Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How cruel are we really!?

I was going to write my next “overdue” blog on longeing, but I just happened to stumble across this horror and thought I had to voice my opinion.

The horror I stumbled upon is the Blue Tongue Video Controversy!

This entails a video shot by EPONA tv of a Swedish Olympic dressage rider, Patrik Kittel, training his horse at a World Cup Qualifier. They recorded Kittel riding his horse, Watermill Scandic, in various degrees of hyperflexion, for a minimum of 2 hours on Friday ahead of Saturday's Grand Prix.

For a short period of time the horse's tongue was showing. It was clearly blue and flopped limply from the 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.

EPONA spoke to a spectator who claimed to have notified one of the show's officials (confirmed to be true). The Chief Steward, however, did not find it necessary to comment or take action, because Kittle was no worse than any of the other riders!

This is what Partik said when EPONA questioned him on his training session:

EPONA asked him if he thinks he is riding in accordance with the FEI Code of Conduct.

"I think you should send the questions in an email along with the footage, so I can give it to my lawyers."

EPONA asked him if he himself is unaware of whether he rides in accordance with the FEI Code of Conduct.

"Of course I do. Otherwise a steward would do something about it. But I don't want to discuss it with you now. Have a good day."

Despite using unethical methods of training and being informed to the officials, Patrik finished up third in Sunday's freestyle. This is just the first World Cup qualifier of the season...

This is what Patrik said when being interviewed by Barbara F :
(Link to interview)

The person who took the video contacted me after the show and after she had posted it on line. She did not lodge a complaint against me at the show, nor did she confront me privately or at the press conference.

What was your reaction when you saw it?

My reaction was more about the text and the video put together, which basically present that I was riding my horse cruelly for 90 minutes, which is utterly not true.

I watched the slow motion, the editing, the decision to post only those few minutes of my ride and not my warm-up, or walk breaks, and how neatly the images supported the accompanying text – all presenting me as abusing my horse.

… This is not true. EPONAtv has 120 minutes of footage of him training his horse. Kittel worked his horse mainly in rolkur for the majority of the time without release.

What was happening with the horse’s tongue?

Scandic got the tongue between the bits or over the bit, as horses occasionally do. It took me about a half a round to notice it and then I corrected it. Of course the circulation to the tongue is compromised for those few seconds, but I corrected it the moment I saw it, as any other rider would do if their horse got his tongue over the bit. For the rest of the video, you can see that the mouth is completely closed and the horse is foaming.

… It is not clear why the horse's tongue was blue in the beginning of the session. However, I believe it was caused by pressure blocking off or reducing blood circulation to the tongue. This leads to ischaemia and hypoxia. Experts believe that the curb bit and rein tension that causes it. The question is:"For how long had pressure been placed on the tongue to make it go blue? This doesn't just happen in a matter of minutes! Note: Hypoxic muscle tissue is extremely painful.

Do you understand why people are so upset about the video?

With the way that the video and text are put together, I understand why people get upset. This video is a very brief clip taken totally out of context and the accompanying text is inflammatory and untrue.

… again, EPONAtv has 120 minutes of footage.

How long did you ride Scandic for that session?

I didn’t time my ride, but rode as was needed on the particular day. ALL of my rides include a walk warm-up, a slow trot to warm up his muscles, long and low stretching and walk breaks. None of that was included in the video footage, nor mentioned in the accompanying text.

… time can fly by very quickly when you are busy. What might have felt like a short session could very well turn out to be a long one. EPONAtv's 120 of footage is evidence of this. And Patrik did ride his horse in hyperflexion for close to 120 minutes.

I love all my horses and Scandic has a special place my heart. He has an incredible personality and I would never ever try to break his spirit – it’s what makes him so special and such a great partner. I have educated him myself and he has always been there for me. I hope everyone will try to view my kur from Odense. You will see his spirit and his happiness to perform and you will understand our special bond.

… What I dont' undertsand at all, is how people can claim to love their horses and yet be so oblivious to the pain they are causing to them. A lot of studies have been done and the Rolkur (hyperflexion) has been proven over and over again to be harmful (let alone painful!) to the horse. Then why the HELL do you still do it to your horse? Do you honestly believe you CARE for your horse when you turn a blind eye to your methods? Clearly this is all about winning and nothing more! If you really love your horse you'd value your partnership more than to subject your horse to cruel methods for the sake of winning!

We should really know better

I am absolutely disgusted at the methods top class competitors use for the sake of being the top in their sport. Surely it is the same as an athlete taking drugs to enhance their performance! And how can the officials even allow this in the first place? Aren't they supposed to be regulating that the sport stays as pure and honorable as possible? Don't they care at all? And so what if we end up eliminating our top big name riders from the competition!? If one cheats, one gets eliminated, full stop!

Here is a shocker for you... In 2008 the FEI Veterinary Commission released a statement saying: “The FEI condemns hyperflexion in any equestrian sport as an example of mental abuse.”
This statement subsequently stricken from the minutes without further explanation; the FEI has chose to ignore the recommendation from its own veterinary commission. And, believe it or not, the FEI shut down the welfare sub-committee, without replacing it with another body to safeguard the welfare of horses. EPONA.tv has been trying to get answers for these events.

We, the spectators, are just as much to blame as the riders and officials that condone these methods. How often do you see spectators watching horses being warmed up with hyperflexion, and subsequently pain, yet they don't seem to do anything about it? Do they even notice? Have we truly been brain washed into believeing that that is what the horse should look like and be ridden as? Maurizio Patti states (in his article Ignorance and Power) “It is probably how the FEI wants people to be so as not to cause damage to the business of sport and ignoring the damage being caused to the horses. Hyperflexion like that puts the horse in a state of fear, from where he cannot escape, which spreads from his mind to his whole body.”

Future generations

What worries me, as well, is the example we are setting for younger riders. They observe how their idols ride their horses and strive to ride the same. They see the horses withexcessivly bent necks with the head in the chest and think that that is what the horse should look like because that is what top riders' horses look like. I think hyperflexion has already started to become a fashion statement and what harm will this not do when it reaches younger riders!?

It is sad that a sport that was once something beautiful and graceful has been littered with so much dirt. It is no longer a sport of innocense... a partnership. Now, it is all about winning. And to win we obliviously subject the horses (our partners!) to painful training methods in order to impress the judges with our flase sportmanship. Ignorance is a bliss, no? Any flea bag can force a horse to prance around, but it takes a true horseman to get the horse to do the same without the use of pain and fear. Alas, true horseman has become endangered. They are few and far to come by.

Click here to view EPONA's clip of Patrik


  1. Sadly, such trends seem to be involving in all disciplines within the horse industry :S

    Rolkur also really restricts a horse's vision too, creating further submission. Here's a website I found interesting as well: http://www.sustainabledressage.com/rollkur/how.php

    Nice post!!

  2. Check out the video "Tug of War." So many things bother me about rollkur. It alters the horse's conformation and ruins their gaits. What's worse is that the majority of the people watching and participating in dressage nowadays don't even see it.