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October 15, 2010

Totilas: Coveted by His Neighbor

Photo by Julia Wentscher.

Dear Rita,

Is nothing sacred anymore? Totilas is sold to Germany. Do you see the irony in this?

For more than a year, certain members of the German press (empowered not by public opinion but by specific canny professionals in the German dressage scene) have lambasted not only the “lack of classical” presentation by Totilas, but also the system of Rollkür in which he is trained. The Dutch hyperflexion system has in fact been so passionately torn down in the German media for so many years that some of us in this country have been astounded by the power of propaganda as we experience it firsthand.

Now we have the greatest dressage horse ever produced by any training system in the world—Totilas—and he was not only produced by hyperflexion, but also bred, born and raised in the Netherlands. Contrary to past Dutch successes, absolutely no credit could be given to their German neighbors who incidentally bred and sold both Bonfire and Salinero.

Every Grand Prix trainer KNOWS that Grand Prix horses are made, not born. We all know that the right raw material is indispensable. But we also know that to train, hone and present that material as a finished product is a tough job. It takes years of fine riding, fine tuning and often a complete leap of faith.

Edward was true to his country and his sport. He took a mere dream and turned it into a reality so powerful that the whole world sat up and took notice. Without Edward Gal, Totilas would not have taken the world by storm.

Well, most of the world. The German St. Georg magazine took exception to this ethereal athlete. They called his performances “circus” and unclassical and shameful. The media situation worsened after Totilas conquered all and brought home the team gold medal from the European Championships last summer.

Please understand, not all Germans were critical of Totilas. This could not happen in a country of educated horsemen and dedicated breeders. While the press railed against him, he got standing ovations in Neumeunster and Stuttgart. Most German horsemen were begeistert! Sadly, in dressage, when one wins, one often becomes a target.

And now after his latest overwhelming victory in Kentucky, this horse, this masterpiece, this beautiful living work of art, has been sold to the very nation whose journalists sought to destroy his image. And—if rumor holds true—he will be ridden by Matthias Rath, a pupil of Klaus Balkenhol, one of those canny professionals who prompted the media at every turn to denigrate the Dutch training method.

I wonder: What will the St. Georg say about Totilas now that he will be shown under the German flag? Will this highly successful product of hyperflexion, low, deep and round and the Dutch breeding machine now become a classical model of dressage because he carries the German colors?

All cynical speculation aside, I have lived in Germany for 17 years, and I can tell you that some of the best riders and horsemen in the world live in this country. I have learned most of what I know from this country’s best people in the sport and breeding industry. It is these German horsemen who have taught me to appreciate horses like Totilas.

Nothing is better appreciated in Germany than a good horse. And Paul Schockemöhle has just proven that by reaching across international lines of controversy to purchase the best dressage horse in the world: Totilas. He has shown that for good German horsemen, quality has no boundaries.

Good luck to you Paul Schockemöhle, with your purchase. From a business perspective, this horse could not have fallen into better hands, and I know that you will protect your investment and manage him well. And best wishes to Matthias Rath, who I also believe is a wise choice as the new jockey for Totilas. If the horse has to have a new rider, he is lucky to land in the skilled hands of Matthias.

Namaste to Edward Gal. My hat goes off to you Edward and my heart goes out to you. Remember that your signature will forever be associated with this masterpiece. Your horse was coveted by your neighbor. Consider this the highest compliment and know that Dutch training reigns supreme because you made it so.

I’m Catherine Haddad, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from Vechta, Germany.

Training Tip of the Day: If you can’t beat your best competitor, buy his horse. Hah.

5 years 25 weeks ago
Kudos to you Catherine as
Kudos to you Catherine as well for having the courage to speak your mind and say it like it is!  Your lessons are always inspirational, and now even in more ways than one. Cheers, Kelly Read More
Catherine Haddad
5 years 26 weeks ago
Thank you, Kelly for a well
Thank you, Kelly for a well thought and well written comment.  I couldn't have said it better myself.  Thumbs up, Catherine Read More


Ark Equestrian
5 years 28 weeks ago

Training Tip

This tip made coffee come out of my nose this morning. 

5 years 28 weeks ago

Putting yourself out there

Just have to say that I so admire you for putting yourself out there with honest opinions.  As someone who has often pissed people off by "telling it like I see it" (most people only want you to tell it like you see it if it is exactly how they see it:)) I understand the risks you take by being so forthcoming.  Thanks.


5 years 28 weeks ago


Catherine, you are soooo eloquent....I look forward to your blog daily and applaude you for this latest article. 

5 years 28 weeks ago

The press

I am sure, as you are in the trenches, that you know more about the German attitude then I do, but i do want to mention that the press does not always represent the nation.  Hving said that, it is being emphasised all over that Totilas is a Gribaldi offspring, who is in fact a german stallion, correct?

Are you bitter about the sale?  I understand that you may be upset for Gal, but you sound more then a little bitter.

In the horse world, if you are not a target, you are just not doing well enough.  That is why no one lambasts my training system :).

I would hate to be Totilas new rider.  It seems unlikey that he can improve upon his record , and everyone will be watching with tremendous scrutiny, and comparing probably unfavorably. However Rath looks like a kind quiet rider, and i hope he does well, if he is lucky enough to get the ride.  There is some indication that Ann Katherin Linderhoff might be part of the new ownership of the horse

Catherine Haddad
5 years 28 weeks ago

Thanks for all the support on

Thanks for all the support on this blog.  Sometimes I have to take a deep breath before sending this stuff out.  :-) C.

Catherine Haddad
5 years 28 weeks ago


Gribaldi is a Dutch Trakehner stallion.  Are you thinking of Garibaldi? He is German. 

5 years 28 weeks ago

Thank you

I very much appreciate your courage to honestly and respectfully speak your opinion whether or not you know it to be popular (and whether or not I share it). Would that more of us shared that charateristic. BTW, I heard no bitterness.

Mairzy Doats
5 years 28 weeks ago


I think you will find that Gribaldi was indeed bred in Germany by Marika Werner of Mittenaar in Hessen, and was by the Trak, stallion Kostolany out of the elite Trak. mare Gondola II. He sold as a foal in 1993 to Otto Langels, who presented him at the Trakehner Stallion Licensing in Neumuenster in 1995, where he was named Champion. The colt then sold at auction for 300,000 DM (150,000 euro) to Dutch stallion owners Joop van Uytert and Rinus de Jong. In 1996 Gribaldi was approved by the KWPN society.

Love your blog, keep up the good work!!

Catherine Haddad
5 years 28 weeks ago

Thanks for that Mairzy!  I

Thanks for that Mairzy!  I thought that Gribaldi was in fact bred and born in Holland.  Learn something new every day!

5 years 28 weeks ago

Thank you Mairzy

I thought he was a german bred trakhener.


Catherine, do you really really believe the anti rollkur stance is a matter of injured national pride.  I feel that it has, and always will be, a stance against animal cruelty, and more about well being of the horse.  I sincerely doubt, and hope to be proven right, that those people and publications you have so thoroughly insulted will continue to bes anti RK as they ever were, regardless of who rides Totilas.

Surely you know that RK is prevalent in Germany, as it is in Holland, and in fact, unfortunately, increasingly found everywhere?

Catherine Haddad
5 years 28 weeks ago

Marion, In an ideal world you

Marion, In an ideal world you would be right and I would be wrong.  Best regards, Catherine

5 years 28 weeks ago

BRAVO Catherine Haddad !

Bravo Catherine Haddad for having the courage to say the truth about :

- Edward Gal and his part of the succes of Totilas outstanding performances

- the hypocrisy in Germany about the traîning system LOW DEEP AND ROUND (and not only from the journalists side... also many riders and trainers) whenever it is practised by dutch riders !

- Paul Schockemühle, who couldn't care less about Low Deep and Round or not (his brother Alwin was anyway one of the first riders to go in that direction with the training !) and now buys Totilas because he is top business !

- and the irony of Balkenhol and C/O who, by all means have tried, since 2005, to get Holland down from their overwhelming succes by seeking to destroy their image, and now, since this TUG OF THE WAR didn't work as they planned, simply BUYS THE SPORTRIGHTS of the best horse on the dutch team !

Therefore, with all respect, I will add to your excellent phrase, Catherine Haddad :

"If you can’t beat your best competitor, destroy his image... and if this still doesn't work, then buy his horse !"


Sad though that Edward Gal wasn't given a decent time to REACT, collecting money from the dutch investors and the worldwide fans of Totilas/Gal, who are more than willing to do what it takes to keep Totilas and Edward together in their DREAM TEAM !

What a shame that this has never been an option in consideration for Edward Gal, for Holland as a nation, for the Dressage as a Sport, and for the fans of this phenomenal couple !

5 years 28 weeks ago

Gutsy Post - Thank You

In such a political sport, it is rare that we active and interested amateurs get to know what “real” professionals, “really” think. While everyone has the right to an opinion, way too many people who shouldn’t, put theirs out there. And often, those who in fact have the knowledge and perspective that comes from experience are justifiably concerned about expressing their position. 

While this is a sport, and a business; there was something about the Edward Gal and Totilas partnership that defied that, and made all of us realists just a little dreamy. I am very sad to have to wake up to the reality of what is, and I appreciate your articulate and well written post.

5 years 28 weeks ago

Well said Catherine

Congrats to you Catherine for speaking up.  Paul Schockemohle knows exactly what he is doing, he's been in the business a long time, he's no slouch.  There will always be finger pointing, someone will always have an "issue" with this, that or the other.  This is how it is in the horse business.  Totilas is going to a good home and will be well taken care of.  Just wish he had stayed in America!  ;-)

5 years 28 weeks ago

totilas coveted

thank you for speaking up about this situation. If horses can be considered national treasures it is a pity the  Netherlands could not have been given the opportunity to find a way  to keep him.The Germans will now claim him as a Trakhener and if things do not  go well with a new rider it will be blamed on his "Dutch" training.  I hope that it will go well so that credit will have to be given where it is due.  I am honoured to have had the chance on a couple of occasions to see this wondrerful pair and sad to think I will never see them again. I think your Training Tip tells it EXACTLY like it is!

katja b
5 years 28 weeks ago


I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blogg entry!!!! So refreshing and frank! True as well, a bonus of course ;-) I think it is great that Edward get's some online credit from one of his colleagues, he deserves this. He is an ambassedor for the sport and put years of daily work into making Totilas, this amazing talent, to the supreme athlete he is at this moment. Fot the sake of Totilas and also Edward I hope Totilas will be well riden and well taken care of in the future.

5 years 27 weeks ago

Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?

Obviously not. I read your blog with disappointment. Regarding the politics of owning Totilas and the finger pointing regarding training methods etc, your article is interesting, however, it is so disappointing to read an article that after all the research showning stresses and discomfort placed on horses caused by RK your article reads that you support the RK system of training, and even promote the method. YOur argument that Rollkur must be an okay method because the German's have purchased a horse trained in that manner is flawed. We all know that any training method however cruel can bring spectacular results, because horses are so obliging. Is RK really  'the' method journalists and equine sport commentators should be promoting when it causes so much damage? Especially in the hands of the uneducated who are trying to emulate the 'masters' (sic). My truest hope is that Tortilas' new rider will no longer use RK in training, and that he achieves the same success. Obviously the horse is no longer sacred but fallen victim to man's ego and greed.


5 years 26 weeks ago

Just a  comment as this topic

Just a  comment as this topic is such a worldwide debate. (sorry, but it goes beyond a true reply to Greenhorse--I just cannot say nothing anymore in regards to this general topic)

I am not a proponent nor a naysayer of RK, I just can no longer be silent with all of the nonsense.  Catherine's article was very genuine about the loss of a phenomenal partnership that is like few the world has had the benefit to experience-- it was not about her using RK or even her opinion about it from what I read-- just the irony of the story and the sad reality of a partnership taken away, knowing from first hand experience how difficult it is to get there even if all one's stars are aligned.  Edwards' loss is to me, the entire worlds loss, as we will no longer get the privilege to see them grow together as a team.  

ANY training method in the wrong hands can be harmful, as all forms of training have to do with subtlety of timing and only the most talented do any of the forms and styles well.  But I would agree with Catherine that the propaganda revolving around rollkur has reached absurd levels (I do not believe she said this is the method she uses, nor was it the point).  As a veterinarian,  I witness true forms of "abuse" daily with neglect, improper health care, and simply poorly balanced riders pulling on a horses mouth or bouncing on its back causing truly chronic ailments.  Is ignorance and lack of talent enough to excuse true "abuse" while often many of the same individuals are pointing fingers at the equestrian elite?  The individuals, understandably, may simply be learning and trying to enjoy their equine partners-- so are we going to go around to every barn out there and accuse people of "abuse" because of their poor riding skills which truly ARE causing their equine partners pain?  Are we going to subject every persons horses to endless xrays, ultrasounds and exams as Anky's have been to try and prove they've damaged their horse in some way--especially if they are successful in the show ring?  

EVERY single person who rides or works with a horse, if put to the excessive scrutiny that these top riders have had, would be declared abusive at one moment in time or another by someone!  So perhaps we need to come to grips with reality, stop pointing fingers, and look at ourselves and do the best that we can to support the health and well-being of these beautiful creatures by following our own beliefs.  Perhaps we should be independent thinkers and stop jumping on bandwagons.   Otherwise oneday, we are going to let extremists that know nothing of horses and sport suggest that horses perhaps should not even be ridden.  Is that really practical?  

Is it abusive for a Gymnastics coach to ask his/her team to do deep yoga stretches before their performance if that coach has trained his pupils in that way for years?

I would have to ask anyone how it is possible that horses trained using the so called "abusive" method have performed at the highest levels of competition successfully longer than any other horses in history.  How is it that they have been radiographed, probed, ultrasounded and examined repeatedly in attempt to find the evidence of the damage that it is doing, and none beyond normal age-related changes have been found.  Anyone who understands anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, animal behavior and most importantly energy flow dynamics should also understand that if there is either PAIN or FEAR in the horse being ridden, it is simply NOT physically possible to have the energy flow through the horses' body with the symmetry, harmony, and utmost suspension and elevation that we have witnessed in the so called RK trained horses.

Just my food for thought.

Catherine Haddad
5 years 26 weeks ago

Thank you, Kelly for a well

Thank you, Kelly for a well thought and well written comment.  I couldn't have said it better myself.  Thumbs up, Catherine

5 years 25 weeks ago

Kudos to you Catherine as

Kudos to you Catherine as well for having the courage to speak your mind and say it like it is!  Your lessons are always inspirational, and now even in more ways than one.

Cheers, Kelly

5 years 26 weeks ago

Totilas has now left Holland !

I hope that the germain dressage riders will show PS that money can't buy everything ! Neither their soul, nor give them new riding skills !

I personnally take of my hat for ISABELL WERTH, that has shown the whole Dressage World that she will NOT ride Totilas in competition !

Isabell is the best germain dressage rider since decades, and her immediate taking distance underlines the truth :

The riding skills of Edward Gal are NOT that easy to copy, the training has been very specific and not in the tecnic vocabulary of most riders (even the TOP ones), and the chemistry between Edward and Totilas was UNIQUE to a point that they were THE BEST COUPLE IN THE WORLD EVER !

To think that you can copy that PERFECTION in your seat, hands, connection, sensitiveness, mouth of the horse, relaxed outline combined with explosive power, you either have to be close to MAD, or completely NAIF !!!

PS might have had good results by switching jumping horses in and out of top riders, but he seems to forget that they "just" have to get over a fence, no matter what style, mouth open, rolling eyes or tongue out !

But in Dressage, everything has to be in HARMONY, RELAXED AND POWERFUL in the same time... with hundreds of details comming together in perfect harmony during 7 - 8 minutes !

Asking Isabell Werth to ride Totilas shows, for me, that PS haven't even understood that CHEMESTRY he needs to recreate with a new rider and this special horse... because personnally I WOULD NEVER HAVE ASKED ISABELL to take over Totilas, not seing/feeling that match AT ALL !!!

In my mind, only 2 riders would MAYBE be able to "match" Totilas, and I wont say the names, not to give PS any good ideas... but they are NOT germain ! ;)

And even those two might not be able to do the artwork of Gal !

Please, PS, give us Totilas back to enjoy with Edward Gal... dont you realize by now that you're breaking the LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE ?

Stranded in Texas
5 years 26 weeks ago

Strange article

  Paul Schockemoehle bought Totilas, not "Germany", neither St.George Magazine. Schockemoehle, while having been one of the most successful show jump riders in Germany, is a businessman. The horse was purchased as an investment and to be profitable. To make this into an issue of national significance is silly at best. The purchase does not make a statement about training methods either, I doubt Schockemoehle would care about it. He is certainly no stranger to such methods. His older brother Alwin rode his show jumpers in a position that today can only be described as roll-kur. Paul Schockemoehle himself found himself in the headlines when in 1990 SternTV showed horses in his training facility being hit with poles while jumping ("barren" in German). Funny how all that has been forgotten. 

Breeders will book Totilas in large numbers, the foals will be sellable, no matter which breeding association (except Trakehners, since he is only half) It will indeed be a very unthankful role to be the future rider of this horse. It will be interesting to see for sure, maybe something good comes out of it.