Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro have taken the world stage, beating record after record, seemingly untouchable. They are phenoms in the world of dressage and are arguably the most famous pair at present. As I was mulling over this over, watching them at the top of their game, my mind went back to the last “golden horse” of dressage: Totilas.
Just a few years ago, Totilas was indisputably the most famous dressage horse in the world, setting the standard to beat for every other competitor world wide.
What Totilas offered was tremendous power. He carries weight like few horses can, making for tremendous piaffes, passages and pirouettes. One can say that the rhythm is awry but that person would be ignoring the fact that as-is his collected movements blow most all others out of the water. If the hind end were to truly match the extravagance of Totilas’s front then we would have a different phenomenon – the instance of the horse that goes floating magically across the diagonal with all four hooves out in front of him.
More and more we are seeing advertisements popping up all over the internet from breeders who braved the astronomical stud fee, displaying their brightly trotting Totilas foals. We now have horses being bred with amazing inherent ability. Is this wrong? Believe what you want in that regard, but it is inevitable. It is what people do. That is why in dogs we have the variety of chihuahuas to Saint Bernards to German Shepards. Human beings, once setting a purpose to their selection, work toward that goal. So we are going to get horses with more and more inborn athleticism and talent.
Dressage is a sport of subjectiveness and opinion. In this respect jumping has the luxury of clarity. The jump is so high, there is such and such amount of time allowed. The horse that jumps clear and fastest is the winner. There is no argument – the rules are right there in black and white. Now we have dressage, and the set of movements for any given test. With ten horses entering a class and eight of them completing all movements, what is it that creates a ranking system between the eight horses? The quality of the completed movements. Now we come down to the nitty gritty – what is the essence of quality?
This is the million dollar question and the gray area within which dressage resides.
What we can control is our responsibility to this master race of horses we are creating. Yes, positive tension is required for the Grand Prix but that is a very different quality than a horse being driven so hot that they are like bombs under saddle. I am not saying that horses need to be stress free in the Grand Prix. Grand Prix is seriously difficult. The movements are physically intense and come very fast – then throw in the freestyle where most riders choose to raise the bar further. Compare it to Grand Prix jumping. You WANT these horses focused, primed and ready, filled with energy and raring to go. Recognizing the difference between this healthy edge and a horse driven to a frenzy is something up to the ever-judged judges.
Another aspect of the legacy of Totilas is the fact that Valegro is not selling. Back in 2010 when Totilas was sold to Paul Schockemohle it was thought to be just like the major leagues of every sport – you are going to see the best players shifting to the highest bidder. What turned out to be different is that in dressage one member of the team is responsible for the creation of the other, such as Gal and Totilas. This man spent years training Totilas to grand prix and only weeks after his record breaking performance at the WEG Gal was informed that Totilas was sold. Since that time Totilas’s star has faded, riddled with problem after problem. Now a new appreciation for the brilliance of the combination is seen. No one wants pull Valegro from Charlotte – they have learned from Totilas and Rath that there is no where to go but down.
Totilas remains just as dressage is – beautiful, controversial and far from flawless. He illustrates the passion that so many have for this sport that I love and the debates that ensue for its benefit. Even now, Totilas acts as a perfect symbol to our zeitgeist.
Below, a video of a young Totilas.
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- Five Ways To Engage Your Horse’s Hind Leg (dressagedifferent.com)