The so called “Blue Tongue” video, which shows Patrik Kitell training the stallion Watermill Scandic at a World Cup event last October sparked a huge debate about the use of Rollkur (or hyperflexion) around the world. A horse’s tongue can turn blue when the curb bit presses down on the tongue, impairing blood circulation.
After reviewing video of the event, the FEI says it has found “no reliable evidence” that the warm up techniques used by Kittel on his horse were excessive. The FEI issued Kittel a warning letter and was told his actions will be watched in the future.
That’s not to say that the FEI issoft on Rollkur. A round-table discussion on Rollkur by FEI officials yesterday has declared that any head and neck position achieved through aggressive force is not acceptable, and agressive riding must be sanctioned and emphasized that the main responsibility for the welfare of the horse rests with the rider.
So what about Kittel?
The video below was shot by Epona.TV of the warm up area. Their criticism of his ride included the length of the schooling, as well as the use of hyperflexion. Their description is below:
For a minimum of two hours, Swedish Olympic rider Patrik Kittel trained his stallion, Watermill Scandic, in various degrees of hyperflexion, on Friday ahead of Saturday’s Grand Prix. EPONA.tv was passing by the warm up at 3.45 pm, and at this time, the rider was well into his session. At circa 5.45, the session ended.
During the first part of the training session, the horse’s tongue was briefly showing. The tongue was clearly blue, and flopped limply from the horse’s mouth. However, Patrik Kittel was quick to notice, and halted the horse before reaching for the muzzle with the hand furthest away from the camera. Afterwards, the tongue did not reappear.
I find the video incredibly difficult to watch. It’s not so much the tongue; I’ve seen many horses that stick their tongues out and it’s not always a sign of distress.
But to make a horse work with its nose almost touching its chest going around and around ad nauseum? To me it seems the diametric opposite of what dressage is supposed to be — lightness, balance, harmony and impulsion. I can’t come to terms with the idea that an end performance that attempts to achieve those goals can be built from a foundation that’s so forceful and restrictive.
Hyperflexion seems to be the training fad du jour. It’s been embraced by many top international riders and even if (and that’s a big if) they have the skill to use it judiciously, it will be emulated by less skilled riders and create a downward spiral of bad riding and unhappy horses.
I hope that FEI makes good on their promise to hold riders responsible for the welfare of their horses and that they start at the top.