Karen Robinson reports in from her attendance at the Global Dressage Forum. This is an excerpt from the discussion about Totilas. Check out the rest of her reports from the Forum on the horse-canada site. Vintage Karen!
So, at the end of a pretty warm and fuzzy couple of days, Richard Davison couldn’t resist getting things a bit stirred up before we all headed off home again. Unfortunately for Arthur Kottas, the seat warmer got turned on under his chair. The issue? A certain cover photograph from a certain high profile magazine, showing Totilas in a less-than-perfectly-through-and-over-the-back moment at Windsor. In fact, Kottas’ comment to Richard about the photo (and I strongly suspect he had no idea Richard was going to put him on the spot and speak pubicly about it) was that he couldn’t identify from the photo what gait the horse was in. Totilas’ one front leg is doing an ultimate Sieg Heil, but the hind legs are far from looking like they are participating in an extended trot. I have watched a lot of video of Totilas and I have seen a lot of pretty awesome looking extended trots, with an overtrack that leaves no doubt as to what is going on in the engine room. The neck is short, sure. But I already talked about that in my Windsor blog.
How many unfortunate photos are there of otherwise correct and harmonious performance? Well let me tell you – for every good picture there is a hay stack of losers. But did people ever go to town on this Totilas photo when Richard brought it up. Perhaps there hadn’t been enough discourse during the previous two days and people were hungry for a scrap – or perhaps there are always individuals who see a red cape when something controversial is thrown in the ring. After Arthur made a comment to the effect that if you control the hind quarters you control the whole horse, Ton de Ritter – who had been the last presenter of this GDF and who is known for rather strongly voiced opinions, and who just happens to be Dutch – said (in reference to Edward and Totilas, as well as Adelinde and Parcival): “these special pairs will bring the spectators back to the stadium, and we should be grateful to them. I don’t think we should be discussing them in this way here.”
Poor Arthur peeped it hadn’t been his idea to bring it up, and I believe he really meant that. He has been at the GDF for the past four years I’ve attended, and has never had anything but constructive things to say. Launching a debate over a single photograph hardly seems like something to get too worked up about – unless your name is Birgit Popp. The journalist jumped right in by condemning the entire forum for not talking about things like the incriminating photo. “I think we are doing a very dishonest thing. We have to discuss everything, not just what is nice. Totilas looks like that in every picture and it is not extended trot.” As various members of the audience quietly booed her, Laurens van Lieren said, “not even Totilas is perfect”, reinforcing the oft-forgotten fact that a score of ten means ‘excellent’, not ‘perfect’. I guess Richard felt compelled to try and swing the boat around to a smoother tack by asking Birgit what gait she would have chosen to illustrate for a cover shot of Totilas: piaffe was her answer. Well Birgit, your glass may perpetually be half empty, but I think I represent the majority of dressage fans when I say I would consider cutting off a limb to ride an extended trot on Totilas. And I want to know more about how Edward has trained him. On the GDF questionnaire we were asked to write down three trainers’ names we’d like to see next year. Edward was one of mine.
"No matter how well you perform there's always somebody of intelligent opinion who thinks it's lousy." - Laurence Olivier
The photo of Totilas on the cover of Horse International is both unique, and controversial,
that's for sure.
It was discussed during the Dressage Cruise in the final day seminar, as we analyzed gaits, and used that cover photo as one of the examples. It's true, that from the photo, it's hard to know what gait Totilas is doing. Some said extended trot, another said passage.
It was agreed that a much more realistic (and attractive) photo of Totilas on page 50 of the same magazine, would have been a better choice for a cover shot, and to show off the horse. There he's shown in a beautiful, and forward, extended trot.
The meeting may not have lacked conviction for not wanting to go tearing apart one photo and applying it to the whole horse, or the whole sport. They may have just had a little commonsense and rationality.
There's a point beyond which, one photo becomes that, just one photo. It may be representative, it also may not be.
Neil Ffrench Blake did a little project a couple years ago.
He took every top competitor and took a bad picture of each one. Then he took the same competitors and took a perfect, classical, beautiful picture of each one, doing exactly the same movement as in the bad picture.
Totilas is what's called sometimes, a genius on the edge of insanity. He gets 2's and he gets 10's. As he matures he will start to get less 2's, and he might or might not get as many tens.
You can criticize a picture, you can't really criticize a ride from one picture. A judge puits together in his or her mind, how many moments are good vs how many moments are bad and scores an invididual movement, and then moves on to the next movement.
Nor can you criticize a horse and rider based on one ride.
Criticizing a picture doesn't give you a full idea of how often the horse is correct in the ride, and how often he is not.
To me, the judges seem to be pretty good at scoring Totilas. He gets 2's when he does stuff incorrectly and 10's when he does them well. And he can do both in the same ride, very quickly, and very easily.
We've seen a number of horses like this. Farbenfroh and Schaudt's horse (name escapes me right now). They have brilliant moments and bad moments. Some rides are great, some not so much.
A 'team horse' is one that comes out at every show and gets consistent scores on all the movements. 'Team horses' don't usually score that high, but they are consistent and even.
to His Airness..... Michael Jordan.............now that is hang time!!!
So what was he doing? Doesn't look "forward" enough to be extended trot. I have not made my mind up yet about him other than to say he is cetainly quite extreme.
I am just glad to see that people at the upper levels are having the same sort of discussions about this horse, his scores, and what his success represents that we have been having here on COTH. Minus the death threats.
I looked back at some of his earlier videos and while he did have "big" movement, it is now WAY worse. Leads me to think they are encouraging it somehow. Kinda sad, actually. I am starting to feel sorry for the poor fella.
I think what this horse does when he gets excited he hangs and isn't going forward, that's when his legs get all over the place like this.
And no, I don't think the judges reward that all that highly, and I think while the rider is trying to encourage him to use himself and be expressive, I don't actually think the rider is really trying to make him be incorrect, I have seen the horse get into this sort of thing, and when he does it, he doesn't get such good scores. It also looks like the rider is just sitting there trying to be quiet and not get him more jazzed up. I don't think you can discipline a horse for doing this, I think it just makes it worse.
I think this is what's called a 'Triple A Personality'. He just gets really up and excited and does too much.