If You Are Not Pulling On The Rein, How Can It know?

A friend of mine, was at a training course the other day. With Bjarne Nielsen. You know, the guy who helped Andreas Helgstrand a few years back, prove to a live audience, how rollkur is good for the horse.

Why any of my friends would chose to take lessons from him, is beyond me. It truly is. I did take a lot of horrible pictures, with a lot of offbeat gaits, a horse hanging heavily on the front legs, a horse being pulled in at the front, over extended, locked in the back, and all in all, looking like a very poor creature.

I will refrain from posting any of them though, since this girl, I am sure, found it to be an educational day, and she was very happy about her horse.

And she is supposed to be my friend.

Sometimes I just wonder, how someone close to me, can have ventured so far away from everything that has anything to do with dressage. Or horsemanship. Or plainly, not abusing your animal.

Anyway, the point to this post… Because yes, I watched. I kept silent. Like a true coward. I watched this horse that I have known for years, ridden straight into the ground. I watched and I kept quiet, knowing full well, that if this girl continues on this road, this horse will lose even more muscle in its already hollow back, its front legs will fail and she will lose her horse. If I was a better friend, I would say something. If she was a better friend, she would listen, and realize that I only worry for her and her horse, but I know that no matter what I say, will be met with anger.

I just don’t know how to be the kind of friend who keeps quiet in situations like that. I don’t want to be that kind of person. But this is a well renowned horse trainer. One of the best we have in Denmark. Who am I to dispute anything he says? Like it was clearly stated at the clinic he held with Andreas Helgstrand, anyone who disagrees about how healthy rollkur is for the horse, just don’t know how to train a horse. (The clinic is on video, with sound track on Epona.tv.)

And the punch line. As he was teaching my friend to never let go of the rein, he asked her this; “How can the horse know to bend its neck, if you are not pulling on the rein?”

I mean duuh… how stupid are we? Why have I never thought of that? How can it possibly know?

I have to admit, when he said that, it took all of my self control to not walk out that instant and I am pretty happy that I don’t carry a baseball bat around, because sometimes you come across someone so tremendously stupid… a baseball bat seems like the only option. How do you argue with that kind of logic? How do you reason with a man who has moved SO far away from everything dressage ever was? I am astounded, I am at a loss for words… How ignorant, how misguided, how plainly uneducated…

Let me ask then, who taught Ablaze, my four month (at the time the picture was taken,) old foal, to bend his neck?


Okay, let me hear it, who has been riding my foal, pulling on his reins, because how else could he possibly know?

Oh wait, could it be, that Ablaze is a truly collected horse in this picture? Self carriage. Once the horse is in self carriage, he places his weight on his hind legs, and the frame, the “bend neck” appears on its own. THAT is dressage. And here we are… A statement like that, from Bjarne Nielsen, is so easily proven wrong, one must wonder why he would even say it. Does he think that the people he teaches are that stupid? Or does he really know so little of horses?

I mean seriously, who taught my foal to bend its neck like that?


And Apocalipse, my yet unridden four year old.


I could keep posting pictures like this. Look at your horses on the pasture. If they are balanced and their muscles are well build, they will carry themselves correctly most of the time. And that natural self carriage is what we want in dressage. A way to ride the horse, without killing it. A way to build the horse up, to make it stronger, and to make it last, while keeping the natural gaits and the natural frame. The horse knows to “bend his neck” and he will do so, as soon as his back is raised and his hind legs carries most of the weight.

So how can a professional trainer, have come so far away from what dressage should be, that he is actually teaching the direct opposite of what he should? And how is it that people listen?

Common sense? Is that overrated these days?

Yes, I am astounded. I am disappointed. I am horrified, yet again. Such a basic lack of understanding of how the anatomy of the horse works… I didn’t even find that amongst the girls at the riding school, way, way back in the day, when I learned to ride, by pulling on the rein, like everybody else. Even back then, the girls said that the horse should collect from behind, and if it did, it would bend its neck on its own accord. None of them had the skills to make it happen or to teach others how, but at least, back then, they KNEW the difference. Now? Now we don’t care to know. Just bend that neck, and you will win a lot of ribbons.

Hold on to the rein, how else would it know, to bend its neck?

How else indeed…





And I know, the pony is not bending his neck! But yes, he is. Looking at how his neck is build, anything more than that, would be too much. We DON’T want him to close off his air ways, do we? Doesn’t FEI state that one must take into account how the horse is build? Or was that only back in the day as well?

By the way, not everything is about bending the neck…


It should never be about where the head was placed. But about where the back and the hind legs, places the head… a subtle difference, I know.


Its about balance. Trust. And it should be easy. For you and for your horse. It should be effortless.


Like a horse…. playing….


About Starstone

-Owned by horses. Writer, Photographer, Director, Musician.
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12 Responses to If You Are Not Pulling On The Rein, How Can It know?

  1. saraannon says:

    more photos of wild horses dancing about with their necks arched.

  2. liccau says:

    A lot of the time people simply listen to the wrong people for advice. 😦 If I went to an event like this I would print some articles on how rollkür damages the horse and hand it out to everyone there. Maybe that would raise a few questions…

  3. I couldn´t help by be surprised that you learned to ride by pulling on the rein, we are about the same age, and I learn to ride only to use my legs, and was told i should be able to control the horse , without reins or with nothing but a sewing thread, i remember spending a lot of time balancing with both my hands holding a whip up in the air on a Danish warm-blood, or where my riding teacher just different? I think she was the best, i learn a lot from her. But most important I learn trust, i got a relationship with the horses, and she made sure, we always ride the right horse, and not everybody could ride all her horses, you have to prove yourself.
    Some of her horses was sensitive, and special…

  4. trailpony1 says:

    I’ve been subscribed to this blog for a while now and I’ve been enjoying it quietly, but I liked this post so much I had to stop by to comment! It’s very well worded, and as always your beautiful pictures punctuate your ideas so nicely. Many times I’ve found myself in this kind of situation, watching other people teach alarming ideas about horse training, and I never seem to say anything. Like you said, many people would only take offence if you did speak up, wouldn’t they? It’s only human. Yet still it’s always deeply troubling and it never fails to make me feel guilty.

    Anyway, it’s been really refreshing to read the observations of a rare sane individual in the horse world! I find myself really looking forward to your posts.

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