As Totilas and Matthias Rath cantered down centerline at the beginning of the Grand Prix Special test, a sudden and complete hush fell over the crowd. As the test concluded at the Nürnberger Insurance Company Dressage Festival in Munich, Germany, 6,000 spectators burst into frenzied applause.
The weekend of June 2-5 marked the long-awaited debut of the World Champion Dutch Warmblood stallion with his new rider, Germany’s Matthias Rath.
The Special, their second ride of the weekend, resulted in a top score of 79.83 percent. During their test the scoreboard even showed an average above 80 percent for Germany’s new dream combination. Only a mistake in the one-tempi flying changes on the centerline and an explosive start from passage into the canter tour prevented the score from finishing there. The ride was full of grandiose moments, and the judges awarded many 9s for highlights such as the piaffe-passage tours, the canter pirouettes and the half-passes.
Trainer and father, Klaus-Martin Rath, was every bit as enthusiastic as the audience about his son’s winning ride. "I’m totally overwhelmed. Matthias has shown a lot of courage and has taken much more risk than in the Grand Prix,” he said. “But, in the Grand Prix, we wanted to find out how Totilas would react in the ring. Today, Matthias had him much more in front of him and got more to ride.”
Klaus-Martin and Matthias spent the evening after the Grand Prix test—which Totilas (Gribaldi—Lominka, Glendale) also won on 76.78 percent, despite mistakes—discussing what to change in the 11-year-old stallion’s preparations and during the ride.
“It’s super how much Matthias was able to implement the conclusions we came to, and it’s also good that Totilas reacts so quickly and so well to these changes,” said Klaus-Martin. “Rider and horse have a very fast perspective faculty.”
It’s hard to blame the new pair for a few kinks in their inaugural performance at a CDI during Thursday’s Grand Prix. When Totilas had his wraps removed and began warming up in the Nürnberger Dressage Arena, there were some 8,000 spectators there to greet him during the public German holiday.
“Totilas got an additional incentive in his eagerness to work when the bandages came off. In general, this eagerness is nothing bad, as long as he can be kept under control,” said Klaus-Martin. “[For the Grand Prix Special] we made him ready for the test when there were still two riders ahead of him, and after that Matthias rode many transitions between trot and walk and shoulder-in to keep Totilas concentrated on the rider. This has shown the aimed for result.”
Matthias was just as ecstatic as his father. “I’m so happy! It was very important that we were able to change these things immediately, the things that weren’t perfect the day before. I’m overwhelmed that we succeeded and performed such a great ride. This gives us, of course, a lot of confidence for the future with the European Championships in view.”
The 2012 London Olympic Games are also a definite aim. Although Matthias is just 26 and still working on his bachelor’s degree in economics, it seems likely that he’ll play a key role on future German teams.
“Of course, we have to qualify for the German team in two weeks at the German Championships at Balve for the CDIO Aachen and the European Championships in Rotterdam,” said Matthias. “Then next year there are the Olympics, but I think, with Isabell Werth, Ulla Salzgeber, Christoph Koschel, Annabel Balkenhol and me, Germany can bring a team that can without doubt go for gold again.”
Matthias faced additional pressure for the Grand Prix, because Totilas’ co-owner, Paul Schockemöhle and his wife Bettina, were among the crowd. They made the flight to Munich for one day despite the fact that their own show, the German Derby, was going on in Hamburg.
The horse dealer and breeder bought Totilas last October after the stallion won all three Grand Prix tests at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Ky.) with the Netherlands’ Edward Gal. Paul then found business partners in Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff and her husband Klaus-Martin.
“I liked in the Grand Prix test how Matthias was able to deal with the pressure and that the combination became better and better during their ride,” said Paul.
And if Matthias wasn’t affected by the Schockemöhles’ presence, he also had to live up to a family legacy in Munich. “This is the site where Ann Kathrin’s mother, Lieselott Linsenhoff, won the individual gold medal in the 1972 Olympics,” said Klaus-Martin. “Ann Kathrin won team gold in the 1988 Olympics, and now Matthias is the third generation with a chance to win an Olympic gold medal.”