Overbend, rollkur, riding from front to back, riding from the hand…. the list of names is endless, but what it means in simple terms? well, it means that the horse´s neck and head are forced downwards and into its chest.
Why people does it? most people do it because they think that having the horse with its head buried between its legs its the way it is supposed to be looking like when you ride a horse, some others think that by doing so the horse engages its quarters and then it works properly and without any problem, some others do it because they try to emulate some of their idols; unfortunately, no matter the reason they are doing it for, the bottom line is: it harms the horse; it is not the way to achieve any real connection or engagement. In fact it is considered a mistreatment to the animal.
What happens to the horse´s body when we use rollkur and use force to bend the horse´s head:
- The nucheal ligament, two different layers:
A funnicular part: (yellow cord at the pic), consist of two parallel cords that run from the each side of the horse, from the occipital bone, attaching on their way the atlas and axis (1st and 2nd cervical vertebra) and ending on the 4th dorsal thoracic vertebra (it is there that it changes its name to Supraspinus ligament and this runs down the back up until the last lumbar vertebra).
And the Lamminar part: (in red at the pic) is made of two sheet of fan-shaped, elastic soft tissue extensions. These elastic bands extend from the funicular part and the 2nd and 3rd thoracic spines to the spines of the axis and the C3 to C5 or C6. The lamminar part functions is to restrain the movement of the dorsal spines and support the weight of the head, holding it in position. (10% of the horse´s body weight)
The function of the nuchal ligament is to raise and lower the head, to keep the head up in alert position and to lower it for grazing for example; its elasticity minimises exertion of the muscles.
When the cervical vertebrae are flexed, the nuchal ligament is tensioned. The effect extends along the back as far as the lumber spine, this is of great significance to the support of the horses back when the horse is working under saddle. The position of the head and neck determines the position of the vertebral column i.e. when the horse is being ridden in an outline the tension on the nuchal, supraspinous ligaments and abdominal muscles combine to lift the horses back. Note: the head position is of uttermost importance.
And this last paragraph needs to be explained better because the misinterpretation of it is the reason why many riders (professional and amateurs), trainers and coaches use rollkur or overbending as a training method, but this will come on the next post; first, what happens when we do it wrong…
If we put too much pressure on the horse’s mouth and overbend the cervical vertebra, the effect it has to the rest of the horse’s body is the locking of the lumbar spine, therefore creating stiff backs and preventing the coiling and spring under the pelvis. This locking of the lumbar back affects the way the horse’s abdominal works, making it harder for the horse to breath. It also affects the way the horse moves, by not being able to tuck the pelvis further forward under its own point of balance therefore not being able to engage the hindlegs (this is why this kind of riders have to keep pushing their horse forward all the time); also is detrimental to the quality of the gaits, this sort of horses do not move freely forward, they tend to go more upwards with the hind legs dragged far behind.
And here is what we do not see: thanks to this kind of riding the horses develop severe ossification at the back of the skull, and many suffer from bursitis as well.
Those repeated injuries does usually not show up as lameness or pain upon palpation, since few people palpate (press with the fingers) the horse at the poll. It is also obviously a slow, low intensity degeneration of the insertion area, with what one can suspect is a dull constant ache, like in arthritis and spondylitis of the back in humans. It thus goes unnoticed, or emerges as unwillingness, head shaking, stiffness, mis-behaviour, or the like, and is never treated as what it is, the training is never re-evaluated and the horse just learns to deal with it.
Often, dull inflammatory pain is temporarily relieved by physical activity and activity induced endorphins release in the body. Like all other faulty training, the endorphins take the edge off the pain that comes from resistance, over-exertion, tension, etc. But it shows up in the horse’s reluctance to let go during the next training session. Many highly trained horses take forever to warm up, because one has to work out all the small resistances that the horse has come up with in self-defence, to stop pain or break-down.