FEI Response to Dr. Robert Cook’s reaction to “hyperflexion” ruling
The intention of the FEI round-table conference on hyperflexion/Rollkur was specifically to address an issue which is of concern to equestrian sport.
Participants at the meeting were selected to include veterinary and welfare authorities as well as sporting experts so that all sides of the debate could be heard and addressed.
Dr Heuschmann presented an anti-Rollkur petition with 41,000 signatures to FEI President HRH Princess Haya before addressing the meeting at length. His request to ban aggressive riding was unanimously supported by the participants.
A review of the scientific evidence relating to head and neck position and its influence on both biomechanics of the back and hindlimbs and airway dynamics was presented, followed by an overview of clinical data relating to injuries. It was concluded that correctly performed flexion of the neck did not have an adverse effect on movement of the back, whereas extension of the neck did influence both back mobility and hindlimb action and could predispose to injury. Whereas there is evidence that any head position other than the natural one may influence airway resistance, there is no evidence at all that oxygenation of the blood is reduced by any of these positions or that blood circulation to the head could be compromised. The veterinary delegates were unanimous in these conclusions.
It is clear that any training method used incorrectly is never acceptable and that aggressive riding must also be prevented. All training methods and aids must be used appropriately and never in a manner which constitutes a welfare issue.
At no stage has the FEI ever endorsed the use of force in training and neither did any of the participants at the meeting. It was agreed by all participants that hyperflexion/Rollkur, defined as flexion of the horse’s neck achieved through aggressive force, is totally unacceptable. The practice has been outlawed specifically because it is achieved through the use of aggressive force. It was agreed that the technique known as Low, Deep and Round (LDR), which achieves flexion in a harmonious way and without undue force, is acceptable.
It was also agreed by the participants that asking a horse to maintain any head/neck position for too long a period is not advisable. During the warm-up it is both necessary and beneficial to change the head/neck position periodically and not to ride the horse all the time in the position required by the competition rules.
Although the meeting agreed that the main responsibility for the welfare of the horse rests with the rider, this absolutely does not suggest that the FEI has abrogated its responsibility on the issue of horse welfare. The role of the FEI is to promote equine welfare, which is one of the core values of the FEI and remains at the heart of everything the FEI stands for.
The FEI has a duty to establish appropriate rules and guidelines to ensure the welfare of the horse. These rules must be based on scientific evidence and be periodically reviewed as new information becomes available. Dr Cook asserts that scientific evidence should have been used to decide whether Rollkur is acceptable or not, but there has been no solid scientific data produced since the 2006 workshop when it was agreed that there was little evidence to show that such techniques cause damage to the horse.
While prior investigations have not shown that the use of hyperflexion/Rollkur causes any clear detriment to horse welfare, the FEI has decided to act and to ban Rollkur anyway. Irrespective of the scientific evidence, or lack of it, the use of hyperflexion/Rollkur is of undoubted concern and the FEI felt it was correct to address those concerns.
The outcome from the meeting has been very widely welcomed, most notably by Dr Heuschmann and by World Horse Welfare. Far from this being a “semantic sleight of hand”, the outlawing of hyperflexion/Rollkur was described by Dr Heuschmann in an interview with cavallo.de as a “major step in the interests of animal welfare”.
Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, commented: “World Horse Welfare has never and will never support the use of cruel, aggressive riding of any sort for any period of time. We are pleased that the FEI has used this opportunity to draw a clear ‘line in the sand’ regarding Rollkur. It is very encouraging that the meeting looked beyond the emotive issue of Rollkur and considered the broader issues of all unacceptable riding.”
The FEI has now established a working group, chaired by Dressage Committee Chair Frank Kemperman, to expand the current guidelines for Stewards to facilitate the clear implementation of this policy. These guidelines will also be communicated to riders and trainers. The working group is also expected to put forward further proposals for the education of Stewards to ensure that FEI rules are strictly adhered to and that the welfare of the horse is maintained at all times.
The working group members are Richard Davison (GBR), Rider/Trainer; John P. Roche (IRL), FEI Director Jumping/Stewarding; Jacques Van Daele (BEL), FEI Honarary Dressage Steward General/Judge; Wolfram Wittig (GER), Trainer and Trond Asmyr (NOR), FEI Dressage Director/Judge. The working group will also draw on the expertise of a number of other specialists, including but not limited to the participants of the round-table conference*. The working group aims to have the guidelines completed by the end of March 2010.
Guidelines for Stewards will incorporate the use of a whole range of sanctions, including verbal warnings and yellow cards for riders who transgress. Stewards will also be readvised to watch out for signs of distress in the horse, which may include but are not limited to obvious fatigue, profound or inappropriate sweating, persistent rough use of aids (i.e. bits, spurs or whip) and over-repetition of exercises.
The FEI Management is also currently studying a range of additional measures, including the use of closed circuit television for warm-up arenas at selected shows so that potential abuse accusations can be more readily identified and recorded.
*Participants in the Lausanne round-table conference on 9 February 2010 were:
HRH Princess Haya, FEI President
Alex McLin, FEI Secretary General
International Dressage Riders Club, Margit Otto-Crepin
International Dressage Trainers Club, Linda Keenan
Francois Mathy, International Jumping Riders Club
David Broome, jumping representative
Sjef Janssen, dressage representative
Jonathan Chapman, Event Riders Association
Graeme Cooke, FEI Veterinary Director
Trond Asmyr, FEI Director Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage
John Roche, FEI Director Jumping and stewarding
Catrin Norinder, FEI Director Eventing
Ian Williams, FEI Director Non-olympic sports
Carsten Couchouron, FEI Executive Director Commercial
Richard Johnson, FEI Director Communications
Jacques van Daele, FEI Honorary Steward General Dressage
John McEwen, FEI Veterinary Committee Chair
World Horse Welfare, Roly Owers and Tony Tyler
Ulf Helgstrand, President Danish NF
Dr Sue Dyson
Professor René van Weeren
Frank Kemperman, FEI Dressage Committee Chair (by phone)
Signed by John McEwen, Dr Gerd Heuschmann, Dr Sue Dyson, Professor René van Weeren and Graeme Cooke