Saturday, May. 25, 2024

The Tide Has Turned

Horses like this don’t happen often.

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Horses like this don’t happen often.

Moorland’s Totilas has set the dressage world alight and created the kind of buzz in equestrian circles we see only on rare occasions.

For years now, dressage fans have watched Anky van Grunsven and Isabell Werth battle it out at the upper echelons of the sport, and some people have bemoaned the apparent lock they’ve had on gold and silver medals. Little mistakes made the difference between the two, and van Grunsven ruled the freestyle with her elegantly gloved hands, electric Salinero and radiant smile. Dressage fans concentrated on looking for minute imperfections to differentiate between their performances, some perhaps secretly hoping that a new superstar would come along to upset the status quo.

Well, that time has come, and the era of Anky and Isabell has ended with a dramatic and emphatic bang. At the Alltech FEI European Dressage Championships, Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas took dressage to a whole new level. In a weekend filled with superlative dressage, they stood head and shoulders above the rest, breaking the freestyle world-record score with an astounding 90.75 percent.

In our Sept. 11 issue, Between Rounds columnist and judge Anne Gribbons said, “All I can say is that I’m glad I lived to experience this horse.”

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Judges can’t sing Totilas’ praises any more joyously, and they’ve grown giddy, awarding him 10s as if showering a new bride with rice. But they’re also not afraid to punish him in the scoring for the obvious mistakes he, as a 9-year-old, makes in the ring. He doesn’t get 7s or 8s for an imperfect movement, which is a refreshing change.

Totilas’ eye-catching and flamboyant front-end movement at the trot may raise eyebrows, but his spot-on and active canter pirouettes, his straight and rhythmic piaffe and passage, and his willing and immobile halts are just as impressive. Totilas does much more than just trot. And, when Gal drops the reins after the halt and wipes the tears of joy and awe from his eyes, Totilas pokes his nose out, drops his head, and walks on a long rein like a happy pony.

It seems that a horse has finally come along that can express dazzling brilliance while maintaining a harmonious, peaceful mentality. Totilas doesn’t express himself through nervous energy but through quiet, eager enjoyment of his work.

It’s a new day for dressage in another way. Not only is there a brilliant new star on the horizon, but also, thanks to technology, the world is watching him intently. Live streaming video and YouTube have enabled dressage fans worldwide to see Totilas’ tests and make their own assessment of his ability. The exposure has enabled the deafening buzz about this horse to spread around the world instantaneously, which can only be good for the sport.

There’s a new hero to champion, and since Gal believes Totilas is only going to improve in the future, I don’t think anyone’s going to take their eyes off him. And, hopefully, if he appears at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games next fall, the world will travel to Kentucky to see him.

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