the body (adrenaline and endorphine) which also act as painkillers – so some of these horses really may be doing it to relieve the stress experienced by Hyperflexion. My mare and I are working on it – gently, from the ground, from above, but always gently, with no force.

    • Starstone says:

      How in the world, does the fact that I ride with a bit, nullify everything I said before, including the pictures ????
      And no, I don’t expect praise, really, I’ve been in the world of horses for far too long to ever expect to meet sane people- luckily most people are proving me worng at the moment- you are not one of them!
      By the way, I have about a thousand pictures of my horses on this blog, wearing a bit, go look for yourself if you can find any picture that looks like the ones above, or like my horses are being abused.
      I repeat, the bit IS only as hard as the hand that holds it.
      And lastly, this is my blog, I don’t want to discuss with you here, I get enough of that everywhere else, this is my space, my world, and further stupid comments from you will not be let through, my life is too short to bother with someone who don’t know me and who feels that she can just blow up like that…
      And yes I’ve heard it before too, I’ve heard it all before. It doesn’t make it untrue though, just because stupid people says it too 😛

    • Starstone says:

      Mel, you are right, we shouldn’t argue… I should know better… I’m just too old, have seen too much, kept quiet about too much for too long, it gets tiresome and some people really push my buttons…

  2. Ulrika says:

    Very well written! Thank you – it takes courage to write a text like this.

    • Heidi Lorenz says:

      I agree here with Ulrika…time to out these people and you are a brave person, but, like any real, good and just individual you know what you must do to help others…in this case the horse. We should give our children kind and compassionate role models not ruthless our for the money types that we see depicted here…

  3. Denise Tross says:

    True so true.
    It would be even better if each picture were titled with the name of the rider and horse.
    I started the ANTI LOW DEEP ROUND (OR ROLLKUR BY ANY OTHER NAME) group on facebook where we are welcoming naming and shaming of any rider or trainer being proven to use RK/LDR. Of course the evidence must be conclusive and not photoshopped.
    However we have also had the “one moment in time” argument. Our reply is one moment is still barbaric and it would take an amazing photographer to capture just that one second perfectly.

    • Starstone says:

      I honestly still don’t know the name of that guy on Nintendo, I refuse to learn his name… I am sure I can’t avoid it at some point, but I am not activly going to find out who he is…
      the horse with the blue tongue is Akeem Foldager, ridden by Andreas Helgstrand, both riders are from Helgstrand Dressage.

  4. Lisbeth Thostrup says:

    Well done and to the point.
    Believe me, it is not just in Denmark that people asks these kind of questions.

  5. Ro Kess says:

    Starstone–you say that you would ride bitless “if it were allowed in competition”. Nobody has to ride in competitions. Anybody who does is just as much a part of the problem as the people in your pictures. If people refused to participate, there wouldn’t be glory in winning. Just because you don’t personally treat your horse like that doesn’t mean you aren’t contributing to the problem. It’s too bad, because people like you are in the best position to do something about it by refusing to be a part of it. You list the excuses they give, meanwhile coming up with your own for what you do. From my point of view, there isn’t much difference.

    • Starstone says:

      You are right, which is part of the reasons why I haven’t competed in many years… but yes, I want to compete, I want to show my happy horses to the world, and I want to go to shows with them and see how far we have come…

      And no, I make no excuses for what I do, my horses wear a bit, but I never, ever use it like the riders in these pictures, so yes, there is a world of difference… read what I write!
      No bit is cruler than the hand that hold the rein… ! but wouldn’t it be great if one day, it would be allowed for us to ride bitless?
      Of course then, all our top riders would have a huge problem, because they can’t do that…
      I can, easyly ride my horses without a bit, I never “break them in” while wearing anything more than an ordinary halter…

      • Ro Kess says:

        We are allowed to ride bitless. If you use one, it is completely your choice. Nobody is ever forced to do anything with horses. I did read what you wrote, that’s why I am saying this. My point was that your explanations for why you have to use a bit are the same as the excuses that the people in the pictures are giving for what they do, in that they are frivolous and focused on the human while ignoring the horse. Horses don’t care about being “shown to the world”. That is all for you.

    • Kristýna says:

      I agree with the author of this article. You can not make any difference if you will stop competing, as when you are not seen, you are nobody and (at least in our country) nobody will pay any respect to you and your opinion. The difference can be made only by those, who ride they horses without using abusive methods. By those who are seen and can be used as a good example. It is sad, but it is true. Because, as was already said above – there are money in this sport (not too much here, but still, those horses who were successful at competitions are sold for much higher price). She (the author) doesn’t create excuses, she does the opposite – she stands out. I am one of those who do believe that the bit can be used gently, but I do agree with you in one point – there are lot of riders (I guess at least 80%) who use it badly with strong, abusive hands. But you can ride with a halter and be abusive too.

      • Starstone says:

        Anything can be abused… sadly… and sure, most people say they don’t have hard hands, most people may not know, which is why I keep having my friends take pictures of me, so I can see how my horses responds to me in a way I can’t when I am riding… you can learn so much, from watching yourself and your horse… 😉

    • Starstone says:

      Okay then, its my choice 😉 I chose to wear a bit, and my horses really don’t mind. They don’t run away screaming when they see me coming with their bridle… I take it they would if they thought I was abusing them, and my horses have a pasture so they CAN run away, unlike most other horses.
      And no, in competitions, it’s not allowed at all.
      But yes, showing them, that’s all for me. Riding them, that’s all for me too. Buying them, that’s all for me too… where does it stop?
      I have horses, because I want to show those who are ready and able to be showed, and because I love working with them from the ground as well as while riding them. But that is all for me… so that’s hardly an argument…

      • Ro Kess says:

        It doesn’t matter if it’s not allowed in competitions, because nobody is forced to be in competitions. Yes, it’s your choice, just like it’s the people in the pictures choice. But if all choices are OK, why bother to write the article in the first place?

        You think it’s a matter of degree, but obviuosly the abuse is supported by all of the people who choose to participate, even if they are not mistreating their own horses. It’s like a “good” slave-owner pointing fingers at people who mistreat their slaves, and not recognizing that it’s the insitution of slavery that is the cause of the abuse in the first place. If there is competition involving animals, some people are going to be abusive to win.

      • Starstone says:

        I’ll be a good slave owner then, I am not, nor will I ever be, a fanatic…
        I maintain the right to ride my horses, to wear a bit, and to compete with them… yes, by the way, and my horses wear iron shoes as well, so bite me…
        And no, it’s not a matter of degree.. Do you have horses, do you know anything about horses or are you someone from the “world outside” who have never owned or worked with a horse before?
        All choices are not OK, of course not. This is going no where.
        I wrote this article to answer all stupid quistions at once, clearly I missed a few… No offence…

      • Ro Kess says:

        I can’t reply below your last reply so I’ll put it here. Yes I have horses. I realize that you can not see that you are responding exactly the same way as the people you are criticizing, and that you are not open considering the big picture from a different point of view. Some people have the ability look at things differently and question what they have been taught and change as new information becomes available, and some (most) do not. I don’t know why that is, what makes some people like that and others not, but I know it’s pointless to discuss things like this with those who have reached that point in their knowledge and enlightment that they never question anything that they do after that. Change in the world comes from new people; this is a perfect example of why that is. It wasn’t the good slave owners who fixed the problem, it was those who were against slavery. So, carry on; you don’t know any other way to be.

      • Starstone says:

        Oh my, I know exactly how I am responding, and for the record, I have been taught nothing, from any humans…
        Everything I know about horses, I have been taught by my horses, by listening to them, by being around them, by spending my life with them.
        And you are right, I am not going to let you tell me that my horses are wrong, because to be honest, they know much better than you, what is best for them 😉
        I am not sure though, if you have horses as well, why I am a slave owner and you are not?
        But go on, if you need to feel that you are better than me or if you want the last word, go for it.
        I have no need to be perfect, or to be better than anyone. I just think you are way out of line, telling me that I can’t quistion what I have been taught. You know nothing about me.
        After all, I did take those pictures, and quistioned them, I don’t see you doing anything like that?

      • Ro Kess says:

        Horses didn’t teach you about bits and shoes and competitions.

        The slave thing was an analogy. I wasn’t saying that horses are slaves or that you are a slave-owner. It was meant to suggest how the “good ones” in an abusive system are supporting the system, and are therefore partially responsible for the abuse that occurs by the “bad ones”, because the problem is the system itself. .

        It’s not a matter of me being better than you. It’s a matter of any person having the ability to continue to learn and become better than they used to be. Why wouldn’t you want to be perfect, when it comes to how you treat your animals? I doubt anybody is, but why wouldn’t you want to have that as an ideal? I am very glad that I know more now than I used to know. I hope I learn more.

        I am not trying to have the last word. You can have it, it’s your blog.

    • Starstone says:

      But they did, really… To be honest, I don’t think we disagree very much at all…
      And I understood your slave owner idea, It just pissed me off, because THAT we don’t agree on….
      And you know what,I have spent my life quistioning people, which is why I guess, I respond so strongly to you…. I have spent my life getting kicked out, banned and black listed, for asking all the quistions people don’t want to hear, I have spent my life fighting for broken and abused horses, to the point where even my friends were laughing behind my back and telling me openly to give them up, and you know what, the second you start to believe that you are perfect, is the second you stop learning…
      Which is why I keep going to events, like the Danish Championship for instance, to learn. I am quite good at picking up on training methods. Sadly, there was hardly anything I wanted to go home and copy at that event.
      My friends and I are going to a horsemanship clinic tonight, just to watch and learn.
      So yes, humans have inspired me, and will always continue to do so, I hope, but no one taught me what works and waht doesn’t, better than my horses! I am very selective about who I listen to, because the welfare of my horse always comes forst, and for the most part, I never agree with people’s training methods.

  6. Malene says:

    Just keep your voice up, no matter what the main part of equestrians say, no matter how much cr*p you have to take.
    Keep the good stuff, for get the bad.
    Thank you for doing this.

  7. Sandra says:

    Trust me – this is a problem not only in Denmark… But this type of dressage, which “helgestrand” is getting “quite professional at” – is as you write: downright animal abuse! I have been to a clinic with Mr. Helgstrand himself and I also had a really hard time getting any nice pictures at all…

  8. Very very good post, I will share – I agree that we need to put these names out there, and make people aware that when they see this behavior in warmup they can – and should – complain loudly. Unfortunately, these riders are being rewarded with high scores and MONEYMONEYMONEY.

    • Starstone says:

      It wasn’t just while warming up, they did it too, right in front of the judges…
      And it’s not so much about the names for me, really I am not out to “get” anyone, this is a huge problem in dressage, most proffesionals do it…
      It just shouldn’t happen at all, no matter who does it…

  9. caija says:

    A “moment” is an medieval measure for time and equals about 90 seconds, or was it 120seconds? No matter wich, a serie of 2000 pics are not just a moment frozen in time where the horse might be trying to bite it’s chest because of a fly, or jumping forward since it got scared from something behind…. I call a truckload of BS on that.

  10. Sally Amsterdamer says:

    God bless the amateur riders who don’t ride like that. I’m one of them and I wouldn’t lower myself to treat a noble horse like those “professionals” who ride the way shown in your photos,,,

  11. Susan Hopf says:

    Bravo to you for bringing this into the light. This and so many bad training methods have left me feeling that equine competitions need to be banned. Too much ego and the rewards for such – human rewards that is – once riding is no longer about the horse there really doesn’t seem to be much point. Get a motorcylce or a 4×4 if you want to makes so many changes that it is no longer recognizable.

  12. Margaret Green says:

    I am not a high level rider, but I do know that there should NEVER be any pressure on the horse to bring his nose ‘behind the vertical’ SO ANY picture that shows a horse with his nose behind the vertical AND any contact from the riders reins in this position is WRONG and (I thought) against FEI rules? It is certainly very poor horsemanship and abuses the trust we need to become ‘centaurs’ – that rare human-equine creature that dances for joy…

    • Starstone says:

      Sadly I don’t think it is against FEI rules…. 😦

      • Vera Kertesz says:

        it s not . Rollkur or better to say Hyperflexing is not against FEI rules as long it s applied not longer than 10 minutes buy a rider to its horse. And they even give you a whole run down why it s good to flex the msucles that way. However Dr. Mechteld van Dierendonck who did an examination about it. Measuring the heart beats of the horses just to see the response of applying hyperflexing. The result was that even if just applied for 1 minute the horses are under stress and most likely according to the measurings in pain. (Well i guess common sense can see that too) And nonetheless there was no official response or action taken even after publishing the results of that. And LDR is not the same as rollkur. LDR is making the horses go deep and round over the back : problem is the horses are going like a bow the back is getting actually strong the head low and the back is round. but it s not loose and the movement is not flowing from behind to the front. the horses are literary leanning with their head down on the bit cause that s the way they can balance and they have their weight on the front even the back legs are getting more under them. and THEN to get the head in a “nice position” people have to to the rollkur cause the horse can only ” fall appart” to the front otherwise. And they call it riding the horse to your hand. BS ! The horses are getting immensly strong and muscular but just not the right way. But fact is for the rider the horse looks very fast a lot better and it goes a lot more “round” and it looks they are improving. It s basically cheating biomechanics. Like a body builder who knows how to pump up the muscles but cannot really do any kind of endurance training lacking of strength. Something like that. I m not the right expert to explain this in details but this is what s happening. And that s why so many people are falling into this trap. Even well educated equestrians who think they do the best for their horses.

    • LHK says:

      Wow, what a absolute great answer…! ” to become ‘centaurs’ – that rare human-equine creature that dances for joy…”

  13. Emma Wilding says:

    What I don’t get is why other riders warming up don’t say anything! When I reach this level, I vow to shame any rider “working” their horse in such a cruel manner. This need to stop. Period.

    • Starstone says:

      Most of the others sort of did the same… not as bad, but close enough…
      Besides, I guess they fear for their future in the world of horses…. people who cause trouble, get nowhere…

      • Kristýna says:

        Hello again…you named the problem. Maybe you can do it in big countries, but in our country there are about 10 maybe 15 top (I mean the national level) riders. Everybody knows each other and that applies for judges and for the equestrian federation officers too.

  14. equinelover says:

    Keep fighting the fight!! As a lover of Tennessee Walking Horses, I have been involved in trying to stop the evil, abusive lickers. It seems to me, that whenever humans get involved in showing animals, be it horses, dogs, cats, bunnies, compassion and love fly out the window in the search for ever more extreme “winners” and “brood stock” and the frakking ribbons and high point awards and of course the MONEY. The love of money is the root of all evil.

    • Starstone says:

      Its such a shame…. I will never understand why anyone wants to risk the health and welfare of their animals for a bloody ribbon…
      frakking, you’re a gattlestar galatica fan? 😉
      But yes, it’s always a problem once money gets involved…

  15. Reblogged this on NewsBook by Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy and commented:
    A blog post for all riders (not only dressage riders) to ponder about…:

  16. well written!!! (y) … Probably close to 100% exactly how I feel about this way of ””training”’ and thank you for posting…. your photos have started the ball rolling again all over and it has saddened me to notice that we have been at this for some 4/5 years already! We just going to have to keep at it!

  17. Chloe A D says:

    So well written Starstone. I will share this on my page as its as much about raising awareness around the world as it is about highlighting the riders who are blatantly abusive to their horses.

    I also wanted to mention with regard to Ro Kess’ comment about competing. I actually am of the same notion with you Starstone; I have not competed for many years now because of the way the sport is dominated by riders who either have unlimited funds or friends in the right places. However, I believe it can be the perfect platform for riders like ourselves who have SUCCESSFULLY trained our horses using correct training methods that actually benefit the horse mentally and physically (and that is to say that our said horse enjoys the atmosphere), to illustrate the unnecessary rollkur and such techniques (as surely the only reason they are doing this to their horses is to get results, fast.?).
    To boycott events would prove futile; it would allow a simple ignorance to occur in the industry as the LDR club would prevail. Rather I suggest we, and I mean that in the collective sense of all riders who actively train in a manner that promotes what classical dressage is about and the actual art of riding, continue to train and indeed compete, leading the way forward for a new perspective in dressage. It will not be easy and it will take some time, but ultimately, the more aware the public are of such cruel methods occurring, the quicker the federations and governing bodies will be forced to forbid the abuse the above photos demonstrate.

    It’s only my opinion from the research I have done, and I’d love to hear what others think too!
    In the meantime, thank you Starstone for publishing this and let me reiterate that you have huge support, from around the world in your mission to ban Rollkur.

    • Starstone says:

      I don’t think that just staying away will make a difference any more no, because if no one is there to change anything, nothing will ever be changed…

      And yes, share it all you like 🙂

  18. Julie says:

    Well done for writing this. It’s discusting and I am embarrassed to call myself Danish when I see pics like this x

  19. Emma B says:

    It’s f*cking appalling!!!! It makes me feel sick with fury and sadness

  20. Stensholmen says:

    Well said (and written)! I am so afraid of this method of training spreading. I think there are many young kids looking at their idols – thinking that this sort of riding is correct and benefitial – leading them to try and ride in the same way. Poor horses that are the ones to pay the price for our ignorance. I pray that someday rollkur will be banned in all disciplines and that the knowledge of the health damages (physical as well as psycological) it causes will be common knowledge.

  21. Kelly says:

    Go Starstone. I couldn’t look at the pictures, I know the content. I appreciate you going bold and saying what you have to say. Some people are in it for the sport, are purely ignorant, or simply cold hearted. It frightens me that some of these competitors will also be teaching children. There is so much sadness in all horse sport worlds. It’s disgusting what someone will do to these beautiful animals to bring home a trophy. Thank you for giving them a voice.

    • Starstone says:

      What is even more amazing is that even after these pictures were published, DRF continues to state that no horse was abused… Such an uphill battle, really….

  22. sammerson says:

    As I’ve said, I don’t know much about Dressage or rollkur, honestly, I had to look it up last night to see exactly what it was. I think the problem is, and I don’t know how long this has been going on, but the longer and longer “professionals” do this, the more and more up and coming riders will accept it as “okay” and begin to believe that it’s NOT abuse. And as they believe that, they will, in a sense, not be aware of the harsh pressure they are putting on their horses. Meaning that “little lise” will grow up not knowing that what she is doing is wrong and at some point, can’t really be held accountable for her actions. That’s why it has to stop before it gets to that point.

    As far as the bitless bridle thing goes, I’ve always rode with a bitless bridle ( my horses can and have easily transitioned to bits when needed) but have seen harm done to horses in them too. In my opinion, it has nothing to do with the bit, it has everything to do with the rider. I think everyone should be taught from the very first moment the set foot in a stirrup how to slow their hands down and learn to not “yank” on the horses mouth. With the proper hands, any horse should be able to be ridden in any bit without causing it any distress.

    • Starstone says:

      you are so right, couldn’t have said it better myself, all of it…. and yes, I’ve seen hard hands and bitless bridles too, anything can be used wrongly. It all comes down to the hand that holds the rein…

    • jen says:

      Oh, I totally agree Sammerson! You summed it all up perfectly. As a novice who worked with a trainer for awhile, I know how hard it can be to question your mentor’s methods, even when you get the feeling that they are too harsh. So if you have a whole group of trainers teaching that certain techniques are acceptable (when they really aren’t), I can see where it could create a new generation of riders who don’t know any better!

      I had no idea my bitless bridle comment would start such a stir. I’m not a crazy anti-bit fanatic or anything. I would probably continue to use a plain old snaffle bit on Tequila, if it weren’t for her tongue. I just can’t bring myself to cause any more trauma to her – physical or emotional. The guy who owned her before me was admittedly heavy with the reins (using a leverage bit besides), and as a result, him and Tequila didn’t see eye to eye. I try to be as light as I can (and I am far from perfect), and I try to primarily use leg cues – so we get along just fine.

      I do agree with the statement that a bit (or bitless bridle) is only as harsh as the hands that are controlling it. It seems like some people view the bit as their only means of control…if the horse isn’t cooperating, they switch to a harsher bit (that, by the way, was my former trainer’s answer to Blue’s head tossing issue). Bit or bitless bridle, it just comes down to this: What are we asking of the horse? Is it a reasonable request, given the horse’s temperament, physical condition, and training? If we’re relying on the reins alone to achieve our goal, it probably isn’t a reasonable request.

      Keep up the good work, Starstone!

      • Starstone says:

        you are so right, most people feel helpless without their reins 😉 And I know you do what is best for your horse, and Tequila has a special reason for not wearing a bit, I am just glad you listen to her, and don’t force it on her. I wouldn’t either, with a horse like that.
        One of the reasons why I never competed with Poseidon was that you must wear a noseband, and he didn’t want to wear one and I was not going to make him…
        Lot’s of stupid rules, really 😉

      • sammerson says:

        I ALMOST said something to the same effect about people switching bits when it’s not working. I can’t stand to hear people say “Well, my horse doesn’t respond to a snaffle, it’s not harsh enough, so I started using a curb” Not saying there is anything wrong with a curb so please no one misunderstand that. What I’m saying is,before you automatically assume that the issue is the bit, take a moment to really think about how you ride and if it could possibly be something you are doing. A trainer of mine, who I wholly respect, told me once that he believed every horse should be able to be ridden in a snaffle. I understand his theory on that, If you can’t get your horse to respond to the minimal amount of pressure provided by a snaffle, you need to work on softening your horse up because the only thing you are doing is making your hands harder and harder as you try to MAKE him respond. What do you think will happen when you use those same hard hands with that curb bit that amplifies the pressure your horse is feeling? The horse is going to get really mad at you and likely start picking up some bad habits but, more importantly, you’re going to end up hurting him.

      • Starstone says:

        Yep…. its the same with spurs, really… people start out without them, then they get small ones, and in the end, they wear long wheels… why? Because the horse is not responding… Oh well, maybe you should look at how you use your legs then?
        And by the way, I teach my horses that I can wear spurs as well, for all of you who want to freak out over that, because you have to wear them in dressage competitions.
        I maintain though, that you can use spurs, just like the bit, with little to no pressure, or you can abuse it.
        And yes, all horses should be able to be ridden without spurs, and in my world, without a bit as well. I keep doing it once in a while, just to check that I am not “loosing” my horses.. 😉

    • Flossie says:

      Well said Sammerson! Every action with our horses should be mindful & guided by kindness. The bit is an exquisite form of communication between horse & rider, and rather than riding bitless, which can cause as much if not more damage to the horse, but often hidden, each rider should seek to improve their balance, seat & hands so as not to cause discomfort with the bit by pulling backwards or harshly!

      Keep up the good work Starstone & don’t let the anti-bit fanatics get you down – one day they hopefully will realise that bits are not the work of satan!

  23. Debbie Marshall says:

    It is not about being better, it is a bout having a morality toward another living, feeling being that is bigger than ones ego.

  24. Kei says:

    Very well written, I agree with you on most points. However when you write “When a horse isn’t strong enough to carry himself correctly, it starts to cheat. ” I would say that it’s not about cheating. It’s about not being strong enough, period.
    I feel that most people have a very bad tolerance for work in progress and they expect everything to be 100% perfect, otherwise they completely discard the rider to the waste pile. I’m not saying you do, but so does a lot of people.
    When I ride, I strive for the back swinging, the hindquarters engaged, I don’t really care where the horse puts it’s nose as long as we have a good contact. (However the nose is never like the ones on your pictures) When he strengthens his back, over time, he will be able to come to the vertical, but I can’t force that to happen more quickly. So, he’s behind the vertical almost all the time as soon as he starts to work with his back and seeking contact, in a low and round form.

    • Starstone says:

      cheating might be a worng word… I didn’t use it in the sense that “it cheats to be bad”, no horse ever do that… more, it cheats to protect itself, to escape the pressure of something it can’t handle, and if the rider doesn’t notice, it will come up with ways of trying it’s best anyway, cheating, because a horse always wants to please his rider in any way possible…

  25. Joan Wright says:

    As long as judges reward this , it will continue to happen. Do you think if the judge gave a poor score it would continue?

    • Starstone says:

      Nope, it’s only because you can win this way, that people do it. But most judges dare not take a stand and those who do receve so many complaints that they are never hired to work as judges again…

  26. Thank you for this very true post. I don’t have ever a bad moment where any of my horses look and suffer like this (neither do my students). Good riding never includes constant pressure. Too bad it’s all about winning and people and not about horses and riding… I’m not a big fan of riding bitless exclusively. In my experience a well used and carefully handled bit serves it’s purpose very well. If I combine this with riding bitless once in a while, I will get a clear picture how well I did my job with the bit. Your article is very well written 🙂 kind regards from Switzerland, Virginia

    • Starstone says:

      Thank you 🙂 I think we need to be careful, not to go overboard, and just shame anyone who wears a bit… I see a lot of horses, ridden bitless, carry themselves just as wrong as the ones in these pictures… Of course, it’s not abuse in the same sense, but it doesn’t do any good for the horse either… And again, it all depends no the person at the end of the reins…

  27. Reblogged this on pferdeakademie and commented:
    Unfortunately it seems as we still have a long way to go until people start thinking their trainingmethods over. It is a mystery to me how anyone can practise riding like that when it is obvious and also scientifically proven that it is unhealthy and stressful for the horse. We need to remember that it is an honor and only thanks to the goodwill of our horses that we are aloud to ride on their back at all.

  28. Wenche says:

    Please keep fighting this fight!!! :0) And if you ever need any help, you just let me know :0) I am ashamed of our so called “professionals”!!!! And I truly feel sorry for them, because they have to “hide” their so called scills behind these cruel methods, when it is all too clear, that they have no idea of how you ride professionally or with respect and empathy!!!

  29. annika says:

    Bit is used only for that you can FEEL when and where horse is unbalanced, you do not correct anything with that.

  30. Claire says:

    Hi there
    I agree wholeheartedly with this argument there is no place for rollkur in dressage it Is downright cruel. Just thought I would mention though that there are some fantastic top riders to be role models out there whose horses are ridden v sympathetically and correctly for example any of the British riders at last years Olympics….

    • Starstone says:

      there are! There really are some great riders out there ! Sadly, they don’t always win, which they should, so this kind of riding would stop…

    • Vera Kertesz says:

      right on. i loved to see the british riders at the london olympics. and the right one won ! I loved every second of seeing that !! She was nice and friendly to her horse and even making a very obvious mistake the harmony and partnership was more valued than the perfection of the exercises. The Dutch equestrian media went ballistic about that Cornelissen was not the winner and it was a shameful experience. Even the riders of the Dutch team are good riders what they do with the horses is right down abuse. LDR is mostly promoted by them – it s a Sjanssen / Grunsven system and it s promoted mainly by them among the sport riders. It looked like FEI made finally a first step into the right direction. But considering how many other great riders who were riding correctly and fair with their horses got bad scores at the Olympics the answer is unfortunately no….The top ones were still the LDR – league except the Brits..

  31. The rollkur problem will never go away until there is a fundamental shift in the dressage training convention of the rider determining the head-carriage of the horse with the bit. Whether this is to bring about rollkur, LDR, or a supposedly correct ‘nose-vertical’ high head carriage.

    The whole point of the phenomenon of engagement, which dressage is supposed to be based on, is that the rounding of the head-carriage is created by the engagement of the haunches and the postural ring. How high the head-carriage is at any stage in trying is determined solely by how strong the postural ring is, how supple the joints are, and how much the horse can therefore tuck and ‘sit’ the pelvis to cantilever the front end up.

    Rollkur is just an exaggeration (by riders and trainers who are particularly switched off to the horse’s suffering) of training that is focused on creating an artificial appearance of engagement without any of the correct gymnastics behind it. As long as there is so little emphasis on correct rider biomechanics in dressage training and judging, these problems aren’t going to go away.

    • Starstone says:

      couldn’t agree more 🙂

    • Lauren says:

      Yes, so true! Horses trained with rollkur do not have the poll as the highest point and have very hollow backs and under developed muscling behind the saddle and unengaged hind legs (out behind). So the judges should be penalising these horses for not being engaged – and I think (hope) they are – mostly….

  32. Thank you for writing this!

  33. kym frazier says:

    We need more eyes like yours in dressage…everywhere. Maybe these abusers will some how feel the pain they inflict on these beautiful loving beasts. Hopefully

  34. Caroline says:

    Thank you for making such measured and rational points and for bringing this issue to light.

  35. Karen says:

    After having spent a 4+ hour dinner with an vet/equine dentist with over 18 yrs of nearly nothing but teeth…and listening to the horror stories of what she has seen in horses mouths from bits, all kinds…in good hands and bad hands….it reaffirms to me that bitless and bridleless, as I do now, is how I’ll stay…..thank you for a good article!

    • Starstone says:

      Thank you 🙂 I’m sure I have a lot to learn still, about bits and bitless bridles 😉 I’m always looking to learn, I am just rather picky with who I allow to teach me 😉

  36. Ylvie says:

    Very well written article and congratulations for having the courage to stand up for what’s right. Unfortunately it happens not only in Denmark but here in the Netherlands too. I hope that all who read this blog end up setting a different kind of example. With or without bits, shoes or saddles. Show the world that we can actually perform better with our Horses if we train fair, and that our horses last longer and have less injuries. Only if we can show this to the world, the attitude
    might change. A Horse that can be ridden longer and is less often injured is not only happier but also a better investment. Now that should convice those money-minder riders… For me, I just have to look at my Horses to know what they want..

    • Starstone says:

      And that is how it should be, if people only listened to their horse, the world would be a much better place…

    • Vera Kertesz says:

      The source of LDR is the Netherlands. It s going wrong on oh so many levels. Starting with the education for instructors – the most known one which is almost the only one that is accepted if someone wants to work at a riding school. Because the insurrances mainly accept that one for riding instructors and only when they have instructors coming from that specific education are willing to give the required insurance for a riding school that is needed to be able to run and get the safety certificate – which is asked from the insurrance. See the pattern ? And there you ll be indoctrinated with the methods that the horse has to go on the bit right away neck round and deep. And LDR is as bad it gets is not Rollkur yet – that s a logical consequence of it. Luckily there are other educations for instructors which are teaching the traditional technically correct dressage riding and training methods. But guess what ? Try to get a job in a riding school with those papers. You can always work with it as a free lancer and be insured but almost or hardly any riding school will take you without the mentioned mainly accepted school ´s papers because the insurrance etc. will not accept it. And this is just locally here this goes on so many levels like this.

  37. Vera Kertesz says:

    Great article and it made it around on the world ´s horse forums / blogs etc. And as for the “bitless brigade” : it doesn t matter if you have a bit or a bitless bridle : hard hands are abusive the same way with both and soft hands are giving and friendly with BOTH. Just because someone rides bitless it doesn t mean they are NOT harming the horse. Bridless bridles are made to pressure nerve points on the nose when pulled on them. Imagine what that does to the animal when puling…. My favourite pet peewee is the Parelly Halter. The oh so great horse friendly one. People need to educate themselves for real before they argue about this and not because to show who is the more clever or knows better about horses. It s for the sake and wellfare of the horses. Anyone who is arguing with that kind of communication like above is not about the welfare of horses but about to have the last word. A bit is NOT an abuse. It s just as abusive as the hands behind the reins attached to it. By the way check the veterinarian sources and researches : a bitless briddle can have a 10times bigger impact on the horses ´nose, head etc than a briddle with bit. FACT. Just do a little research and you ll find it. I m not going to post links here so people can start to educate themselves and think. FOR the sake of the horses just like the author of this article does. By the way : I would LOVE to see someone doing this at a high profile jumping comeptition. Thanks for sharing this. Great job 🙂

    • Starstone says:

      Well said 😉 I almost didn’t need to write that new post I just published, you said it all much better than me 🙂
      And yes, we need a lot more focus on the jumping as well…. But like I said, I didn’t plan for any of this, we just happened to get the pictures and I couldn’t keep them to myself…

      • Vera Kertesz says:

        Thank you.. Im afraid at a high level jumping competition you would not even had the chance to take pictures at warming up – not even by accident. I watched a lot of them as well as dressage ones specially during the course of my last education and what is very obvious to me is the fact that rollkur made it even to the top level show jumpers. Which is a mystery to me how someone with a common sense and a will to live can do that and believe they will not pay for it sooner or later. Now if there is a discipline where one is depending on the balance and use of the back of the horse is when going over 2m+ high fences. Recommend also to watch it for the ones who argue that only bitles is friendly to a horse. WArning you ll be taught better… Unfortunately..

    • Starstone says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen some very bad riding at jumping events as well, and actually, I’ve been on their warm up grounds, I just didn’t have my camera… I learned from that, never go anywhere without a camera, you never know when you may need it…

  38. Chloe Devereux says:

    Thought this may also be of interest to you guys- I found it on one of the anti rollkur pages on facebook and it made me think. Isn’t it interesting how it simply wasnt tolerated when first introduced, yet why do the FEI and other governing bodies find it so difficult to ban? Something to ponder on perhaps…

    LDR/Rollkur is not a modern invention, nor is it scientifically proven or a modern way of training. It is a combination of Baucher and Plinzner. Both training methods received heavy criticism and were banned from the classical, military riding schools in France and Germany.

    “At around 1875, the
    commanded person responsible for the
    mounting of the Prince Wilhelm, Plinzner,
    came by the realisation of his difficult job to a
    new idea of the compulsory “horse on the
    bit”, i.e. he put the horse noses behind the bit
    and, moreover, he ordered to join the reigns
    of the bridle and the double bridle at the end
    by sewing them together, so that they were
    gathered in a fourfold strip of belts. Several
    rings were sewed in, so that the Emperor
    could insert a hook inside, fastened in the left
    glove, so that he could shorten or stretch the
    reins. His rein fist was so strongly paralyzed
    that it could only be closed or be opened with
    the help of the right hand. Moreover, the left
    arm was so immobile that turns with a horse
    could only be reached by shifting the upper
    part of the body. His Majesty had acquired
    such a routine in this shifting of his body that
    one hardly noticed anything at all. Moreover,
    there was any indication during the loved
    cavalry attacks ridden by him, whom he
    decreased after 1904, therefore just before
    Pflinzners departure in 1905.
    At the same time the Lörkes probationary year
    was finished and he was engaged as a royal
    saddle master, adherent with also a complete
    reorganization of the royal stud. The former
    Chief Masters of the Horse, Count Wedel,
    explained his solidarity with Pflinzner and
    asked for his dismissal. ” (Piaffe Magazine, No 1, 2011)

  39. Christine Baynham says:

    Well said Starstone, a very well thought out blog. Like you I ride using a bit and my horse has shoes on (I tried very hard to keep her shoeless but her feet didn’t cope and it affected her gait adversely…..I have to ride on tarmac to get anywhere unless I ride in the menage all the time). As to the “slavery” comparison you could say that we all enslave our horses the minute we stop them doing everything naturally so that will include bitless, barefoot and those using treeless saddles. We have to accept that our horses do unnatural things purely by being domesticated. Your points on rollkur remain valid despite your choice to compete. Keep up the good work, eventually people will listen

  40. Pingback: Choices | Forgetting To Breathe

  41. Tabisinian says:

    I agree COMPLETELY with you about the “setting the example” issue. When aspiring competitors see top riders using harsh or abusive “short cut” training methods, it’s difficult to expect them to believe that what they’re seeing is a problem. “The judges and officials are allowing it, so it must be ok.” Great. Just what we need to facilitate proper training and education. Yeah. Also, I started out 10 years ago as a fanatical barefoot, bitless, bareback advocate. But after 10 years as a professional trainer and farrier, my views have changed. I HATE the “get a bigger bit” philosophy. I DO, however subscribe to the view that a bit is only as harsh as the hands using it. I’ve dealt with horses who hated the gentlest of snaffles, chewing and stomping and head tossing. But put a “quick” curb bit on a loose rein and they were happy campers. I’ve had horses that worked great in hackamores and ones who hated them. I’ve had horses that performed great barefoot and ones who were miserable barefoot. I’ve dealt with horses who like being ridden bareback and horses who didn’t. Don’t let the uneducated or “bleeding heart” fanatics dampen your desire to do what’s right for YOUR horses. And those who refuse to compete or participate in that world and learn its ins and outs have absolutely no right to criticize what they are unwilling to help improve. Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. It just leaves the venue open to people willing to exploit it. By seeking competition using appropriate training and riding methods, you can do way more to help than by ignoring the problem or turning your nose up at it. I say “ride on!” And maybe, one day, “freestyle” dressage (meaning saddle-less and bridle-less) will be an approved event. THAT would be true example of softness and harmony between rider and horse. Until then, we do the best we can within the rules in place. And, with noble crusaders like you around, we strive to improve the system for the long-term benefit of all competitors, human and equine.

    • Starstone says:

      Wow, so well said !
      And yes, I would LOVE to see “freestyle” be allowed, it would make it so much easier to see the difference between who “rides” and who “cheats.”
      Also, like you said, horses are different, and some horses do not work on a bit, but if free style was allowed, a lot of horses would have a future anyway.
      I see lots of horses for sale, who can’t wear a bit, but are great dressage trained horses, and sadly, these ones, are never going to be used for anything, and no one other than the slaughter is going to buy them, simply because you can’t use a dressage horse that can’t wear a bit for anything…

      The sport has gone so wrong lately, the way we look at our horses, the way if a horse don’t live up to a certain standard, it’s useless…
      I’ve spent my life picking up “useless” horses, so it’s kind of an issue dear to my heart 😉

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