While producing the next Totilas is every dressage breeder’s dream, closely examining the traits that make this stallion so special can refresh any breeding program.
Totilas may well be the greatest dressage horse we’ve seen in the history of the sport.
From the time he showed up on the international scene, he’s been nearly perfect. He captivated our sport—the judges, riders, trainers and breeders—and like a rock star, he draws horse enthusiasts from every discipline to watch and follow him. He became a true icon for dressage in a short amount of time, expanding the sport to capture new audiences and producing a new standard to which we can all aspire.
In addition to being an incredible athlete, Totilas is also a breeding stallion. From a breeding point of view, I think Totilas is very refreshing because he doesn’t come from the most fashionable bloodlines of the day. Instead, he comes from nice bloodlines, but bloodlines that weren’t hot on the breeders’ radar screen. This, I feel, is also very healthy for our sport and breeding industry.
Successful breeding is not based on a formula, nor is it limited to a specific gene pool or popular trend. I love it when an individual like Totilas proves this.
Totilas is an example of generations of quality breeding families, who now have earned higher merit because the inherent riding qualities they possessed allowed a star to emerge. How can we produce the next Totilas? As breeders, our excitement and passion for the job makes it easy to get swept up in the desire to produce our own version of Totilas. However, I think most of us are realistic enough to know that there is simply not a determined guideline to put it together and produce an individual so capable and special.
But, hopefully, breeders have looked closely into what makes Totilas such a star. Of course, some of it is luck, but there are things that stand out which can refresh your eye for your goals and breeding program. His gift to us as breeders is that he highlights all that truly makes a riding horse great.
Traits Worth Repeating
To start with, the overwhelming comment abuzz in the dressage world is the incredible confidence and mindset this stallion possesses. He consistently enters the show ring to a roaring audience, the sound of wild clapping and stomping feet filling the air, yet he stays quietly focused on his rider. His tail doesn’t go straight in the air, and his body doesn’t tense up and become falsely animated. Instead, he performs with throughness and a remarkable level of relaxation.
Certainly these noises turn him on as a performer, but he shows composure and commitment to his rider above all. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that at his final salute, he stands completely still, poised obediently beneath his rider while another round of wild applause erupts from the stands, and then he walks out happily on a long rein! That composure, the pure focus of his mind, has clearly become a high objective for anyone who hopes to breed the next Totilas.
I’ve seen individuals in our sport move so beautifully they’ve given me goose bumps. I’ve seen and ridden world-class piaffe/passage and other highlights in the sport that have inspired me as much. I’ve also seen that these extreme qualities of movement or performance often bear an inherent level of tension.
For Totilas to be so alert and brilliant in his performance and yet be completely calm and composed underscores what makes him such a rarity. His rideability has established a whole new standard and earned my total respect. Unquestionably, as breeders, the prioritization of our breeding goals must be shaped by the pure inspiration of Totilas’ quality of the mind.
A Beautiful Desire
When we look at Totilas’ movement, what stands out clearly is that it is light and expressive with a beautiful, energetic desire. He performs effortlessly with con-sistently supple bending of the joints. He looks to be a pure pleasure to ride, not a hard or heavy workout, but FUN! He doesn’t make one imagine that a tremendous amount of strength is necessary to put him together or to maintain the connection, nor does he look to require an enormous amount of support to keep him together.
Of course, his training coupled with his natural abilities have produced this, but, overwhelmingly, Totilas demonstrates the classical principles of our sport—a happy horse who flows forward or collects with light timing and subtle communication between horse and rider. His mechanics are well connected, and his naturally quick hind legs make the work easy for him. That effortless quality of performance becomes inherent to our breeding goals.
Totilas also showcases uphill movement with self-carriage. He beautifully maintains this balance through every transition, which has earned him consistently high marks. Perhaps this should refresh the eye of the breeder to not only look at the movement of the horse but also to look deeper at what the horse does with the movement. How does the stallion or mare adjust his or her balance naturally? What tendency is there by nature, and what must be strengthened in the breeding equation?
Totilas’ self-carriage is the last but not least important quality to consider. Without the mind and self-carriage, all the other components can work against the rider. Hopefully a star like Totilas has inspired us as breeders to consider what attributes produce this essential outcome, aside from correct and consistent training. His soft mouth, natural balance and supple neck stand out to me as the inherent qualities that make his self-carriage so easy and where we as breeders again can find further selection criteria.
Self-carriage, uphill balance, naturally connected mechanics, purity of rideability and a supremely focused mind—Totilas has demonstrated all these qualities as a riding horse and has become the pinnacle of our modern sport. Hopefully, he’s inspired us breeders with more direct visuals to enhance our horsemanship and to achieve our future goals.
Under the new ownership of Paul Schockemöhle, his next chapter is also likely to be historic. Let’s hope that we can continue to marvel at him in the competition arena while he steps it up as a breeding stallion! He could not have better breeding management and promotion behind him. His impact will be delivered worldwide, and his influence as a sire will be fully determined in the years ahead as he services a larger variety of mares.
Nonetheless, whether Totilas produces as a breeding stallion or not, he’s performed on a level that has made our sport better and will hopefully inspire our breeding industry for decades to come.
Scott Hassler, the National Young Horse Dressage Coach, resides in Chesapeake City, Md., and has trained many horses to Grand Prix. The U.S. Dressage Federation Sport Horse Committee chairman since 2001, he helped establish the sport/breeding record-keeping system now active in the USDF and U.S. Equestrian Federation. He began writing Between Rounds columns in 2005.