Add rollkur the dirty word of dressage, an injured or sick horse and a half completed Olympic dressage test and you get a story that has taken on a mind of its own on the Internet and social media leading to cries of animal abuse and dirty tactics.
In the first story I read Adelinde Cornelissen had bravely retired during her test due to her horse Parzival’s bad health. It was reported that he had a reaction to a bug bite of some kind that left his face swollen and with a high temperature a few days before and despite her teams best efforts wasn’t in perfect health on the day of competition. As the Dutch alternate rider did not travel to Rio and Parzival seemed OK in the warm up it was decided he would compete. During the test it became clear that Parzival was not well and Cornelissen retired.
Best I can tell the controversy began when it was reported that Parzival was in fact suffering from a neck fracture, that’s when the flood gates opened and stories of abuse came pooring out claiming that it was Cornelissen’s training techniques and use of rollkur were to blame.
First off what is rollkur and why is it controversial?
‘Rollkur or hyperflexion of the horse’s neck is a practice in equestrianism defined as “flexion of the horse’s neck achieved through aggressive force”‘. Extreme flections can cause; emotional stress, physical stress on the vertebrae, nerves and muscles, circulation and breathing problems.
The FEI rules are as follows: ‘deliberate extreme flexions of the neck involving either high, low or lateral head carriages, should only be performed for very short periods. If performed for longer periods the steward will intervene’. Though some people believe that this is deliberately vague and photos that capture these “short periods” are casting the sport in a bad light.
The benefit of the doubt. I can only form my personal opinion on the matter using secondary information, I wasn’t there, I am not a vet but retiring part way through an Olympic dressage test, an event that people spend their whole lives training for doesn’t sound like the actions of someone that doesn’t care for her horse. I personally feel that if she was the monster she’s being made out to be she would have just kept riding and pushing him. There are some people in this sport that only care about success and are willing to do anything to achieve it horse be dammed, but I believe these people are in the minority. The rest are the ones who fell in love with the animal first, the sport second and are no doubt the reason these types of stories spread so quickly. We are a uniquely passionate bunch who can’t stand any type of injustice against our four legged friends and with the rise of social media it has become increasingly easy to share our thoughts and feelings. Just to clarify I think this is a good thing, letting people have a voice on issues that concern them, but it can go both ways. I think it’s important to look at all the facts before stating or posting your opinion and remember there is a difference between having an opinion and spreading rumours and gossip. Be careful repeating information you got from an unreliable source, just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true.
Even for no other reason than the bad press and public outcry I do hope both the Olympic equestrian committee and the FEI do investigate this further to ensure that sport isn’t coming before horses health and safety and give everyone involved in this unfortunate incident, accident or not some piece of mind.
This is an article written about the London olympics and I think covers why it’s such a difficult issue and how it’s policed during Olympic competition: