Do We Need Blood?

I was talking to one of my friends yesterday. The one who helped me take the famous pictures at the Danish Championship of our fantastic riders, practicing Rollkur.

Turns out, someone more active than me are arranging a demonstration against Rollkur, come the European Championships. I must admit, I am not going. At least not to sit outside and demonstrate. IF I end up going, it sure will be to take pictures, and mainly from the warm up areas, because now, Ecco states that it’s allowed…

But that is not the point of this post. No, those arranging the demonstration are making anti Rollkur t-shirts, and they were discussing a logo. My friend, who have our pictures on her computer as well, used one of the pictures of Andreas as a test, just to see what they wanted. The response was pretty instant.


“That is not bad enough.”


Which got me thinking.

Warning, that is always dangerous.

First off, it’s not? You are kidding right? Of the three main Rollkur riders at the show, Andreas’ horse was the one who ended up with a blue tongue. How is that not bad enough?

Second, and here is what is the most terrifying part of it all, it’s not. When I went to the Danish Championships, I expected that. I expected Andreas to ride, just like he did, I expected his horse to be miserable, I half expected to see a few blue tongues.

I didn’t expect Anna to be much better, after all, she does ride for Helgstrand Dressage. Really, this was exactly what I had expected to see. Scary ha?

IMG_3418 IMG_3352

What tipped the balance for me, was the guy on Nintendo. (I have been trying not to learn his name, but it seems that he is called Thomas…) Never in my life had I expected to see such an unsympathetic person, with such a clear lack of empathy, of compassion and understanding of the animal he was riding.

The way he repeated pulling on the rein, for no reason, the way his horse desperately tried to avoid the pain he was inflicting on it, I swear, that horse would have been screaming if it had had a voice. It’s a shame it doesn’t, then the audience might not have applauded. Then Ridehesten might not have called him “Denmark’s new positive surprise,” the day after.

IMG_2848 IMG_2690



I know that I, watching him ride, felt sick. I know I had moments where I felt dizzy, and where I had to fight to not throw up on the spot, from watching the way he treated that horse. It may sound like I got a low tolerance, but really, I don’t. That guy, just pushed it so far beyond anything you would expect to see anywhere.



Which makes you think. That poor horse, if this is how it is ridden and handled at a SHOW, how is it treated back home? We all know that what we see at shows are only half of it. Which is why I guess, Andreas is not “bad enough” despite the blue tongue. Andreas knows not to be that open about it. He knows how to sneak train Rollkur. He knows that he has something to hide.


The guy on Nintendo, clearly don’t. By the looks of it, he couldn’t care less. By the looks of it, he don’t think he did anything wrong at all? Which makes you wonder, HOW does he train that horse at home, where no one is looking? A guy with no boundaries at a public event, what will he do behind closed doors?

Still, back to my level of tolerance and why I say it’s not low and I am not hysterical. Like I said, I had expected exactly what I got from Andreas and Anna. To be honest, I don’t think I would have caused a fuss over it, if it hadn’t been for the Nintendo guy.

Sure, I may have posted some of the pictures on face book and on my blog, bicthing a bit about what we allow in the sport, like I always do, but I don’t think I would have bothered to send it all to for instance, or any other magazine.

Simply, because what they are doing, is nothing new. We all know its happening. We all turn a blind eye. The horrifying part is, I think I would have too, if that one guy had not pushed me over the edge.

And clearly, even those, more passionate about the anti Rollkur movement than I agree, what Andreas did, wasn’t bad enough.


Terrifying. Of course it was. What is happening to us? How did we all become so cold inside, so used to watching abuse that we so readily turn a blind eye?

On another note, everybody, stop blaming Ecco for everything. Yes, it’s Anna’s mother, yes as a sponsor they share some of the blame, but really, who carries the blame for allowing this, all of this, is FEI, DRF, the judges and, in the end, the riders.

If FEI wouldn’t allow it, DRF wouldn’t allow it. If the judges didn’t reward it, the riders wouldn’t do it.

Who really needs to take the rap for this are FEI and DRF, the federations who can actually make a difference. Come on, we don’t allow glass and nails in the show jumpers boots anymore, why is it different to abuse a dressage horse? Because it’s not bleeding?

It that really what it takes? Blood?


About Starstone

-Owned by horses. Writer, Photographer, Director, Musician.
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50 Responses to Do We Need Blood?

  1. Hi (sorry I don’t know your name) I just wanted to say well done you for speaking out, I couldn’t agree more. I am a professional trainer and produce horses for a variety of disciplines, I however will not compromise my ethics and principles just to win a coloured ribbon. My horses mean more to me than that, they are my friends and partners and I don’t care if they win or lose as long as they have fun along the way. I have stuck to my guns irrespective of what the “fashion of the moment” is and my horses work for me because they want to, not because they have to. I never have nor ever will wear spurs, I use schooling sticks very rarely and will lose them as quickly as possible, we don’t lunge our horses, our horses do not wear nosebands of any kind so if they are uncomfortable with the bit or the aids they can let us know immediately, we work our horses in snaffle bits and only our advanced horses who require no contact whatsoever wear the mildest curb bit available (they would only wear this in competition) with a leather curb strap not chain. All of my students ride likewise and we have found that if enough of us enter a class together and ride this way then the judge is forced to place our style thus letting the public see another way. Slowly over time this can change “fashion” and hopefully bring some of these people back to reality and make them realise the reason they got into horses in the first place was the love of the animal, not the love of prizes and glory.

    Thank you for speaking out, there are many of us out there who think like you.

  2. Laura Bold says:

    This is so right. The power for change lies in the hands of the judges. If fines and disqualifications were dished out for these abuses it might make people wake up. T-shirt idea… A human with a bit and bridle on cranking the human’s head back to their chest with the statement “Let me know how this works out for you…” End Rollkur.

  3. Debz says:

    I’m not a squeamish person, but I felt nauseous just looking at the photos. It never ceases to amaze me that the discipline that needs the most athletic and sttongest horses to exhibit the peak of natural ability is the one where so many think unatural wrestling is the way forward. I’m not sure whether to be more angry or depressed 😦

  4. Aleks Thostrup says:

    Well done. This is a very, very well-written post.

  5. Inge-Lise says:

    Det har da intet at gøre med, at man/vi ikke synes AH er slemt nok !!!! Det handler om kommunikation og det at få et budskab igennem. At rideverdnen er blevet så syg, at der skal meget til kommunikativt, før det vækker ubehag, skal man da ikke klandre gruppen for – så forfejler man da sit budskab og fremstår lidt prinsessesur.

  6. søs Jensen says:

    Of cause we could go after Ecco – there are the weak part – not the FEI or Danish – they can and they do censore critical voices. Ecco can’t do that and they are much more vanualble to the public opion. I think this comment is completely devoid overall understanding of how the horse world function.

    • Starstone says:

      the world of horses needs sponcers, if we don’t have any, there will be no competitions at all… so no, blaming Ecco is stupid, really.
      DRF anf FEI could make a difference, they are the ones that should make the rules, but they simply don’t…

  7. Hanne Nørgaard says:

    The aim is not to make Ecco withdraw their sponsorship, but to induce Ecco to demand that DRF enforces the regulations that they already have adopted. Ecco clames to have high standards when it comes to CSR som one must assume that this also reaches to the extend of their sponsorships and to animal welfare. As you state yourself “no sporsors no competitions”, so the hope is that DRF is more likely to listen to cash than they apparently are to act on requests from their own members.

    • Starstone says:

      I just think it’s the wrong way to go around it… but at least you have a sensible reason for going after Ecco…
      Anyone notice that Anna had Pavo on her sadle pad? I don’t hear anyone freaking out over that? Why only Ecco?

      • Hanne Nørgaard says:

        The reason for going after Ecco is because they support DRF, and DRF is the organisation which 1) sets the rules of the game of competition dressage. 2)does not even follow their own regulations. 3) refuse to even debate how to tighten these regulations and make them crystal clear. Pavo on the other hand is supporting a specific person, and as much as I despise her using this training method, I think the right way is to go after the organisation that sets the rules instead of single persons. Thus going after the companies supporting the organisation instead of the companies supporting single riders. You may not aggree with this , but at least this is the reason why..

      • Starstone says:

        Thank you for explaining 😉
        I still think we should go after DRF instead, but no, we ate not going to agree on that… and I absolutly think we should go after the small sponsores who support single riders, because if no one dared sponsor someone who rollkured, it would be hard to remain a top rider….

  8. Karin Bak says:

    You say it youself: “I expect blue tongue”. Thats why its is not bad enough. To open the eyes of the people it has to be so bad that they start ask questions. It can be said so short and so cruel…

  9. This is abject cruelty! Absolutely despicable! WHY IS IT NOT STOPPED? Where r the RSPCA ??????!!!!! A dam disgrace!!!!!! Everyone must see this

  10. Caroline Cassels says:

    This is disgraceful. How do DRF and FEI allow such practices to continue. This isn’t sport, and I’m amazed these practises are allowed in the name of the sport. Surely the competitors should be immediately eliminated and never allowed to win. Ro, just as English racing has banned overuse of the whip, so should be judges of dressage award no points for any movement carried out using these awful tactics.

  11. Danee Rudy says:

    I certainly understand the concern over a picture being, “not bad enough”, but we do need a clear, objective point at which we consider enough enough. Plenty of times riding a horse slightly behind the verticle (less then 10 degrees behind) is just part of the learning curve and in my mind is not ideal, but certainly acceptable. Where 45 degrees btv is so OBVIOUSLY abusive! I think it would give stewarts a real power to help these horses if we had an exact degree that was deamed abusive. It would make riders constantly worried about going “too far”- a worry that Nintendo’s rider obviously doesn’t currently have. I would also like to see a standard wedge that MUST fit between the bridge of nose and cavesson, and for cavessons, double bridles, and spurs to be optional in the freestyle. All would be small postive steps in the right direction!

    • Starstone says:

      maybe if all riders started fearing “going to far” the sport would finally get a good name again…. and no, I’m not out to get everyone whose horse “ducks under” on it’s own accord once in a while, not at all…
      but there is mistakes and there is deliberate abuse and no one- really- should need a manual to tell the difference…

  12. Heather Seems says:

    For evil to succeed, all the good have to do is nothing. These so called training methods are nothing short of torture. It has been statistically proven that the age a competition horse lives to is 7yrs old. Their minds are shattered and bodies broken for what ?

  13. Sarah rushton says:

    Everybody moans about it, how about taking a stand and not watch it???? Why does everyone go and support high level dressage?? Boycot it. Without the support it currently receives it cannot continue.
    Can’t we set up a new dressage world without the unnecessary appalling treatment of these horses. We must lead by example rather than oppose what we know is wrong.
    Those of us who have lost faith in affiliation in the current dressage world because we DO NOT want to ride our horses in this way, or indeed expect our horses to go in the unnatural way that seems to get placings. Lets do something!

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  15. Frida says:

    This makes me so angry and so sad at the same time. Can we stop this in time, before everyone is doing it and the people reacting and protesting aren’t many enough to be heard? Thank you for not shutting up and thank you for caring. It’s our responsibility to react, change and repair a sport that once was beautiful.

    • Starstone says:

      let’s hope so 🙂

    • Starstone says:

      thank you for supportin me 🙂 so many people don’t, that is almost the scariest part…

      • Frida says:

        I am sick of excuses. Despite the fact that there are photos and films of people practicing these kinds of so called training methods, people still won’t face fact and realize what is going on. The world of equestrian needs more people like you who aren’t afraid to discuss and question what’s going on. Keep up the good work, I will always support the ones who put the horse’s well-being first and prestige, money and celebrity of riders second.

      • Starstone says:

        thank you 🙂

  16. I am sickened by this. I don’t understand why judges can not be directed to give only very low marks when any amount of over flexing happens. It states very clearly in the rule book that the poll must be the highest point with a few exceptions on stretching exercises. As a judge myself I have been told by other more senior judges that you can not judge the horse by the connection alone. You must take into consideration the legs and the forward motion thru the body. Why? When it is so obvious the horse is in complete pain thru its mouth and neck into every fiber in its body. I became a judge so I could make a difference. So far it only agitates me because not all the judges seem to be able to empathize with these poor horses nor are they willing to offend the competitors or show managers. As judges we MUST be the voice for the horse first. To hell with politics!

    • Starstone says:

      I wish you the very best of luck, nice to meet a judge who wants to make a difference and I hope you hang in there, it can’t be easy I imagine… !

  17. Åsa says:

    Very well written post, I think you wrap it up very good with “If FEI wouldn’t allow it, DRF wouldn’t allow it. If the judges didn’t reward it, the riders wouldn’t do it.” I think that’s where the problem is. Why do the judges reward it? And why do FEI allow it? For what I know the sport should be about harmony and to dance with your horse. Another interesting thing is that when dressage riders are using hyperflexion it’s called rollkur, but when showjumpers do the same, it’s called “warming up” … To me there’s not so much difference.

  18. June says:

    This certainly is a disgrace I feel sick to the stomach watching this and ashamed that judges are turning a blind eye to this. I would also like to say I feel sick just going along to watch a local competition it is not just rollkur it is simply riders that are riding their horses that are in pain, how many unbalanced riders are out there or how many are riding in saddles way too small for them and jammed in to a position putting so much pressure on the horses back and riding a hollow horse on the forehand it is everywhere poor horses in pain. Every horse owner should have a manual on the bio mechanics of a horse and how to look for pain instead of listening to rider’s stating their horse has been naughty or their horse has just had a shy, ask your horse why is he/she shying or being naughty look in their eye’s and see the pain. These beautiful creatures deserve to be treated with respect and then they will respect us.

  19. piepony says:

    These riders and their trainers who encourage them towards abuse for prize money need to be NAMED. Those who understand horse anatomy can see what is wrong ahead of what an uneducated spectator might find acceptable. Cruelty in sport involving animals should not be legitimised. Change the rules, change the judges and allow welfare to be enforced.
    Thank you Starstone for a good article and keeping awareness of the problems highlighted.xx

  20. Kate Reilly says:

    I think your photographs are a very good way of spreading the word about this being an ongoing problem. I am a non-competing novice rider in Australia and have nothing to do with the world of high level dressage, however I would love to lend my voice to protesting about this abuse. Do you have any practical suggestions? Perhaps names and addresses of people in the FEI to write to? Or is there any website or petition to sign? Are the RSPCA aware of it? In practical terms – what can we do to make a change?

    • Starstone says:

      I am not sure.. if you are no face book, there is a page named “turn your back on riders that rollkur”
      they are very organized and they have a petition you can sign and such, I am sure they could guide you better than me 😉

  21. Vee Sutherland says:

    The last picture of Nintendo, with his eyes closed, absolutely broke my heart. I downloaded it, added some words and reposted it. I will be happy to discuss any attributions that you would like me to add. (You can contact me directly via email.) And, in answer to Kate Reilly’s post about getting involved and learning more, the most active Facebook group is No-Rollkur as well as Blue Tongue Alumni . Another active one is International Equestrian Discussions and just so you have it, here’s the link to Turn your back on riders who Rollkur . And, here is the link to the FEI ( ) but they rarely respond and when they do it’s with a content-free canned response.
    Let me know what you want to do about me using your picture. Thanks!

    • Starstone says:

      you can use it all you want, but that last pic with the blue tongue and the eyes closed is Akeem Foldager, ridden by Andreas Helgstrand, not Nintendo 😉

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