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 Traditional Dressage / articles

Dressage, Losgelassenheit and Rollkur

We should all remember that we are in the same boat relative to the beautiful horses, and need to learn together, study how to improve, at all levels.

This is my view anyway and I started my training 47 years ago so I think I am allowed to discuss "the Basics", (which are 95% of pure dressage), from experience and from study.

A description recently made of what the state of "release" is, feels and looks similar to what we were taught about the stage of "losgelassenheit" in training a horse (or rider).


losgelassenheit is the most important stage in the training of the horse.

This "state" of deep relaxation allows the horse to perform movements later, without damaging his body, burning his nervous system or losing trust in the rider.

It is this that prevents the loss of the natural paces, and bad tension in the muscles; and which also assures that we have the full attention and participation of the horse. If a horse shies, he is not losgelassen or has lost his losgelassenheit. Same if he loses balance or is irregular DAP etc, in his gaits: he lost this central calmness

Some may think that losgelassenheit is a horse that moves with a floppy low neck and floppy fetlocks (relaxed in the extremities"). But there is more to it: THE WHOLE HORSE MUST BE losgelassen and his Centre, in particular. It may take more than 6 months or a year to regain this feel after the backing process, unless exceptionally good conditions prevail.

Great rider and great horse may help to shorten this period, but still this stage "has to be maintained" (horse centre staying deep, elastic) all along when a horse is ridden.

Most horses get tense and usually arch their back, or slack it, when the weight of the rider is put on their back. Time and good riding is needed to regain the elasticity in the centre and in the periphery, and the swing in the muscles if the horse is ever to become a dressage horse (a horse dancer).

What we See

Without this deep relaxation the horse's power will be displayed in an "excited way": a flash trot, high knee action, which indicates that the centre of the horse is tight, as only the extremities are showing movement.

The other opposite reaction to "being blocked", depending on the breed and temperament, is a horse moving reluctantly, being lazy and having to be spurred, pushed and pulled etc.

It will be dragging the hind legs a bit, etc. which would also indicate that the "horse's centre" is tight and has no "deep elasticity" either.

Same problem, expressed differently. And it is the same in humans, I believe.

Dressage Basics for Humans

People who are not "relaxed" within, tend to get very excitable and move their legs and arms or mouth a lot, need much outside stimulate to have fun..

And the other extreme are people who are lazy and passive and follow whoever is in charge with no complaint, and love to eat much etc.They are often very nice to whoever.. to keep peace, even when they should not. People who are losgelassen are different.

Riders in particular, would tend to be very relaxed on a horse and be able to follow the horse's movement without tension, even if they are not advanced riders as such.

Like many children do when put on a good moving horse for the first time. They are elastic in their bodies because their centre, inner body is moving. They can give aids within the movement, without stopping the flow.. they aid the horse.

What about Rollkur

We aim at re-establishing this deep elasticity within so that the horse regains his gaits,

his natural nervous system. Time again is needed, especially if the blocks are very deep rooted.

The worse cases are the horses who have been rollkured, who are behind the bridle, seemingly light, but not light on their "feet"... and this is why one should not accept this training technique when used as a method, day in, day out.

I have ridden rollkured horses and their centre is more or less solid. It feels like "concrete" and it obeys Clues instead of aids. The legs and seat does not feel "life". (Clues are not aids...).

Everything seems to move superficially (legs in particular), but the essence, the centre, feels "dead" even if they move mechanically with "near precision and perfection".

There is "nobody home", life wise. If one has a good eye, we see through the over enthusiastic legs, through the "extraordinaire" front leg action etc, that a rollkured horse has in fact, lost its natural paces and that his nervous system is switched off or "burned" out.

The Joy of Dressage for Horse and Rider

Because spoilt horses have been "tightened up" or "over stretched" and they lock themselves in that attitude of much activity - but in fact, there is "non participation", no gift from the horse and this is why for me it looks "mechanical".

Good well trained horses (supple, trained but free to move as horses should) teach people to grow into riders, thanks to their open, real life feel and swinging body:watching them move is a delight, is not exciting . . it is relaxing?

I think we should all try to learn to train horses to be full of life and full of power, even if it takes time, and if we are only able to taste a little bit of it, by reducing the impulsion if needed to start with.

The great joy and idea of dressage is that the learning process never stops; that to reach the level of ability needed to handle so much power and energy, riders must put much "effort in learning to ride at another level" and "accept to be taught" to be prepared for this real power of the horses.

Then there will be no need to teach them to manipulate the horses' extremities, or to force the horses to stretch their superficial muscles for control I still have no answer what is the purpose of rollkur, why riders needs to ride in rollkur..

Our Personal Journey

In our personal journey toward harmony, towards learning empathy with another living (but different) being, we have no other option but to learn and study how to preserve or how to regain this deep elasticity/losgelassenheit.

There is much much gain to ride the whole horses joyfully and fully, even if one only achieves this only at the entry levels.

The feel is as good as if one is sat on top of the world, and this is accessible to anyone, whatever their conformation. To anyone who is prepared to be receptive and take time and effort.

If some succeed to go to the higher levels, wonderful, but the "basic feel" is there for all, accessible.The horses love it and reward by growing more beautiful and joyful too.

We owe it to the horses.