Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cross-post: new Totilas and Mathias video (my thoughts)

Cross-post from Behind the Bit.

I had too much to say to simply comment.

The first thing that came to my mind when watching this was something Edward Gal said in a Dressage Today article about the first time he sat on Totilas. He said he felt so powerful beneath him, that it almost felt dangerous to even be on, "frightening" as he put it, because there was so much power in that horse, and he got off very quickly. He gave him another go, it went better, and so on and so forth.

So that was the big thing I thought of when I saw how held-back Totilas seemed to be, and how less-fluid his movement was, if you could call his movements under Gal as truly fluid (I'll touch on that in a few). Mathias is holding that pony back because A) he's on a horse that probably feels unlike any horse anyone had ridden before, and B) he's got all the pressure upon him to be like Totilas' former rider, Edward Gal, and do as well with the horse as Gal did.

Yeah, I'd be scared poopoo-less as well, and I'd for sure be holding on to the bit a little more than I should have.

(Also, ENOUGH with the Pirates of the Caribbean music! It's been overused! I could tell right away where that music was from!)

And lastly, I still am iffy about Totilas. While I will say his gaits are extraordinarily unusual, and quite attractive to a non-horse person (and even so to a horse person, myself included upon initially seeing him go) the more and more I see them, the more and more they simply bother me.

I have yet to see him do a normal trot, and even then what I suppose is his normal trot seems to be a faster-paced passage. His extended trots and passages have little difference, almost the same tempo, and he doesn't glide in the extended trot like I've seen most Grand Prix horses do, and from what I understand are supposed to look like. His hind end does not match up to his front, he does not step as much underneath himself like a dressage horse is supposed to do. He never looks relaxed, he never looks loose and free, like he could hold his position on a simple snaffle or even a loose rein. He doesn't look like he really enjoys his work, like it's been thrust upon him because of his talent (story of many an Olympic horse's life, no?)

It doesn't look natural to me, and isn't dressage supposed to be a horse's natural movements exemplified? Totilas' movements, for the most part, seem to be just beyond natural, somewhat unhealthy, and I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing for the dressage world to progress towards, as impressive as the gaits are.

This looks relaxed and follows my purist ideals of a horse's natural movements exemplified. Did I mention this mare is full blood stock QH? Look at that hind end reaching, and matching the front end! And look at how relaxed BOTH of the reins are! A horse, if trained well, does not have to be held into a position, as show here, in Exhibit A.

(This also looks like Greta's little Quarter Horse butt when she gets really engaged. It gives me hope! If this pony can do it, why not Miss Golightly?)

This looks relaxed as well, and natural, and Ravel is a modern warmblood. Steffen, at the clinic I went to in October, was very adamant about NOT holding a horse or forcing a horse into a postion. Because the biggest culprit was the host of the clinic, Steffen didn't get after him as much I thought he perhaps might have wanted to, seeing how he kindly reminded other riders to never allow their horses to hang on the bit or to force a horse into a position, which will also cause the horse to hang on the bit (among other things). He was very much a proponent for self-carraige, which is what much of the clinic focused on. And, as we can see in the above picture, his ideas certainly work, even at the Olympic level, and Ravel always looks so relaxed and happy, even when Steffen does have to snatch a bit more rein in electric situations like the WEG or Olympic arena.

All in all, while Totilas' movements are impressive to a certain degree, they are also bothersome to a certain degree. Those are just my opinions ;)


  1. I am SOOOOO glad you posted this! I agree 100%
    At first I was like DAMN what a horse...after seeing numerous vids though, I'm like, ugh boring.
    I commented on Behind The Bits blog too about his trot, funny you said something too. It NEVER looks normal. He is always piaffing or passaging and its all in the front end. Or seemingly so.
    Oh and btw, loooove that header. I want to know how you made this site! Great pic :)
    Even his extend trot looks forced and its all in the front. His canter looks...odd. Way to much flash in the front, again.
    Is it just me or do they ONLY piaffe/passage him? He always looks choked up too, like way to tight of reins. I never really have intently studied vids but now that people are mentioning it, I agree.
    That QH is phenominal and I cannot believe how amazing she looks. THAT is what an upper level horse should be.
    With Gal, T looked calmer, but he gained much hype, mostly about that front end of his. I wonder what another grand prix rider thinks about T.

  2. All trotwork should have a similar tempo and cadance, extensions and collections alike. The sign of a good, correct lengthening/medium/extension is that it can stay in the same rhythm as a working gait but still cover more ground at the same time. But I understand what you are meaning to say, because his extensions are so incredibly false that they cannot possibly be called extensions of any sort. They're just him flinging his front legs higher while going across the diagonal. That horse is being choked to death with his curb and because of it his engine is totally dead and his front end has nowhere to go but up.
    He is truly a freak of nature. Amazingly talented, but impossibly hard to correctly ride. It will be interesting to see if he can reproduce himself.
    I read an article about what day-to-day life for Totilas is like, and it includes things like several handwalks a day because he isn't allowed turnout. I wonder how many injections, medications and duct tape solutions happen in that barn to keep him together. Managing a high-end dressage horse is a disturbingly unnatural process.

    But good lord he is magnificent. It's not his fault he was born freaky.

  3. Magnificent indeed! Indeed....
    Sad that he has the life of a champion and NEVER gets to be a horse! I will go back and re-watch video, because when he scored a 92% I must admit, my bottom jaw hit the floor! Also, while I enjoy dressage and attribute my much improved riding skill to a year of lessons, I am a jumper at heart! Perhaps Gal and Totilas have a good reltionship, and that horse would intimidate anyone! Mathias will hopefully pull it together, maybe even uncrank him a bit and put MORE shwang into that trot! Nice post!

  4. I am so glad to see this opinion going around. I was starting to feel like the only rider who is not die-hard Totilas all the way. I can't even watch him. It annoys me.

  5. I actually think Totilas looks MORE relaxed under Mathias than under Edward. His tail isn't flailing around, his poll is often (not always) the highest point, and his whole demeanor is softer. BUT... his movement still bothers me. To me he looks like a Hackney carriage horse or something - all front-end flash, nothing behind.

    I have seen videos of him as a youngster and he does NOT go like he does now. All that front-end movement has been built - it's not natural as far as I can tell. So I don't think he's a freak of nature, but I think he's been made to go rather freakishly. I have often wondered what he'd look like if he were ridden in a snaffle bridle in the Training or First level frame.

  6. Actually I have to agree... I thought he looked worse under Gal. I still think he looks awful but still.

  7. Thank you so much for your thoughts and input. I GREATLY appreciate it :)))))

    Oh, yes, I forgot to comment on his daily routine (also in that interview wit Gal) but it would've been a bit off-topic. They said they stopped turning him out because he got injured, and they're afraid of him injuring himself again. So, off-topic input is now "go":

    1. When a horse isn't turned out, then when they ARE turned out, their body isn't used to that much movement, so of COURSE the pony might break if he starts to get his kinks out. Just ask a person giving their horse gradual turnout after an injury. Same thing happens when you haven't worked a horse in a while and then all of the sudden you try and throw him over 4' oxers. He probably will break somewhere somehow. At least, that's my understanding. There are exceptions, but for the most part, well... y'know?

    2. Allowing a horse to move around and be a HORSE in turnout is a nice break from working. Long-term Stalling can stress them out, and handwalking is still work of sorts because they have be attentive to the handler. Turnout is a mental break, just like going for a walk after being at a desk all day. Mental breaks affect the physical aspects of a horse as well, because if a horse is under stress they can break easily as well. Once again, that's just my understanding. Might be wrong.

    Seriously, I also wonder how many meds that pony needs to keep him together. It's not healthy. I'm sure there are Grand Prix horses who are allowed normal turnout, and they do just fine. Oooh, like one of the trainers at my barn, her competing Grand Prix Hanoverian does that, and he does quite well!

  8. Good post. I like Stacey's as well.

    If the general opinion of your readers is that Totilas's movement is not something that we wish to strive for with our own horses, why is he scoring so high with the judges? This bothers me. There is a huge disconnect somewhere between the rules, the judging, training a living creature, and a little thing called "art".

  9. Does it bother you that some think his movement is odd or the fact that judges still score him high? Only curious :)

  10. Very interesting post. Between these comments and the comments on Behind the Bit I don't think anyone disagrees that Totilas isn't quite right in a few areas.

    I watched the video a few times. I see where the back end is lacking. But it also seems to me what Andrea mentioned, he is being choked to death. It's really sad to see.

    That QH pic is beautiful inspiration for non-dressage bred breeds.

  11. Yes, indeed! BTW Klein will look like that QH mare one day, just you wait!!!

  12. From what I've seen of Totilas, he has become progressively more cranked-in and pissed off. I agree that he looks very restricted, and I've often wondered what kind of power and ease of movement you would see if he were allowed to move in self carriage.

    The head bob that is evident in his collected work is proof of the very mechanical way of moving that has been imposed on him. In the extended trot, he resembles a big-lick Tennessee Walking Horse. And we all know how natural that is.

  13. To Checkmark115:
    It bothers me that the judges give him high marks. I would like to see how gorgeous he is when moving freely forward, without exaggerated or robotic movements.

    Also, I agree with Meghan's comment about his trot resembling the Big-Lick TWH.

  14. Agreed with the Big Lick as well. Those words nail it. I wonder if he'll explode during a ride? Sometimes, no matter how much a horse will want to please, that kind of force is bound to cause pain, and sometimes that pain will reach a point where it can't be alleviated, and then when they're in pain and being asked to use as much as a GP horse is asked to use, then they just might break down. I hope nothing tragic like that happens to such an incredible horse, but I do wonder sometimes....

    Maybe I just think too much ;)


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