By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Totilas has moved into his new home at the Schafhof in Kronberg near Frankfurt, and a new phase in the life of the stallion that at the age of 11 has become the most celebrated in the history of dressage as sport.
Matthias Alexander Rath, 26 years old and one of the wave of relative youngsters that are dramatically changing the face of dressage in Europe, is the rider, with coaching from his father Klaus Martin Rath, who will steer the black stallion into the first competition arena for the pair, set for Munich, Germany, June 2-6. The horse will be competing for the first time in eight months, the last occasion when Edward Gal won three gold medals at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.
The image will be different than those from the past three years of Totilas, with the prefix Moorlands for the stable that owned him, trained and ridden by Edward Gal of The Netherlands with his floppy blonde hair performing feats in the show ring that brought primetime television coverage and tears to the eyes of grizzled horsemen, accumulating world records at all three Grand Prix levels and a pirate’s trove of gold from the 2009 European Championships and the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010.
It will be up to Matthias to write a new chapter whose climax they intend to be the Olympic Games in London next year, bearing German hopes of their team being atop the medals podium as they have at every Olympics since 1976 except for 1980 when Germany and many other Western nations boycotted the Moscow Games to protest the then Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Totilas was bought by Paul Schockemöhle for his Performance Sales International after WEG last October as a breeding stallion. About 300 mares around the world have received semen at €4,000 ((US$5,700) per dose with another €4,000 due on delivery of a live foal in the 2011 breeding season. The stallion was bred three times a week in a schedule that did not impact Matthias’s training of five days a week. The horse was ready to be ridden 30 minutes after breeding.
Ann-Kathrin Linsenhoff, who was forced to give up competition riding after contracting Lyme’s disease following a career that included team gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, partnered with Paul in an arrangement that included her stepson, Matthias, becoming the competition rider. Klaus Martin Rath, her husband, is a successful trainer.
Dressage-news.com has seen Totilas in several competitions and in training with Edward Gal in the past three years and observed a training session with Klaus Martin coaching Matthias in recent days. The Rath method appears neither to imprint a “German” training system in place of a “Dutch” one, nor to let Totilas “carry” Matthias with the horse’s eye-popping gaits and hope to continue success.
Matthias and his father have nothing but praise for Edward and the training of Totilas and did not want to discuss any comparisons in approaches but instead focus on their goals–Munich early in June, the German championships at Balve in mid-June, Aachen in July, the European Championships at Rotterdam in August and the main goal, the Olympics in London in 2012.
The Rath approach appears to be that at age 11, Totilas is still developing and that they will work to go to another level as they believe Edward would have done if the horse had remained with him.
Compared with 2010, Totilas seems trimmer, is ridden more open in front and the hind end appears stronger and the hind legs come under more.
The front legs in piaffe and passage and extended trot have lost none of the freedom that makes jaws drop in amazement.
Rumors abound of the use of “LDR”–low, deep and round, associated with the controversial so-called rollkur. But there was no evidence of it and neither was there at Edward’s barn. Only normal stretching before and after work.
Totilas is used to and relishes attention and big crowds. And he competed–successfully, of course–at Munich in 2010 where he was embraced by the crowds like the celebrity he is.
How Matthias deals with the pressure is anyone’s guess, but he does not appear fazed by it and has weathered about the worst that the almost always dominant German team has experienced.
He was on the German team that was written off at the 2009 European Championships at a time when Isabell Werth was suspended and several other top horses were retired or injured. The team fought for and won bronze behind the Totilas-led Dutch squad and Great Britain. Even with Isabell back on the team that included Matthias at WEG in 2010, Totilas and Edward again led the Dutch squad to the top of the medals podium with Great Britain taking silver.
If Matthias and Totilas qualify for this year’s Europeans they will likely have company from among the following: Isabell is expected to seek a place on the team on the relatively new at Grand Prix El Santo NRW on which she has been successful; Anabel Balkenhol is a likely contender aboard Dablino; Ulla Salzgeber on Herzruf’s Erbe who is doing better than ever; a rejuvenated Elvis VA ridden by Nadine Capellmann may be a contender, as well as Helen Langehanenberg on Damon Hill NRW.
The partnership between horse and rider appears strong and growing as evidenced by Totilas offering his best, and the relationship between the rider and his father/trainer is remarkable for the apparent mutual respect and intuitively being on the same wavelength.
The one thing that is absolutely sure is that when Totilas is ridden down the centerline by Matthias at Munich all eyes of the equestrian world will be on them. But it is equally sure that Matthias and Totilas, no matter the result, will have all the support in the world from family, friends and partners.