Accepted Paper:

Beyond the pleasure principle: rollkur versus the resurgence of classical principles in contemporary dressage  


Angela Hofstetter (Butler University)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation uses the problematic increase of rollkur, also known as “low, deep and round,” in FEI Dressage circles to consider the possibility of an ethical submission resulting in pleasure for both horse and rider.

Paper long abstract:

That the United States Dressage Federation grants submission a privileged status among its collective marks seems at odds with contemporary animal rights discourse which seeks to dismantle hierarchical relationships between horses and humans in order to promote animal welfare. The USDF's definition, however, challenges the simplistic equation of submission with oppression. By emphasizing "attention and confidence, harmony, lightness and ease of movements, acceptance of the bridle, and lightness of the forehand," their understanding reflects classical traditions which emphasize beauty, harmony, and partnership. Is this merely semantics which conceals a more problematic imbalance of power in the horse and rider relationship? Furthermore, do contemporary debates in FEI circles over rollkur (riding "low, deep, and round") allow dressage riders and trainers to differentiate between ethical and oppressive forms of submission?

As Paul Patton provocatively argues, disciplines such as dressage can teach "that hierarchical forms of society between unequals are by no means incompatible with ethical relations and obligations toward other beings." In fact, ignoring the dominance hierarchy that structures equine society and substituting "progressive" concepts of power in the interspecies dynamic may rob the horse and rider relationship of its own sense of justice. Debates over how to define submission in light of the current popularity of rollkur highlight the progressive impact of the increased attention to the importance of the emotional welfare of animals—including the right to pleasure in their work—by respecting the horse's subjectivity in direct defiance of the Cartesian legacy as well as rote behaviorism.

Panel P14
Understanding humans understanding horses: constructed and co-created cultures