Wind Your Neck In!
This week I read Black Beauty again. It has to be one of the best horse stories ever told, the life story of the beautiful Black Beauty by Anna Sewell has captured minds and hearts for years. Who doesn’t know a feisty chestnut mare like Ginger? Who hasn’t met a sweet little grey like Merrylegs, and how many of us see a black horse with a white star and immediately think of Beauty himself?
Do you remember crying your eyes out when Ginger dies? Or crying again but this time with relief when Beauty is finally safe in his meadow with Little Joe? Or one of the worst bits of all, when we read with horror how Ginger and Beauty were forced to hold their heads in one particular place to look spirited. How cruel we thought the lady was who demanded that her grooms tightened the dreadful bearing reins, so that her horses could look fashionable?
We all know that things are different now, we are happy that we live in much kinder times, bearing reins are pretty much a thing of the past and we have so much knowledge and science that we have learned to ensure our lovely companion and competition horses are comfortable and happy in their work. Or have we? Have we really learned anything at all? Scratch beneath the surface and actually I don’t think we have. There are many unkind practices out there, but I chose to look at one today that I believe has a comparison with Black Beauty’s story. The use of Rollkur.
The use of Rollkur or LDR (long deep round) where the horses head is fixed in an extreme position with the chin touching the chest or shoulder, fills me with the same type of horror. It apparently started in show jumping and is now popular with some famous dressage riders too. Photos and film of horses with blue tongues, horses forced to work in extreme hyper flexion for long periods of time, with wild eyes and spraying foam. Spirits broken and bodies damaged by the very people we are asked to look up to. Where is the beauty in that?
I adore dressage, I love the idea of harmony with your horse, and I love the challenge of asking my willing girl to do something for me and us getting it right. For me once you are using force on an animal, you’re not a good trainer, you’re cruel. All the time that this practice is allowed and even rewarded, from the top levels of dressage down to the grassroots riders with their horses so tight and short in the neck, we are doing our horses just as much of an injustice as the bearing rein did in Black Beauty’s time.
I don’t compare myself to great riders, actually I think that I have loads to learn before I can even be called a good rider, but what I want to be more than anything is a kind rider. Almost all of us have horses because we love them, if you cried for Black Beauty, then you must be crying today too?
If you want to read more, you can get a free copy of Black Beauty with the September issue of Pony Magazine where you also have the chance to win a fab Tottie Maven jacket like mine!
Photography credit: Crispin Parelius Johannessen