The Ugly: Blue Tongue Drama Comes To An End?

Here is a link to the time line of events concerning the horse Akeem Foldager and internationally acclaimed Danish rider, Andreas Helgstrand.

I’ve got a few things to say about this whole debacle.  First, what a debacle!  As in what an utter ludicrous failure to get it right.  Now, before going further on my rant I want to be perfectly clear on some points.  I can’t read (or speak) Danish (or any other related dialect, tongue or language), so I can only rely on the translations and interpretations by others who can.  I also want to acknowledge that the media often gets it wrong, slants it, twists it, whatever it takes to get the views, the clicks, the attention.  Still…

From the article:

20 April 2014

Andreas Helgstrand releases a statement admitting that it was ”completely unacceptable” for Akeem Foldager’s tongue to turn blue. He blames the bridle, which he says must have been incorrectly adjusted. He says he has contacted the bit manufacturer to find a more suitable bit.

Is Mr. Helgstrand the Cole Trickle of Dressage?   ‘They told me to get on the horse and ride, and I could ride.’ *shrugs shoulders and frowns* ‘But I don’t know anything about how horses or horse tack works.’  I’m nobody in the horse world scheme of things, and yet one of the first things I learned from my mentor thirty years ago was to check the tack BEFORE you work the horseIs there any excuse for a rider of this level to ever get on a horse without doing a quick once over?  Does he also put his foot in the stirrup before checking the girth?  Fine, let’s say his groom/stablehand/equine caregiver is Lou Ferrigno, who gives 110% every time, and it was an act of God (or the Devil) that the bridle became incorrectly adjusted just this one time (because surely the horse has been ridden in this bit and bridle prior to this clinic!?).  Why, oh why, do we suddenly contact the bit manufacturer for a more suitable bit!?

11 May 2014

Following claims that Andreas Helgstrand was being unfairly treated because of a photo representing a single moment in time…

Let’s talk ‘a moment in time’:  Yep, a photo is a snapshot of what’s happening in that exact moment.  However, it also tells you what happened before AND after that select moment.  For instance, a horse that is hollow, over bent and behind the vertical, mouth gaping and tongue blue was doing the same thing just before and just after the picture was taken.  Could have been more so, or less so, but certainly was not exhibiting something contrary to the photo.

And the rest of quote from 11 May 2014:

…50 photographs as they came to from the anonymous photographer ( is aware of the identity of this person) are made available via a Dropbox link for anyone who wants to download and examine them more closely.

FIFTY photos (and a NINE minute video) of this horse is more than fifty moments in time, but is at least one hundred and fifty moments in time, and thus a pattern is made. No longer a ‘rare’ bad moment, but a whole bucket full of bad moments in a single ride by an international rider AND coached at the time by Olympic rider and international Dressage trainer Morten Thomsen.   Go look at the fifty photos.  The horse is very obviously behind the vertical in every single photo. The horse is very obviously gaping its mouth in every single photo.  Plus being heavy on the forehand and hollow in most shots.  A moment in time? **** ** ***!

Thanks to Lisa for sending this story along and making my day, not.  🙂


33 thoughts on “The Ugly: Blue Tongue Drama Comes To An End?

  1. Thanks for posting! When I saw that Andreas had said the photos were “just a moment in time”, I instantly thought of you. It’s been many years since I’ve been able to fall for that one, thanks to you. Pictures in fact say a thousands words… Shame on Andreas, not only for the horrible ride but for trying to pull one over on us with his terrible excuses.

    • It is sheer ignorance or intentional misdirection – take your pick – to tout out the ‘a picture is a moment in time’ argument, particularly when there were dozens of photos taken showing the exact same thing. Like, really!

    • Do you mean in the sense of training? As in why her career was so short because she may also have been subjected to poor fitting tack? It’s clear from her posture and movement that she was poorly trained, as in incorrectly as are the vast majority of Dressage horses at that level.

        • I don’t have a poor fitting tack theory. I was just wondering what specifically you were referring two linking the two horses together. But perhaps Blue Hors also had a bit/bridle that didn’t fit her? Or also suffered from blue tongue riding? She certainly was ridden over-flexed, btv and hollow.

    • I don’t buy the argument being made in that article. Yep, he’s just one person, who happens to play the game better than many. That does NOT change his personal responsibility in riding horses the way he does and with poorly fitting tack.

      A person CAN play the game without compromising morals and ethics. Just as you CAN race horses without drugging them, you CAN ride Dressage horses without rolkuring them. And win in both cases. It’s not often easy to beat the cheaters, but that’s no excuse.

      Each of us is responsible for our actions. Making excuses like ‘the FEI pins it, so it’s okay to do’ is a big mothertrucker of a copout.

      It often takes one or two of the big wigs to get nailed for their behavior before others see the wisdom of changing. If Mr. Helgstrand happens to be the unlucky soul that’s used as example, too bad, so sad, he has ZERO excuses for not knowing better. Not a one.

      Yeah, there’s a bigger picture alright. It’s called being responsible for your actions and Mr. Helgstrand deserves everything he gets for being an irresponsible and cruel rider, just as Mr. Thomsen who instructed him that day also deserves to be reprimanded in some way, and everyone in the stands who clapped deserves to be corrected etc…

      • You’re absolutely right and we CAN choose to do well by our horses but unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything for those who continue to abuse and win – like Helgstrand. I mean, we can throw all the names of the blatant cruel riders around (Anky) but it won’t change until the associations (USDF, USEF, etc) hold people accountable. Who better to canvas this than the top of the heap?

        Segway into this specific incident and once again, those who have the ability have not the balls to call a spade a spade. If Mr E doesn’t understand how tack works after spending a lifetime training and showing GP horses, then who the fuck does? One can readily see that even the bradoon bit has the extended cheek piece for additional leverage (poll pressure) then add in the large diameter mouthpiece of the weymouth and the crank nose and voila! Pretty easy recipe for cease of circulation in the tongue without even having to really try. Mr E plays the ignorant, moron card and prevails.

        • Certainly those in the various associations also need to be held accountable for not enforcing the rules and for pinning these riders. But it still boils down to the individual riders/trainers making the choices to force and abuse their way to the winner’s circle. And since they are the ones ‘on stage’ for all the world to see, and set the example for every up and comer, they get to take the brunt of the accolades or criticism, whichever is appropriate. You don’t like what comes with riding at that level, then ride in your backyard.

          • As always, aggregate action by individuals on the money in the sport is effective, don’t join the associations, don’t go to the amatuer shows, make sure the federations know why the money is drying up. But people say, I don’t ride that way so it doesn’t matter if I join the national group that feeds up to the FEI, even though their money supports the sport. Don’t import the fancy horse because it comes from a trainer’s barn that wins if the trainer isn’t on record against the problems and doesn’t work with riders who are part of the problem. Stop the money. Demand something different and something different will happen. But people won’t sacrifice on this low level to make change happen. So why expect the big money players to change??

  2. If that’s anywhere near what he said then he’s either:
    – immensely stupid and ignorant
    – a lying piece of shit

    The way it goes though you’re not entitled to plead “ignorant”. As a rider you are responsible for the welfare and well being of the horse you answer. End of.

    If he honestly doesn’t bother to check a bit and bridle then he’s more stupid than I gave him credit for. I always thought he was a thick twat too!

    What has actually happened is that the “fashion” for hauling a horse’s head up it’s horse has gone out of fashion. It was touted as “a method of training” as “that’s the way it is” as “acceptable”.

    There were plenty that fell for that.

    Now though there’s been a ground swell and momentum that’s slapped those folks upsides the back of the head and shown it for what it is. Force! Ugly! Bad! You can call it behind the vertical. They called it Rollkur. I call it hyperflexion when in polite equine circles and hauling it’s head up it’s arse when with my network of horsemen and horsewomen.

    It’s nothing other than forced abuse. Bad for the horse. Bad for dressage. Bad for the sport. Bad for the image.

    The fei need to take positive and assertive action and ensure that those who are practicing it or claiming to be so stupid they don’t even know what they’re doing are fined and banned.

  3. But, it wins! It is necessary, there is no alternative! As a ‘sport prop’ it is to be expected that the horses must make sacrifices for greatness! Now there is some serious bullshit in that last comment, perhaps the biggest steaming pile in the whole mess. Horses have no choice. They aren’t running around their paddocks as youngsters watching the grown up horses saying to themselves, ‘someday if I work hard, sacrifice my body and my sanity, I, too, can be ridden behind the vertical until my tongue turns blue!’

    Humans are effing stupid, to say what they say, and then for the rest to nod sagely and clap for stupidity.

  4. Equestrian sports have been flying under the general animal welfare radar for a long time. Maybe due to tradition, but who knows. Rolkur in dressage, whips in racing, don’t get me started on some aspects of endurance – the list is endless. I can’t believe that the FEI especially keeps on taking a head-in-the-sand approach. The repercussions because of the few, are potentially huge for all of us that ride, competitively or not.

    • excellent point. If we fail in punishing abuse, when it is in fact rewarded very publicly in high levels of sport, eventually animal rights activists will convince people who don’t know anything about horses that all riding is abusive and should be ended.

  5. However, with Dresssaaagge traditions of sneering down their nose at the rest of the horse activities because, after all, They Are Heirs of An Age-Old Tradition, it is almost Schadenfreude to see them accused of abuse and just plain terrible horsemanship. I am in the middle of Tenn. Walking Horse country here and I cannot stand to even watch the Big Lick, not only because of the abuse of the horse, but because of the truly awful and grotesque riding seats. Still, none of the Big Lick riders claim to be Equitators. They are just goobers who are trying to force a “Big Lick” running walk, by whatever means necessary.

  6. I’ve only seen Big Lick on-line. But (I think I’ve said this before here), there is in fact a real similarity to what I see in competition dressage, particularly at the low-end amateur level in my immediate environment. They are just goobers who are trying to force a behind the vertical “frame,” by whatever means necessary, and also focus on big front-end action without looking at the rest of the horse at all. They are of course getting this from what they see on T.V. (the Olympics) but also from their “higher end” coaches who are a few degrees closer to the source. Anyhow, my name for this is Big Lick Dressage, though I realize that real Big Lick is many many times worse.

    • It’s true. The goobers all learn from someone ‘higher up’. A goober may learn from a mid-level goober, but that mid-level goober is learning/copying from a high profile person who might also be a goober. This is how everything works. It determines how we dress, how we talk, what we believe in politically, religiously etc…

      I had a great mentor start me out. I did not know that immediately and it wasn’t until years later that I truly understood how I (and the horses) had lucked out. I like to think that if he had been a poor/abusive trainer, I’d have noticed it sooner rather than later because of my natural tendencies of employing common sense, respecting animals, and anal retentiveness (attention to detail, wanting things to be just so) as well as the teachings of my parents. But maybe not.

      All people know that which they’ve been taught, good or bad. A portion of the population knows what they feel. I’m not just talking about knowing their emotions, where they come from, what triggers them etc…, but rather I’m talking about knowing their instincts, gut feelings, that knowing of something deep down though you’ve had no formal teachings or background in it. Knowing right from wrong long before your parents ever smacked you upside the head. That kind of knowing.

      You can’t teach people who aren’t open and willing to learn. And that’s not just listening/reading what someone else is saying/written. You have to have the ability of critical thinking skills, and common sense, and, and, and.

      As an example, we’ve got two people who voted in this article’s poll for: Meh, it happens. Long way from the horse’s heart. My first reaction to that is: Are you serious? My second reactions is: They’re just trying to be funny. My third is to stick a double bridle on their heads that doesn’t fit, crank their chins to their chest, spur the crap out of them, and then toss them a cookie as a reward for not killing me. Maybe then they’d get it.

  7. Ignorance is always with us. And since it is still technically the holidays, Charles Dickens in the Christmas Carol warned us Ignorance is a grave danger to humanity and any individual’s humanity.

    The horse’s whole tongue was blue? How do you so thoroughly cut off the blood circulation to the tongue that it turns blue along its length, above and below the bit? Is it just because of the bit? If you know anything about the tongue, how long it is, how it has to be free to move and retract, well past the throat latch in the horse, the effect of being greatly behind the vertical, and the contraction of the open area of wind pipe, pushing out the parotids, etc., chances are there was strangulation closer to the root of the tongue, and not just because of the bit. If you closed off the throat sufficiently to affect the tongue, what did you do to overall oxygen levels for the horse, was the tongue the only muscle starved?

    And then if you know anything about collection, how the horse’s muscles tie in through neck and throat, you know you don’t want to cause the horse discomfort in the tongue because it is going to create a cascade of ‘bad things’, tensions, lock downs of the muscles responsible for lifting the base of the neck, as well as restrictions in breathing, a horse that isn’t breathing freely is tight in the rest of its body, a tight horse can’t truly collect, etc. So, an intelligent and informed person would never say, meh. Because you can’t mess up the tongue and get to your stated goal of a relaxed horse moving in high collection, it simply cannot happen. And yet, these errors are sought after every day in sport dressage, over years, breaking down these horses that are never ridden correctly, and it is rewarded by ignorant people who think winning is the ‘only thing’ and who worship at the feet of winners to the detriment of their horses and their growth as human beings. Other than that, all’s fine with the world.

  8. Here’s a video of Lisa Wilcox talking about throughness while we watch her ride a large and pretty talented-looking five year old. The entire time he’s overbent and behind the vertical, and he loses the purity of his trot gait a few times. In the few moments that he actually appears to come up in the bridle and try to carry himself, she says he’s coming above the bit!

    Funny thing is that a couple of years ago I would have looked at this video and thought “not great, but not that bad.” Now that i know about the mechanics of the horse’s anatomy and what happens when it gets behind the bit, I can see the glaring problems. And he’s learning to go behind the bit at a young age.

    • It’s hard to accept that she could in any way believe the crap she’s spewing in that video, or that she can’t see how she’s jamming the horse up in front.

        • As long as we have big name, bigtime successful riders quoted as saying that ‘contact’ is FIVE POUNDS OF PRESSURE in their hands – and nobody disputing it – we will have riders on-the-muscle thinking they are doing it ‘right’ and destined for greatness.

  9. Great video to illustrate that the problem with sport dressage goes all the way to the bone, Olympic contenders, their trainers, the people that feed them great prospects, etc. None of them will give up what wins for what works for the horse.

    Congratulations to you for being able to ‘see’ the reality instead of the hype.

    • Even though it’s frustrating to watch, I feel a little bit of pride in being able to tell the difference between true dressage and ruining the horse. When I’m not sure what good looks like, I watch old footage of Reiner Klimke and Ahlerich.

  10. A year or two ago I watched a low-level but EC certified coach take a lesson from the young protege of someone who once did something like the Pan Am Games or long-listed for national team or something like that. Low-level coach riding her expensive and talented young “horse of a lifetime” that was going to make her name and fortune. They were pounding around the arena on the forehand, big knees in front and pony trot behind, rider using her entire body weight to strong arm the horse’s head up and behind the vertical. When the horse’s head came up, the protege shouted “Good job! Ride on! He’s off his forehand!” and when the horse’s head eventually went lower (still BTV), she yelled: “he’s on his forehand! Get him up.” But in fact nothing was changing besides the head position; the horse was on his forehand all the time, his movement and center of balance did not move at all. So protege could not see what was happening, and low level coach was being taught to misunderstand how a collected horse feels. Nothing is more common, in my experience so far, than seeing riding videos (or lessons) where the instructor/commentator claims something is happening that manifestly isn’t, if you have eyes to see (softness, collection, calm, etc). Anyhow, “horse of a lifetime” has proved “disappointing,” no surprise there.

      • Seems hopeless. Simplistic to say “education, education, education!” but it is all I have. As long as I can go to a clinic or a horse show and have people tell me what a lovely mover a horse is while it goes around the ring at a ‘lope’ that hops in front and trots behind (or goes crab-wise or so far on its forehand that its hind legs are flapping in the breeze behind it…) and so on I will speak up and do my best to inform/educate. So what if they dismiss it as a case of envy or ignorance: I have to try and hope to plant a tiny hint of awakening in their minds.

        • Education is the key, but…there’s always a but…when you’ve got people who are admired for their success in the show ring telling young riders to ride a ‘hot dog’ figure (you know who I’m talking about) as some sort of show preparation – and all that went along with that – well, it’s just about hopeless unless one can back up their own greater success in the show ring. Because let’s face it, ribbons and titles mean a lot to a lot of people.

  11. Some people are ribbon-crazed competitive nutcases. But many people just honestly believe that if they are doing something that is generally sanctioned by a discipline that has a structure of levels and rewards, then they must be doing it “correctly.” And when they fail to get the desired results (horse is weirdly lame at age 6, or goes insane, or stalls out at level one dressage) they haven’t been working hard enough, or they need another horse, or they need a custom saddle. On the other hand, a lot of the converts to our local classical dressage program have been people that have hit a final roadblock with their lame/insane/malfunctioning horse, turned to this out of desperation, and been thrilled with the recovery. So sometimes people will only listen when they are ready.

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