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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2009

Impact of riding in a coercively obtained Rollkur posture on welfare and fear of performance horses

von Borstel, Uta Ulrike; Duncan, Ian James Heatly; Shoveller, Anna Kate; Merkies, Katrina; Keeling, Linda Jane; Millman, Suzanne Theresa


Rollkur, the usually coercively obtained hyperflexion of the horse's neck, is employed as a training method by some dressage riders; however, its use is controversial as it may cause discomfort and adversely affect the horse's welfare. The objectives of this study were to determine: (1) if horses showed differences in stress, discomfort and fear responses as measured by heart rate and behaviour when ridden in Rollkur (R) obtained by pressure on the reins compared to regular poll flexion (i.e. with the nose-line being at or just in front of the vertical; N), and (2) if they showed a preference between the two riding styles when given the choice. Fifteen riding horses were ridden 30 times through a Y-maze randomly alternating between sides. Riding through one arm of the Y-maze was always followed by a short round ridden in R, whereas riding through the other arm was followed by a short round ridden in N. Immediately after the conditioning phase, horses were again repeatedly ridden into the maze; however, riders left it to the horse to decide which arm of the maze to enter. During R, horses moved slower and showed more often behavioural signs of discomfort, such as tail-swishing, head-tossing or attempted bucks (P < 0.05), and 14 of the 15 horses chose significantly (P < 0.05) more often the maze-arm associated with N rather than R. Subsequently, eight of the horses were also subjected to two fear tests following a short ride in N as well as a ride in R. During R, horses tended to react stronger (P = 0.092) to the fear stimuli and to take longer (P = 0.087) to approach them. These findings indicate that a coercively obtained Rollkur position may be uncomfortable for horses and that it makes them more fearful and therefore potentially more dangerous to ride. Further studies need to assess horses' reaction to gradual training of Rollkur, as opposed to a coercively obtained hyperflexion, in order to decide whether the practice should be banned. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Horse; Coercive riding; Welfare; Rollkur; Fear; Training

Published in

Applied Animal Behaviour Science
2009, Volume: 116, number: 2-4, pages: 228-236
Publisher: Elsevier

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Veterinary Science
    Animal and Dairy Science

    Publication identifier


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