Thank You, Totilas!

Totilas schwarz-300pxSchaupferd schwarz-300px

There is currently a lot of turmoil and public outrage in dressage about the pictures seen of a “semi-lame” Totilas at the European Championship of dressage in Aachen. In addition, to make matters worse, there were “live” demonstrations of the infamous Rollkur by a representative of the Dutch team in the warm-up arena. Experts say that the one (lameness) is the result of the other (Rollkur and other dubious training methods). But how did it come this far? And why is this an issue for an Arabian horse magazine?
It’s quite simple: The parallels to the show scene are downright astonishing!

In “Modern Dressage”, training with Rollkur achieves the (supposedly) desired “extreme” movements faster as the training methods of the “Classical Riding”. In these extreme movements, the front legs are lifted up unnaturally to produce spectacular gaits, although the hindquarters will not be coherent, and the back is firm. The result is an inharmonious motion and leg injuries. It is the judges, who are permitting and even encouraging this development, as they are looking for the “extreme” and rate this highest, rather than to reward a harmonious performance with natural gaits. Also, the Natonal Equestrian Federation (FN) and FEI, are to be blamed, because they missed out to make a clear statements and to stop such development, by not instructing their judges accordingly and training them properly and with emphasis to horse friendly riding. The parallel with Arabian horse shows is obvious: Here as well, there are shortcuts in training a horse to achieve, for example the pose, to the extend that the poor creature is standing trembling before his handler, always kept “alert” (or reminiscent of past punishment) by “shanking”. The judges, unfortunately, do not score this down – on the contrary. And thus the wrong development takes its course, tolerated by the top national and international institutions.

In a remarkable article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (!)* Major a.D, Paul Stecken, once a member of the legendary cavalry regiment 15 Paderborn, then for 35 years the head of the Westphalian Riding and Driving School Munster and one of the great
riding instructor in Germany, said: “Around 1995, one could observe increasingly horses with narrow, sometimes very narrow neck settings. This was a big misconduct”. Every behind-the-vertical-coming hinders “the required swinging of the spine as a center of movement and thus the quality of the movements.” Horses that are put under tension by Rollkur, will show unnatural, spectacular, and by many judges highly scoring movements, these unnatural movements, however, harm both the back, and the horse’s legs.” Major Stecken complains that the “competent authorities” did not give any clear statements on this issue. So the judges did not have the chance, through consistent judgments to slow down this development. “The sentence, ‘Resist the beginnings’ would have had its full meaning.”
This section could almost literally describe the Arabian horse scene. Although horses are not forcibly “put together”, but forced into a stretched and frozen standing pose, with the back, especially the lumbar region tense to come as close as possible to a supposed conformation ideal. Originating from this tenseness, any movements, if demonstrated at all, consist of only a few “spectacular” trotting steps, in the worst case in a small circle before the horse slipps into canter or is animated by the handler to canter, in order to conceal, that his movements aren’t all that great. Here (Arabian horse scene) as there (dressage scene) the judges and institutions have failed.
Now you might say, in the dressage sport it’s “Rollkur”, in show jumping “barring”, in endurance riding doping – so the little bit of shanking and posing at Arab horse shows look but a trifle. But it is as with so much a matter of public reception. Show jumping has suffered greatly under the barring scandal of the 1990s. Endurance riding is currently suffering from the doping scandal, the dressage sport under the Rollkur scandal. And Arabian horse shows suffer from a lack of participants and spectators – not least because of certain showing practices.

The simplest solution is always to blame the critics and “whistleblowers” if a negative public opinion is formed. But by doing so, you blame the wrong culprit. The perpetrators are the horse owners, riders and trainers that put the success at the uppermost place. The judges and governing institutions are the henchmen.
But I don’t want not lump everybody together – there are judges who do not join this trend. But while in dressage now recognized experts of the dressage scene, as well as the FEI and FN, are criticizing this development, I miss appropriate statements from reputable breeders, judges and institutions in the field of Arabian horse shows. And if an attempt is made – I remember when Princess Alia Al Hussein, in 2011 wanted to act against the shanking at the World Championships, following a “shanking video” of Aachen going viral – the cliques of trainers, handlers, judges, organizers and governing institutions effectively swept it under the carpet.

Paul Stecken has trained the six-time Olympic champion Reiner Klimke and today supports his daughter Ingrid Klimke with words and deeds. And she shows how to do it right: Ingrid Klimke on Franziskus in a dressage competition class S ** – Intermediaire I
at the “Turnier der Sieger 2015” in Münster – a harmonious ride and a true pleasure to look at a dressage performance at this level. And there is also another way for Arabian horse shows – let’s take the nice, familiar show in Kaub, where even owners presented their horses themselves. There were several handlers, among those of the State Stud Marbach, who did their job really well and contributed to a show with a great atmosphere.

Yes, the public – we all – can exert pressure. “rise up, complain, and fight back, it is never too late!” Konstantin Wecker sings in one of his songs. In this sense, we can reward those who try to go the right way, with applause. But we can also punish those with boos, which we believe have obtained their successes with non-horse-friendly methods. We can support the shows through participation or visiting, of which we believe that are horse friendly. And we can stay away from the shows of which we believe that rules are flouted. And we can complain to the governing institutions, the organizers, disciplinary committees and breed associations, which are responsible for compliance with the rules. Eventually, the call for change will be so loud that it cannot be ignored any longer.

Maybe all the fuss around Totilas early resignation from the dressage arena due to overuse will cause something positive in the dressage scene. It would be nice if we would not need such a scandal to pursue a positive way in the Arabian horse scene.
Gudrun Waiditschka
* Frankfurter Allgemeine, 9.4.2012,
“Unter Zwang” von Evi Simeoni.