The Symbolic Totilas

valegroCharlotte 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.

totilas2Dressage 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.

totilas3Another 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. 

26 responses to “The Symbolic Totilas

  1. Very thoughtful. Perhaps Totilas might have been better off left at his original stud farm and shown by Gal and upcoming young riders… It is certainly nice to see that Charlotte and Valegro have depth and are continuing their career together and even getting better! It was also nice to see a video of the young Totilas. Thank you for helping to put things in perspective.

  2. Did you happen to see the videos of Carl and Charlotte doing a demonstration at Badminton in 2008 (?) riding Valegro as a 6 y/o and Winston as a 5 y/o. The two videos show some talented horses with conformation and gaits and temperament for dressage, and also show some really good training based on sound understanding of classical dressage training scale.

  3. As a small breeder I breed to stallions that I have watched personally. I did go to WEG to watch Totilas and agree the marriage of the horse and rider should be acknowledged. I found Totilas’s temperament not what would be suitable for my breeding intentions but Gal was sensitive and caring of Toto from the early beginnings. Great movers, sensitive brains, willing temperaments can be flattened out, like riding a divorce! It is a wise thing that Charlotte is keeping the ride of Valegro not just for “business” but for the good of the horse!

  4. The ‘warm’ in European warmbloods comes from carriage horses bred for flashy action in front and pushing power behind, much like hackney ponies in the UK and USA. That ancestry means Totilas does not have the appropriate bone structure in his hindquarters for them to truly act as springs as is seen in best of the Iberian horses throughout history. Edward Gal is very blunt about breeders/judges liking the flashy action in front, but it is not his focus in training. He brought out the best in Totilas within the horse’s conformation, which is what a classical dressage trainer/rider should do. Gal also had a tremendous empathy with an extremely sensitive animal that the new owners/riders/ trainers don’t exhibit. I fear Totilas’ foals will suffer under less ethical and accomplished riders/trainers/owners that do not have the same respect for the horse’s physiological or psychological welfare.

    • Saraannon I agree with you! I have hated watching these big public displays of flashy front, big trots (which seems to create a money spending frenzy) that minimizes their ability to use their backs properly! If I had been able to see their walks on the buckle, their longer frames, their canters it would be easier to make judgments for breeding in my personal eye. I admire you shared your thought about Totilas conformation in bone structure! And certainly certain training methodologies added to being weaker in the back end. Yes, handling and training young horses requires certain empathy and sensitivity which Edward Gal has a talent for that is not talked about in the horse world. He is a superb horseman!

      • Thank you, the bone structure of the hip joint is so important and so often overlooked. I call the three basic variations the spring that maximizes weight carrying ability found in Iberian horses, the pendulum that maximizes the length of the stride found in race horses, and the ratchet that maximizes pushing power in harness horses. The same schooling on different types of horses is going to result in different movement. Demanding that they all look the same is really detrimental to the horse.

  5. I’d like to add that dressage might benefit from the ‘best of breed’ concept in dogs shows. Horses could compete within their breed classification, then the ‘best of breed’ could compete for the grand prize. It would save a lot of horses a lot of suffering, offer a platform for a genuine discussion of the practical application of the classical principles of riding, and perhaps engage the general public’s interest in a way that the current insular competitive scene does not.

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  11. I have bred a lot with Totilas because his foal are so gorgeous! Super character, incredible elasticity and excellent gaits, long legs and beautiful. My oldest one is two and he so great that you can’t wait to get on. These animals are so precious that you treat them like diamonds! Thank you to Edward to get the horse so famous, thank you to Paul to get him accessible for us breeders! Ps: ever thought that Valegro maybe doesn’t pass the vet check? They said in even in TV that they wanted to sell him! For Totilas it was public only when it was done.

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    • Meryl, you have the mind of a cart horse lost in its shell. Both horses are different and totally wonderful.

  14. I was never a Totilas fan (for what I think are legitimate reasons, but I’ve no wish to start an arguement), but I did prefer him under Gal than under Rath. I think that Gal is a much more classical rider, he really supports and guides the horse, but you don’t see that in Rath, and I think that’s why Totilas’ performance suffered when he was sold.

    Charlotte and Valegro are my favorite pair. What I love about Valegro is that he’s calm and relaxed as he works, whereas a lot of other horses seem very tense. And Chartlotte, of course, is an excellent rider. She’s so quiet and effective, and very soft in the hand.

  15. Your comparing apples and oranges, totalis sold well because he is a stallion, even if he never competed under Rath, his value as a stud was undeniable. Valegro is a gelding, he has no value as a breeder. And from the sounds of it has huge value as a riding horse around Hester’s barn as he is apparently a very kind reliable horse anyone can be safe on out on a hack. All the players involved with valegro make their money elsewhere in training and riding. What else has Valegro got to win? Charlotte has said it herself….. her next step is to do it all again with the next young horse. Valegro has given the world enough, they have the sense to retire him from competition. Poor totalis will rot away in a 4 X 4 box, save only for a dummy mare.

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