World Horse Welfare responds to allegations of the use of hyperflexion at the Olympics.
We now understand from the FEI that they have spoken to the stewards who were monitoring Patrick Kittel’s training session and they have confirmed that he was not in breach of the rules as Kittel only maintained the horse’s head and neck in that position for very short periods. The rules state that: “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.” The FEI is responsible for setting and implementing the rules, and World Horse Welfare will continue to discuss these rules with them.
Under FEI rules hyperflexion, or Rollkur as it is also known, is defined as flexion of the horse’s neck achieved through aggressive force – and is always unacceptable. Deliberate extreme flexion – which must be achieved through unaggressive means - can only be used for very short periods. Sustained or fixed head and neck positions can be used for a maximum of 10 minutes.
World Horse Welfare is clear that aggressive force should not be used in ANY training methods or during competition, and the welfare of the horse must take precedence over ALL other considerations. This is the basis of the FEI Code of Conduct and riders have a personal responsibility within the Code for the welfare of their horses. That is a responsibility they should take very seriously, as whenever we involve horses in sport we bear a heavy burden of responsibility for their protection and wellbeing. We would prefer that riders used other methods of training than extreme flexion. All riders – and especially those in competition - should be aware that they are setting an example for the riders of the future.
We would also like to reiterate that our chief executive Roly was misquoted in this article which appeared in The Observer, which has caused misunderstanding. You can see the correction here (it is at the bottom of article). We would appreciate our supporters correcting people wherever this article is mentioned, as although a retraction was made we cannot let everyone know without your help.
To clarify the ‘blue tongue’ element of this retraction, we believe that the blue tongue was not due to hyperflexion but may have been due to the inadvertent slip of the horse’s tongue between bits, which the rider appeared to correct once he realised it had happened.
At the time we released this statement in response to the understandable anger of our supporters after we were misquoted: “World Horse Welfare does not believe that hyperflexion is a "valuable training method". Our comment was that there are many people within the equestrian world who feel that Rollkur is a valuable training method, although clearly there are many people who take the contrary view. We also stressed that hyperflexion, like any training method, can cause great harm if it is misused.”
We would like to thank everyone who has raised this issue for taking the time to add their voice for horses, and if you have any queries regarding this or our support for the responsible use of horses in sport you can find out more here, email us or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.