Horse Enthusiasts Claim Dressage Is Either the Best or Worst Sport in the World

Experts seem to be divided on this one Olympic sport: dressage. Does it hurt the horses involved? Here's what you need to know about the equestrian sport.

Mustafa Gatollari - Author

Jul. 29 2021, Published 5:53 p.m. ET

a horse
Source: Getty

As viewers huddle around to take in the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, many have been eager to catch the equestrian sports. And some horse lovers are curious as to whether the sport dressage hurts the horses that participate in the artistic event. Read on while we give you all the answers!

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Does dressage hurt the horses involved?

It depends on who you ask. According to Horse Racing Sense, there is a litany of reasons as to why dressage is bad for horses. Chief among them is one training technique called Rollkur, which is the "practice of hyperflexion of the horse's neck" that causes difficulty in breathing for the animals "by obstructing the respiratory system and not allowing the air to pass through it."

does dressage hurt horses
Source: Getty
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The outlet also writes that hyperflexion can put a lot of stress and anxiety on horses, as it impairs both their breathing and vision. "Thus," per Horse Racing Sense, this Rollkur hyperflexion technique "damages the horse both physically as well as mentally and is the cruelest form of dressage training."

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The outlet goes on to list a bunch of different long-term injuries and illnesses – including PSD (Proximal Suspensory Desmitis), DIPJ (Distal Interphalangeal Joint problems), and thoracolumbar and sacroiliac pain – that can come as a result of horse dressage and leave horses feeling "anxious and inefficient."

But there are some who state that dressage, when done properly, does not harm horses.

A Quora post uploaded by Linda Braddy – a professional horse riding instructor with 30 years of experience in training the animals – states that dressage, when performed in the correct manner, can actually help to extend a horse's life.

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"In general, it shouldn’t be painful for a horse to do dressage, or any other form of riding or driving discipline," Linda writes. "Dressage is a discipline in which the horse is carefully trained over a considerable period of time (years) for increasingly strenuous and controlled movements. However, none of the movements are foreign to horses. Left on their own to play in a field they might be expected to display many of the same movements, eventually. The difference is that with dressage (or other training), we can request a specific movement at a specific time, and repeat it more often than the horse might be inclined to ... on its own."

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"Unlike many other disciplines," the equine professional continues, "dressage requires that the horse perform well and correctly at one level of training before it is moved into the next, more demanding level of training. This practice actually protects horses that lack the physical or mental soundness to train and perform above a given level while allowing those with the ability to use their muscles and agility in movements that both horse and rider find interesting, challenging, and stimulating."

As for the aches and pains that horses experience towards the later years of their lives, Linda states that this is normal for the creatures. "Horses will tend to have some aches and pains as they age, especially if they have certain types of medical issues such as arthritis, navicular disease or poor conformation," she explains. "So a 25-year-old horse trained in dressage (or any other riding/driving discipline) might exhibit signs of discomfort as it performs the movements it has studied all its life ... Sometimes the horse needs to be retired. In other situations, the exercise can actually help stiff muscles and joints to loosen up and feel better."

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