Totilas. How a Magnificent Stallion Became a Poor Creature.

(rough translation from my German article)

It is not easy to be objective in the case of Totilas. I’m following the discussion about about this exceptional horse (in German we call him the ‘wonder stallion’) already for some years, and I must admit that I’m quite emotional about it, too. Totilas’ latest comeback under his rider Matthias Alexander Rath and the way he is trained has sparked yet another discussion about the black stallion, in both the real and the virtual world. Totilas seems to divide the horse community and is the subject of heated discussions.

How did the Totilas-hype develop at all? Let’s follow the steps of Totilas’ ‘career’.

Totilas was bred by Jan Schuil and Anna Schuil-Visser in Broecksterwald/ the Netherlands, where he also got his basic training. In 2005 Jiska van den Akker showed the five-year old at the World Breeding Championships for Young Horses at Verden, Germany, where Totilas was placed fourth in the final ranking. As you can see in the video below, the young Totilas had some trouble concentrating but showed a very good quality of gaits. In the report on eurodressage it says that already then, there were some tension problems and the horse had a tendency to show piaffe and passage in the transitions. Aparently, the judges remarked that Totilas wasn’t very happy in the mouth and opened it all the time. Have a look at the video, it’s quite nice to see a young Totilas with natural gaits:

(see the report on eurodressage here: This is a very talented horse, no doubt. However, who would have thought that he’ll cause such a stir some years later?

In the same year the owners contacted Edward Gal and asked him to work with the horse and show him at competitions. Gal started training the horse in 2006 and his sponsors Cees and Tosca Visser bought the horse in the name of their investment company Moorland BV. That’s why his name was changed to Moorland’s Totilas. Gal and Totilas started to compete at grand prix level in 2008. At this point I should tell you that Gal trains his horses with hyperflexion, a very disputed training method that over-flexes the horse’s neck, so that it almost bites his own chest and doesn’t see where it’s going, which puts a lot of mental and physical stress on the horse. It’s supposed to make it obedient. The German word for this method is ‘rollkur’, because the neck of the horse is extremely rolled-up. Rollkur is especially popular in the Netherlands, but high level riders of all nations train with it. Have a look at this youtube playlist if you’re not familiar with hyperflexion:

For written information, also about the health impacts for the horses, see here (German, for English see here).

Let’s watch a few videos. Eight year-old Totilas at the stallion show at Van Uytert in 2008:

Amsterdam 2008, Gal and Totilas win the Intermedaire I freestyle with 78,4 %:

If you read the comments you will notice that they are mainly positive, like most of the comments made during this time. It is said that Gal is such a talented rider, how he can make the horse dance like this. People admire the lightness and elegance and remark that Totilas looks just like his sire (Gribaldi), also trained and successfully competed by Gal. There are some critical comments, though. Do we see glimpses of rollkur-training? We do, if we pay attention. Totilas rolls up his neck in the halt, the poll is not the highest point of the neck (‘false bend’), the lower shank of the curb bit is almost horizontal. Totilas hollows his back instead of arching it, the movements of his forelegs are unnaturally exalted, whereas the hintquarters are almost left behind. Totilas develops his ‘speciality’, the showy front legs with their horizontal movements that remind us more of a Tennessee walker than a Dutch warmblood. (If you think “Well, that’s just the way he moves” please have a look at Gal’s other horses). Yet, rider and horse still appear to be in harmony, Totilas’ nose-line is often even a little before the vertical and his tail is relaxed, a sign for suppleness. Here they are in Rotterdam:

In 2009 they have their big break through, breaking one record after the other. They score 89,50% at the Grand Prix Freestyle in Hickstead, that’s a new world record:

A little later, they break their own record at the European Championships in Windsor with 90,7%:

If you don’t let yourself be impressed by the flashy forelegs, you clearly see how Totilas’ neck seems as if it’s somehow broken in the middle. Gal rides him with a very short neck, very contracted. The nose-line is often behind the vertical now (good to see when you stop the movie). The TV commentator says “he has to be careful so he doesn’t hit himself in the teeth with his own knees, he lifts them so high”. Her kollegue remarks that “you could criticise the horse being a little tense in the walk” but quickly adds that the horse is just nine years old. The judges and spectators reward this artificial movement which “doesn’t look real”, in the words of the commentator. Everyone agrees that this is perfection, this is the way riding should be. Totilas is just nine years of age, very young for a horse with this level of performance. Another record follows, they score 92,30 % in Olympia, London:

Comment: “I don’t believe that in my life time we will see a horse as good as this again”.  2010 is just as good: they win three gold medals (freestyle, individual, team) at the World Championships in Lexington, that’s a first! Here the freestyle:

Try to watch without the compelling music. To me, it looks less in harmony, more tense. They make more mistakes and Totilas appears slightly disobedient and swishes his tail a lot more. As already before, he lifts the left foreleg much higher then the right, there is little lengthening of the frame in the extended trot (‘ground coverage’), he has his forelegs cramped under in the piaffe (supposed to be straight), and the neck is super contracted. How can this horse breathe at all? But what do I know.

A short summary. A horse that is obviously being trained with hyperflexion breaks all records and enchants judges and audience alike. Only a few voice some kind of criticism and mention that Totilas was not trained according to the directives of classical dressage. Gal already used Totilas for breeding (since 2009), already with Gal there was no paddock time for at least a few hours a day and with physical contact to other horses. Gal already trained him hard and with debatable methods. Due to their success, however, and the sheer awe that this impressive animal inspired, the dressage scene is beside itself and celebrates its new glamour. And everybody cheers.

Then came the big shock for Totilas fans: at the end of 2010 German breeder Paul Schockemöhle and Olympic champion Ann-Katrin Linsenhoff purchase the stallion for approximately ten million Euro. Totilas is the world’s most expensive dressage horse ever. 26-year-old Matthias Rath, Linsenhoff’s stepson, is his new rider. Have a look at Rath performing at the German Championships in 2010:

His horse is 15-year-old Sterntaler, his stepmother’s former top horse (he also got to ride Renoir before that). There are mixed reactions to the news that he will ride Totilas. Some doubt that these two will fit together, some would like to see Totilas get trained without rollkur.

Here is their first competition in June 2011 (had to be postponed due to an injury of Totilas):

Rath and Totilas win the German Championships in Balve with 85,65%:

Most people can only dream of these scores, and yet, Totilas seems tense and cannot perform as good as before. His movements appear a bit laboured, the problem with the uneven foreleg movement is more obvious now. It’s still enough to win, and one might think that they just need more time to grow together. The little mistakes that even the TV commentator realises can be corrected soon, for sure. 82,83% are enough to win the CHIO in Aachen:

Happy faces, lots of optimism and just a few, mostly foreign voices say that ‘Toto’ lost his brilliance. Some argue that Gal rode Totilas with so much tension that now, when he is being ridden the classic way, a few mistakes are likely to happen and it’s nothing to worry about. ‘Give them more time’ is the mantra. These mistakes slowly become a problem though. Especially, the flying changes seem to trouble them. At the European Championships in Rotterdam in August 2011 they are only ranked fifth:

At the height of their success, Gal already trained the horse for at least four years, and Rath had less then one year with him. A horse is not a tool you can just pass around and it will deliver the same performance. Every rider gives the aids a little differntly and a horse needs time to adjust. We all know the phenomenon that our riding teacher makes our horse move in a way we didn’t know it could, and that a kollegue at the stable just makes our horse buck. When seem from the perspective of modern sports riding (not with the classic guidelines in mind, that goes without saying), it didn’t go all that bad for Totilas and Rath. The problem is that expectations are extremly high in this case. You don’t pay 10 million for a fifth place! Schockemöhle earns money with the semen of his stallions and thus depends on Totilas outstanding performance. It’s simply bad for business if Totilas doesn’t win anymore. For the remainder of 2011 Rath and Totilas don’t succeed at competitions anymore, in fact, appearances at shows are being cancelled. Then Totilas gets injured at a performance for a German TV show. The German magazine Spiegel online writes: “A little more than six month before the Olympic games in London disillusion prevails at the Totilas-camp. The glamour is gone.” (German artikel hier) Just a few months before, the German TV commentator calls Totilas an “idol”, “hero”, “master of movement”, “black magician with white ballet shoes”. “He just has to let him shine”. When the victories stay away, public opinion flips very quickly.

Time for another summary: A German breeder buys Holland’s best dressage horse, the one that broke all records and was a sure chance to win gold at the Olympic games. Now a German rider is expected to win this medal for Germany. It doesn’t go according to plan, however, the horse only performs at about 10% less (in scores) then he did before. As Spiegel writes correctly, that’s a gigantic difference in the world of dressage.

It’s a new year and again the hopes are being shattered. Rath planned to show Totilas in the US, but the stallion is injured again and cannot compete. Gloating, some say that this rider is just no good for the horse. If only Gal could ride him again! The tone in the press articles is quite different now, the ‘wonder stallion’ does not perform as expected. Then, it is announced that Dutch trainer Sjef Janssen should help Rath and Totilas to get ready for Olympia. Sjef Janssen, husband of Anky van Gunsven, Dutch national coach and enthusiastic rollkur advocate, some even say rollkur-perfectionist. (Oh, wait, he prefers to call it LDR (low, deep, and round), sounds much nicer.) The Dutch Equestrian Federation won’t allow it, for now. Until after the Olympic games, Janssen is the Dutch national coach and is forbidden to train the horse of the arch-enemy (Germany and Holland have a history of competitiveness in dressage), the one they snatched away to ruin the prospects for the Dutch team. In the meantime, a heated discussion errupts in Germany about the use of hyperflexion in horse training. Spiegel online picks up the topic and writes:

“It is a tricky undertaking. Klaus Rath, father and trainer of dressage rider Matthias Rath, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that his trainer-to-be Sjef Janssen will use his current method on horse Totilas as well. Part of his method is the controversial ‘rollkur’.

“We disapprove of everything that is not within the animal protection laws. There are studies, however, which conclude: up to a certain extend rollkur is not harmful,” says Klaus Rath. “In Germany, we also need to learn to accept and appreciate other, very successful systems like the Dutch system. And, by the way, there is much more to Sjef Janssen’s system than this method [=rollkur].” Rath refers to athletic exercised for horse and rider, among other things.

Janssen is regarded as the inventor of the rollkur, during which the horse is forced with the reigns to unnaturally bend and over-flex the neck. Due to the forced position of the head, the horse’s field of vision is severely restricted. The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) approved of this method, though, when used “without force”.

The method is very much disputed, however. Klaus Balkenhol, Olympic champion, former trainer of Rath und former US-coach, stated: “We deeply regret that Matthias Alexander Rath has chosen this controversial method. According to our knowledge the method represented by Sjef Janssen is not consistent with the fundamentals of an education that puts the animal first.”

In 2010, the German Equestrian Federation started a petition for the general abolition of rollkur. Klaus Rath was among the supporters of this petition. Today he says, “It is a part of life that we sometimes change our opinion. After much consideration we deliberately decided for this way. If something should be done to our horses that we don’t agree to we will interfere immediately.”

After the Olympic Games in London, Janssen will quit his job as the Dutch National coach and will take care of Matthias Rath’s horses, including record-holding stallion Totilas. Janssen already worked with Totilas and his former rider Edward Gal.” (German article here)

Is it so easy so sacrifice your beliefs? (You can see a translation of the mentioned petition against hyperflexion here. Signed by Klaus and Matthias Rath as well as Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff.). Totilas has been trained with hyperflexion for years, and Janssen already trained Gal and Totilas. It was a delusion to think that German riders would not treat him this way. For Totilas it is only a return to something he already knows. In Germany, it was seen as the betrayal of the fundamentals of the classic art of riding and a bowing down to the Dutch system. Janssen will train Rath and Totilas, but only after the Olympic Games. That they do need help becomes obvious at the Schockemöhle stallion show in Vechta:

What happened here? Horse and rider do not seem to get along at all. Totilas seems to have quit the contract. Father and trainer Klaus-Martin Rath takes the mikrophone and the show becomes more like a training session. It’s almost hard to keep watching. Then, rumours appear that Edward Gal, or rather the Glock Horse Performance Center, wants to buy back the horse. What a circus.

Rath did not compete with Totilas since the European Championships in Rotterdam. Totilas is supposed to show at the Grand Prix Special in Hagen to score points for the qualification to the Olympic Games, but Rath withdraws and enters for the freestyle instead. Have a look at their performance in Hagen:

Finally, the ‘wonder stallion’ delivers again, no more problems with the flying changes, happy faces everywhere. They score 88,07%. The German comentator has an interesting theory: it’s breeding season and Totilas gives sperm three times per week, so he must be much more content. The press celebrates a successful comeback. It would all be perfect if there were not some observers who are very critical about how Rath warmed up Totilas before the show. See for yourself:

Rath and Totilas are victorious at the German Championships in Balve, but only at the Grand Prix. They come in second in the Special and freestyle:

Whereas after Totilas’ purchase in 2010, everyone thought that now the German gold medal in London is almost safe, Rath has to fight for his Olympia ticket at the CHIO in Aachen now! Unfortunately, Rath comes down with infectious mononucleosis and the dream of Olympic gold shatters. The Olympic Games happen without Totilas, and the German team, for the first time since 1976, does not win gold (not counting the boycott-games of 1980). It’s getting silent around Totilas, until the animal rights organisation PETA threatens to sue Rath, Linsenhoff und Schockemöhle on the grounds of violation of animal rights (keeping him only in a box without regular chance to move freely on a paddock and training with hyperflexion). Indeed, Totilas lives in a box unless he is let out for training or breeding, but that was the same with Gal. Most sport horses around the world are kept like that. Afraid of injuries their owners wrap them in blankets and bandages and keep them isolated in a ‘cage’ (that’s what it is!) that would not meet the legal requirements for an egg-laying hen (if seen in proportion). (Don’t believe me? Check it out!) No playing with other horses on a paddock, no daily grazing.

Totilas’ comback is postponed for 2013. In December 2012 Rath and Totilas lose their place in the German national team.

In April 2012, retired major Paul Stecken, person of respect and ‘primary rock’ in the German dressage scene, gives an interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany’s most influential newspapers. “Is he [Totilas] a victim of a sport which values show over health?” The paper seems to ask the right questions. It’s worth reading some passages:

“Expectations of the twelve-year-old horse are still high. But since the rumpus around the charismatic black stallion has died down, the voice of the sceptics can be heard again. They are the advocates of the classic way of riding, who since years caution against the meandering of modern dressage. Most of all, they criticise the ‘rolllkur’, which is mainly practised in the Netherlands.”

“The dressage scene is shocked and looks towards icons such as retired major Paul Stecken, the incorruptible doyen of German riding. […] Stecken trained sixfold Olympic medalist Reiner Klimke and still supports his daughter Ingrid Klimke, a successful eventing and dressage rider. He was also an international judge for many years. […] Until now he did not speak about Totilas in public. „I think it’s time for me to say something,“, he says.”

“Stecken writes about the contact to the bit that “the horse’s nose should be allowed up to the vertical.” He explains: “From around 1995 we see horses with contracted, sometimes very contracted necks. This was a big mistake.“ A horse that is behind the vertical cannot have “a swinging back as the center of all movement which results in an inferior quality of movement“.”

“Dutchman Sjef Janssen, husband and trainer of threefold Olympic champion Anky van Grunsven, is regarded as the most important advocate of the rolled-up horse necks. He advertises his training method as being advanced and managed – with persistence and indefatigable lobbyism-to overtake the German dressage riders in all committees.  More and more rollkur-trained horses won competitions with their tense and unnatural movements, which were awarded high scores by the judges.”

“At the European Championships 2009 in Windsor, where Totilas had his break through, you could recognize the rollkur especially well”, writes Stecken. Totilas could be seen with „an unnaturally contracted neck and exaggerated, exalted movements.”  “You need to ask yourself, how long can the horse endure this?“ This position does not agree “with the horse’s health and well being”. „The position of the neck is constrained, the back does not swing but is tense. The movement is unnatural and cramped. The muscles are harder and stiffer year after year.“”

“National coach Schmezer is optimistic. He says that Rath would ride more energetic than before, which is good. „Of course, I’m a hundert percent on Paul Stecken’s side“, he emphasises. However, Schmezer’s mission is success, and success has it’s price in top level sports. „Lots has changes in modern sport riding“, he says. „And the people cheer.“ At the basis [=not top sports], he also preferred working in accordance with the rules of classic dressage. „But if we adhere to all of this“, says Schmezer, „then we will come in eighth or ninth and cannot compete anymore.“” (

Come again?????

In 2013 Totilas is taken out of the breeding program, all concentration is on his athletic performance. Sjef Janssen is his trainer now. In Januar, Totilas injured a tendon (!) when jumping on the phantom and cannot be trained for while. In April 2013 the public prosecutor’s office drops the charges of animal cruelty. Then, it is reported that Totilas will not take part in the German Championships in Balve, the qualification for the European Championships. The new date for the comeback is now spring 2014. In December 2013 Charlotte Dujardin wins the World Championships in London and breaks Totilas record with a new high score of 93,975%. Edward Gal and Undercover come in second. Just recently, Schockemöhle announced that in 2014, again, Totilas will not compete in Balve. He was out of training for too long.

Then, almost surprising, Rath and Totilas have their comeback after all in Kapellen, Belgium, where they win the Grand Prix with 78,680 % and the Grand Prix Special with 82,219 %. See for yourself what has become of Totilas:

 All right. Objectivity doesn’t come easy, I told you so.

Totilas is now 14 years old and seems to be injured more and more often. His sire, Gribaldi, trained by Edward Gal as well, died at 16 due to a ruptured aorta, one week after his retirement. Success has it’s prize, hasn’t it? Easy to say as a rider/ trainer. The single, unique feature of riding, the cooperation with an animal, is also its sore spot. The horse is the one to perform at his physical best and yet has no right to a say in the matter. If it is unwilling we force it’s cooperation. The horse has to obey, has to surrender its body, is bred to win with features that score highest marks. A talent such as Totilas cannot be wasted, can it? Even more, such an expensive talent as Totilas. That’s the harsh reality of horse sports.

Which ever way you look at it: the horse is on the loosing side. You can think whatever you want about Gal’s training method. At least it looked like he and Totilas were a team and like the horse was fighting to win for his human. You can see it in the video of the stallion show in 2008, how often Gal pats him and how Totilas tried to please him. Did the hyperflexion change the horse so much that he became more and more unwilling, maybe already with Gal? Does the horse, just like Paul Stecken suspects, have more serious injuries then is being admitted? Do owner, trainer, and rider just not want to admit that the horse is past the high peek of its amazing ability to perform? Did Gal’s sponsor sell Totilas in exactly the right moment? A rider, especially such a professional rider, knows his animal inside out and notices every small change in his behaviour. The Dutch team has proven, and continues to prove, that hyperflexion produces unnatural, exaggerated movents, which are liked by the judges and the audience. But can their method keep the horses healthy, mentally and physically? We remember, this is the goal of dressage! Are we allowed to train our horses this hard, is every method justified that produces a winner? Are we allowed to lock up our horses, these ever-moving animals, 24 hours a day in such a confined space? Should modern dressage training be allowed to give a damn about the classic principles? How did it happen that we have two standards, that the classical training scale does not apply to grand prix horses anymore, that a tense, goose-stepping horse has highest scores whereas bending of the haunches, an active hint leg and most of all, suppleness (content facial expression, relaxed tail, calm mouth) is not more than a bonus? The message is clear. If you just want to have fun with your horse, the traditional rules, the rules of the FEI rule book, apply. If you want to win, the new, unwritten rules will take you there.

Totilas is the sad example of how seriously f*****-up and hypocritical modern dressage riding is. Should we blame the rider who tries to get his mega-expensive horse to perform according to expectations? Should we blame the owners, Linsenhoff and Schockemöhle, who (have) to treat the horse as an investment and have to market him in order to make profit? Maybe we should blame the judges who continue to award record-breaking scores to horses that are tensed up from nose to tail? Maybe we should blame Janssen’s ‘education system’, that produces winners worldwide and refuses to admid that rollkur damages the horses’ health? Should we blame the spectators who buy tickets to shows like that? Breeders, who buy semen from Schockemöhle’s horses? TV comentators who don’t seem to have a clue about dressage? It’s not as easy as it seems. If you want to win,  Schmezer expressed it so nicely, you have to surrender to the almost all-mighty rollkur fraction: „But if we adhere to all of this [= the classic training scale], then we come in eighth or nineth and cannot compete anymore.“

Horses can endure a lot of suffering for ‘their’ human. Now Totilas has to get along with a rider that he doesn’t seem to have any kind of relationship with. Now there is only hyperflexion training and solitary confinement. Even if his scores will improve again: I truely feel sorry for what humans did to Totilas, how they managed to turn this magnificent stallion into a poor creature, in the hand of proficient business men and without a chance to ever break free.

By the way: Rath already has a new, promising horse by the name of Bretton Woods. From the Netherlands, black, long-legged, bought by Schockemöhle/Linsenhoff, trainer is…Sjef Janssen. Rath and Bretton Woods just won the Prix St. Georg in Kapellen. The German equestrian magazine St Georg enthusiastically asks: “The Next Totilas?” Please, no…I would like to exclaim.

(This is a translation from my German article on http:///, sorry for language issues)

Note: In an earlier version of this text, I wrote by mistake “Did Gal sell the horse at exactly the right time?” and got some angry comments about that. It was a translation mistake from my German text. Of course it was his sponsor that sold the horse; I mentioned that Totilas was bought by Cees earlier in the text. Sorry for that misleading formulation. It’s good to get your facts straight 🙂

127 Comments on “Totilas. How a Magnificent Stallion Became a Poor Creature.

  1. Pingback: Totilas. Oder: Wie aus einem imposanten Hengst eine arme Kreatur wurde. | Pegasus und Ich

    • Very well written. I like how you showed video to show how he was and how how is. I guess only time will tell what happens next with this amazing horse.

      • He was a perfection at 5. His simple changes almost looked my riding on schooling day, but so what? LOL! He looked so happy, playful and willing.
        That’s the spirit that we need to protect in our horses, no?

        Thank you very much to share this story with all of us.

    • It has to come from the top. What is rewarded will be trained, ridden, & bred.
      The Judges’s need to read the book of classical training. What wins will be the deciding factor.
      It is in there hands to how horses are trained. If hoses are tense & not classical in movement they should be marked down. What are we judging here high stepping
      Gaited sadlebreds or dressage horses with their power from the haunches?

    • The modern day version of a gladiatorial audience.

    • And now where are any of them (in 2019)? Discredited, then gone and forgotten

  2. Thank you for your extensive article about the Great Totilas. Definitely there are a good dozen of questions about his ups and down and you listed them well. I also noticed that as informed as you are you did not know that Gal did not sell Totilas. In fact he did not own him. Finally, you seems to assume sometimes to much and of course there are not assumptions without falling into projection of the personality. That makes me wonder a lot about what you had to say when you seems to make your points. In any case, thanks again for your research on the subject. JD

    • He doesn’t say gal owned him! I suggest u read the article properly!

      • Hi Laos, I indeed didn’t say that Gal owned him, but I said by mistake that “Did Gal sell him…” and so on (corrected it now), which I got angry comments about, and of course, his Sponsor sold the horse. Well, it’s good to have people check you 🙂

  3. Stallions have a sad life. This horse at five was perfection. Why did he need to change? Money , fame, control but no love.? Humans treat perfection with hard hearts.

  4. Great article
    How about spreading the comparison using ‘Flashical dressage’ versus ‘Classical dressage’ In order to achieve the goose step movements horses are schooled with abusive methods that actually torture the horses both physically and emotionally.
    FEI and the National Organizations that allow the judges to reward this should be condemned and boycotted. Here in America we do have laws that can come to the aid of the horses, however, getting people to actually do something is difficult. I dare say that if I ever attend an event in America where I see such abusive riding I will file criminal complaints against the rider, the trainer, the show organizer and the sanctioning associations.
    For now all we each can do as individuals are to file complaints against the judges and riders, as well as, name them in the written media. Shaming them might begin the process of change

    • Hi Allen, great idea 🙂 flashical dressage is exactly the right term, love it!
      It’s not that we don’t have rules here. The problem is that they are not being enforced. The hyperflexion lobby is very powerful. I was at a competition near Berlin a few weeks ago, nothing special, no high prize money. Nearly everyone warmed up their horses with rollkur before the test. I couldn’t believe it! There was no stuart to remind them of the rules. And there wasn’t even a lot to win, just some blankets and such. This is not only happening in high level dressage anymore. In Germany, they even passed a new set of guidelines recently of how to spot hyperflexion and how to deal with it. But I have my doubts that it will change anything. According to FEI rules, 10min of rollkur is ok, then there has to be a break for the horse. (Can you imagine that?) If someone is doing it longer, then they are just reminded to give the horse a break, that’s all. The only time something is being done is when someone takes photos of abuse and makes a fuss in the media.
      Thanks so much for your smart comment!

    • Google Big Lick and see the torture they put Tennessee Walkers through. 8 lb. stacks, chains around their fetlocks, and caustic chemicals under the chains, all to make them lift their feet higher. It’s more torture than the dressage horses go through. 😢

  5. so so so sad 😦 he was amazing when he first arrived on the scene and we/he didn’t know any different. Gal was so good with him (from what we saw!) but solitary confinment and harsh training 6 possibly 7 days a week????? No, sorry i do not and will not ever agree to that. 😦 Thanks for this informative post. I really hope he has a good retirement and doesn’t have to stop because of an injury. Although that is quite possible if you think about it! 😦 Poor boy, I just want to set him free to run in a paddock with some friends and lots and lots of grass…………………….xxx

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment! Let’s hope he will be able to enjoy his retirement. The sad thing is I don’t even know if he could run fee on a paddock with other horses after all this time.

    • Stallions live a lonely life, because of their natural instincts, it is not safe to turn them out with a herd. My mare ended a gelding’s career, because they put him out with her and her herd; he tried to mount her, and she double barreled him; fracturing one of his hind legs (he was proud cut and recently gelded before this incident).
      Then the issue with gelding a stallion past the age of 7 or 8, is that they are fully sexually mature, they have probably been used for breeding, and they’ll be mentally inclined to think they can still make babies, and that they should still act like stallions. Not to mention the hormones don’t fully leave their system for about six months.

      He can have solitary turn out, and see other horses from a safe distance, but given his value, they will not risk him.

      Side note: the gelding my mare kicked did recover, but is just a fancy pasture ornament now.

    • Totilas is no longer happy in his work and he is probably in pain. It’s very sad. Release this deserving horse to a kind owner and let him run free at pasture with other horses — he deserves some life after all he has been through.
      He has been an instrument of financial gain and status — it’s time to let him be an equid.
      Most of our horses work for about 30-45 minutes a day, three-four days week maximum. They have 12-16 hours’ turnout in large pastures with other horses, playing and bonding, and excellent care. They are mentally and physically healthy.
      Poor Totilas has probably never known such a life.

  6. Thanks for a really excellent article! Such a great overview of what has happened to one horse and the whole of dressage competition in the past few years. It is particularly sad because innocent animals who have no way of escape and no say in what happens to them, slaves, are involved. If it continues, it is just a matter of time now until using animals in sport will be banned by animal rights groups. They managed to ban fox hunting in England and in my childhood, no-one would ever have thought that remotely possible.

  7. Watching the videos in chronological order the thing I noted most was the lovely nature of the horse deteriorating into a whole body attitude of endurance. There is evidence in his movement of pain quite early on. The effort he puts in makes me wince. I put down a stallion that had suffered abuse before he came to me and whose body was wracked with pain. More than other horses, stallions possess great courage in overcoming pain. I recognize that conflict between what the mind and body wants to do and what the pain will allow. Truly tragic.

    • Mhm, I haven’t thought of that. Good point.
      Yesterday I read an interview with Rath in which he said that he hopes to get another 4 years out of the horse. It’s just sad.

  8. Very good article! Always wondered what happened with Totilas. I can’t help feel the timing is a bit strange for this however, with Valegro now the ‘king’ of dressage, with an engaged hind and a round back, correct training, from what i’ve heard.

    • Yeah, I really hope all the rollkur-training will be out of fashion, too.
      I’ve heard that Hester and Dujardin also train LDR, but I hope that’s just rumours…whatever they’re doing it seems to be more correct thought.

      • Carl and Charlotte train deep and round which is very different to rollkur. Its basically allowing the horse to stretch and not worrying where their nose goes. Classical idealists insist the nose has to poke out in front of the vertical. Carl doesn’t mind if the horse chooses (key word there) to stretch with their nose behind the vertical.

        Their horses all get turned out in fields every day, even the stallions, and they go on hacks and are given holidays. If you look at Valegro and Uthopia’s competition schedule it is very light.

        Thank goodness we do have Carl and Charlotte competing and winning at international dressage, proving that you can train without rollkur and still come first and break every world record on the way.

      • Oh, that’s great to hear about turning out their horses. I’m not familiar with the way they train, so probably I shouldn’t even say anything about it. Thanks for the heads up though! As for classic idealists (:) nice word), you’re absolutely right that there is just as much obsession about where the nose of the horse should be. I chose to follow the training methods of people who don’t care so much about it, luckily. It’s all about that the horse steps under the point of weight with his hintlegs, with the correct bending, and then the front end of the horse places itself correctly anyway. I frankly don’t care where my horse has his nose. Only when I’m working from the ground on the cavesson I place his head in a stellning and thus take influence on the bending, but this is about the placement of the skull and not about if the nose is behind/at/before the vertical.

      • The Dutch breed amazing horses, no doubt 🙂 thanks for this film, I quite enjoyed it.

  9. Thanks for your work, much appreciated. I recently started a blog as an attempt to pair classical horsemanship with what is perceived as trendy in equestrian sports/style. It’s in its infancy but any thoughts/ideas/partnerships are welcome. It’s my own attempt at “doing something” to combat modern dressage I suppose. But, can we make make classical horsemanship sexy since it’s not as “flashical”?

    • Well, I think classic dressage is hot 🙂 🙂
      More and more people are attracted to it, because they see how calm and beautiful the horses that are trained this way are. Real dressage makes their inherent quality shine instead producing something artificial.
      I’ll have a look at your page! Teaming up is always good. Thanks for your comment!

  10. Blame JUDGES they set the standard and break the rules,, they are the DOG JUDGES of the horse world,, wrecking things to please their friends or whims , NOT THE EFI rules , Judges should be FINED if they score bad tests and have to re train if found twice to be giving wrong scores to bad training and if they continue then they should be suspended for long terms and retested until they understand the rule book properly,, then they should suspend the horses for six months if they are shown to be overflexed due to bad training,, maybe that way the horse may get a spell or sold on to a better trainer JUDGES JUDGES JUDGES first , then owners trainers riders,,,, trainers do what owners want , owners can be greedy, trainers and riders could say NO should say NO,, dressage such a fickle sport almost hate it

    • I also think the system is quite wrecked somehow. And you’re right in saying that people train the way they know it’s good for winning. Well, probably not all, there are also some good examples out there. Thanks for your comment!

  11. A well researched article. My compliments for trying to keep it objective. I would like to comment though on the impression it and some comments give that stallions should not be in solitairy confinement. I have a mix of stallions, geldings and mares at my sports facility. Here some stallions go out by themselves onto the meadow or paddock, others don’t. The later category gets “solitary confinement” and it’s for their own and other horses protection. I have seen enough accidents or near accidents where stallions mix with other horses and aim to seriously damage the other one. Or brake through fences because they see other horses. Even humans are at risk. If we want horses to be a sports horse and at the same time produce the next generation sports horse, we cannot let hormones and nature dictate what is happening. Here WE must choose for safety first.

    • Thanks very much for this interesting comment! You are absolutely right, we all want to have horses and at the same time are against box keeping of stallions. I’ve also seen bad accidents happen with stallions, at my friend’s barn, who are also professional trainers. One stallion, out of nowhere, attacked another in the indoor arena, with riders on, and kicked him so bad in the leg that he had to be put down. Said owner of the stable also fell together with a (if you ask me) very crazy young stallion and broke like nearly every bone in his body and can be happy to be alive and almost walking again. I know some stallions can simply be dangerous. Maybe it’s up to us then to build stables in a way that they and others can really be safe? Some stables are specialized in keeping stallions, and I think they have special fences and all that so that even the intense ones can go on the paddock. But I’m no expert in that of course. I totally get your point, yet, I think, if we breed horses and want to use them for sports and recreation, we should also come up with ways to keep them as naturally as possible. What do you think?

      • In a natural setting only those stallions who show themselves capable of managing their relationships constructively reproduce. In a healthy undisturbed multi-generational herd in the wild, it is usually the mares that enforce good behavior as a well placed kick to the stifle or penis is enough to discourage the most aggressive of stallions, often permanently. Instead of respecting the intensely social nature of horses and selecting for stallions that can live and breed naturally, we resort to bondage for the mares. We not only keep stallions in what amounts to solitary confinement, we fail to test or select for temperament and social skills. The combination of poor choices in breeding and management are bound to result in the kinds of problems mentioned..

      • Very good points, indeed.

        Does anyone agree with me that Totilas needs a vacation? It’s difficult to watch some of the videos included with this excellent article. I believe the horse is stressed out from continual training and performing, doing the same thing day in and out, with few changes.

        It would drive anyone — or any horse — mad. The horse needs some time off, needs to be out at pasture (even in on his own) where he can at least see other horses in separate pastures or paddocks. Is their no rule — FEI or otherwise — that allows for the mental health of horses?
        He is a sentient being, not a mechanical object.

        I know, too, what occurred with Blue Hors Matinee — which was heartbreaking — but at least she was able to run free for a time and be a horse.

      • And if a horse cannot run free with out fatally injuring itself, the humans really need to look at what they are choosing to breed!

      • That’s certainly food for thought. Thank you.

      • Some 30-40 years ago, stallions in the european industry must have had pass a test for an easy handling. These were the days, when a warmblood was bred to be all-purpose. The “how much money I can make out of this” was not a prime criterion. It all changed with Germany in the early 80s. Germany made government-sponsored plan to become a no.1 in the warmblood export. They abandoned the all-purpose model and begone to apply high pressure, professionalism, new methods of training, and good financial rewards into the breeding selections. The application of professional riding made them highly successful. The Dutch were first to notice the German success, and become fierce competitors adopting many of their breeding techniques. They did two things different though. One – higher inclusion of the thoroughbred, and Two – the rollkur methodology.

        The all-purpose horse was quickly out of the market. So was the selection for quietly natured, social stallions. Difficulty in handling, or even riding were offset by professional handling and lots of additional riding equipment – such as draw reins, side reins, never ending lounging, strong bits – anything that restrict the freedom of the neck, thus movement of the horse and forces learned helplessness. The horse is otherwise unriddle by an average rider with a conventional riding techniques (thus the huge support of the rollkur among the average rider). At the same time, the horses become so springy, that even the worse restriction by draw reins could not make them stop. They only lift their forelegs ever so higher.

        Totilas is just a tip of the iceberg, that is helping to wake up the issue what this industry has become gradually over many years. Our predecessors worked very hard in the past centuries to bring humanity into riding (from the Baucher’s era), but we have slipped back into the past in the name of making money. Blinded by the FLASHED movements. Such is the nature of humans – it gets blinded by the shine of a gold and pretty dresses.

      • Thanks so much for your great comments Eva!! I think you are absolutely right. I’m a member in this fantastic group on FB called “Pro Equo e.V.”, which is exactly about the breeding topic (it’s in German though). Our eyes have become used to seeing wrong movements so much that we think it’s normal that horses push with their hint legs instead of carrying themselves in balance. It seems to be quite an issue to find a horse that has good natural balance nowadays. Horse owners that are into classical riding or academic riding seem to prefer old breeds or welsh cobs/ some old Iberian breeding lines. I can slowly see why.

      • Totally agree, Bee. If a facility is set up to house stallions, it’s easy to solve the ‘solitary confinement’ idea. You build an in-and-out to his stall, our ‘outs’ were 60×60, where he can see activity, other horses, people, cars, whatever. He has enough room to roll, get in a couple of bucks and roll some more, but the space is too confined to allow galloping or rough play. Then you get him a pet like a goat, although I’ve seen the oddest pairings imaginable, including a cat that literally never left the stud’s side. Slept in his manger.

        Finally, you get just the right person to just love on him. Brush him, bathe him, hand walking and tons of carrots. The love and affection from someone completely unrelated to riding and training can be like a tranquilizer. Happy horses, happy attitudes, happiness all around.

        Thank you for this amazing article and all the video’s, Bee. Last question, what was your opinion of Blue Hors Matinee? I look forward to your reply,


      • Hi Gayle! I’m currently doing an internship at Marius Schneider’s place in Germany, don’t know if you know him. He also has stallions, and it’s like you’ve said, if they feel that someone is watching out for them, treats them with respect and love, that’s already 50% of how they are doing. About Blue Hors Matinee I don’t know so much, just saw a couple of videos and wasn’t very impressed. Theses days, there are not so many sport riders that do impress me, to be quite honest. Especially since I see on a daily basis how it’s done differently. Don’t have much time to answer, but I will definitively come back to this topic 🙂 thanks so much for your interest! Greetings from Germany 🙂

      • Maybe we shouldn’t be breeding or using stallions that have such bad temperaments? If they are such a danger, that they can’t be ridden, what use is their progeny? I’ve worked at studs where the wean longs, including colts, were turned out with the broodmare band to be socialised. They learned quickly their place in the pecking order. Later on, they learned to have manners around mares, and could be left out with them. They were beautiful, calm and well mannered, because they had been socialised correctly.

  12. EXCELLENT, well-crafted article! I couldn’t agree more!
    Something else I noted in the progression of videos and photos, Totilas gained in physical bulk as he matures, however, his saddles become narrower. This creates INCREDIBLE pressure on the group of muscles that lift and drive. This pressure, when it cannot be relieved is translated to the limbs, setting the stage for soft tissue injury (tendons and ligaments), as the sternum and ribcage DROP to accommodate the restrictions in the neck. The forehand develops and the hindquarters become weak (not good for a heavily breeding workload). As a whole the competitive world does NOT realize the needs of the horses back as much as they should. I could go on and on, but will spare you. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of accurate and generous saddle fit for performance horses.

    • Interesting observation, thank you! I did not notice this. And please feel free to elaborate at any time, I’m always interested 🙂

  13. I thought I was the only one that could see that Totilas was being ridden so incorrectly. Your comparison to a Tennessee Walking Horse (or even more, an American Saddlebred) is a good one. Unfortunately, these American gaited horses suffer too from training gimmicks that leave them debilitated and unridable in their later years. Rolkur techniques are commonly used on these horses as well as western stock breeds like Quarter Horses, Paints and Appaloosas. I took my Appaloosa to a breed show after he had been trained in classical dressage. He had a gorgeous top line from the correct training and his poll was slightly above his withers (he had a naturally low neck set, but could elevate his front end nicely). I was told by some of the “trainers” at the show as I went through the in-gate that I should have “tied his head up high in his stall two nights before the show so his head would be dragging the ground”. I was also told to fasten side reins so that his nose would touch his chest while lunging. This is the “kind” advice I received at that Appaloosa breed show. I never went to another. I am very sad that the Europeans (primarily the Dutch) are doing the same to their exceptional horses. I always took solace in the fact that the Europeans would be the guardians of classical and correct training and would not infiltrate open dressage competitions. I hope voices like yours can pressure show organizations and judges to stop rewarding such bad behavior.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! How appalling to give you advise like that…
      Sorry to disappoint you about the Europeans…There are some very talented young people though who seem to do very well without all the abusive methods, e.g. Helen Langehanenberg, don’t know if you’ve heard of her, she’s one of our best in Germany right now.

  14. Bee,

    Thank you for a trememdous article — I was glued to my seat. If I could speak German (or any other language) the way you translate into English, I would be very happy indeed. Your own research and comments were superb, too. I had followed Totilas’ story for years and feel deeply saddened by all that has occurred. He will never be allowed freedom to run with a herd in extensive pastures as all horses should do. At the end of the day — you are right — he’s in a box and its the height of cruelty. My OTTB runs in pastures 14-16 hours per day and is never worked more than 30 minutes. He didn’t live that way at the track, but he does now. My hope for ‘Toto’ is that he is eventually sold to an owner who has many acres of lush pasture, and can be a horse one day.
    But this won’t occur until they have finished with him. I just pray he survives to see a lovely sunset. Genuine care and compassion for these beautiful, sentient beings is being replaced by the desire for fame. The FEI has rules in place, but they are not being adhered to. We all need to take action.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words!
      I’ve read somewhere that dressage changed from the mid 90s, I’m quite curious if that’s true, but it’s not easy to find so many videos online from this time.
      Let’s hope the best for Toto…

  15. You talk about Totilas, no dought that was a horse that completely rock the dressage’s world but we have, worldwide, horse that are used like machines for a little short time (like one run or one season) and they are left behind like trash, left alone to die in the fields because they are really damage. Raid horses are sold for like 50.000 euros and used for one race. This is a perfect example that money rules the world and the definition of sport that is to be, bigger, faster, stronger never seemed so wrong in this case. But that’s sports and that is what money supplies…

    • Yes, I think in some disciplines, like racing, it’s even worse, you’re right. Totilas probably still has a great life compared to that. I didn’t know e.g. that many horses die each year on racetracks around the world. Truly shocking. Thanks for your comment!

  16. I think it has to start with the judges. They know what is right and wrong. If they start giving lower scores to horses that are not enjoying themselves, then the owners, riders and trainers will have to change their ways to keep winning the big prizes. As a spectator of dressage, I have no idea what is right or wrong when I watch the sport. I have always loved watching it because of the beautiful way the horses move, how they look like they are dancing. Unless the horse bucks, balks or limps, I have no way of knowing that something is wrong. Now I feel guilty about enjoying a sport that has some horses being treated like a piece of equipment.

    • Oh, don’t feel guilty, I think there are still lots of good riders out there. Sometimes it’s also just hard to see because the camera is not so close. From a far, it looks great, and when you zoom in, you see that the horse looks stressed. Dressage wasn’t always like this, and I hope it will change again for the better.

      • I recently saw a post and video rightfully damning the Gaited horses and the artificial “Big Lick” strides required to win, and the horrible effect it has on horses.
        Different horse sport. Different training issues. Same bottom line.

    • In 1987 I had a long discussion with my trainer about judges. He demanded that the judges were responsible with preserving the purity of the art, I said it was more the responsibility of the trainers and riders to want to preserve the art. I realize now how naive I was – riders just want to win and want trainers to take the easy way out. 20+ years later I see how correct my trainer was. All the current so called champion horses are trained to show flash – there is no focus on grace and art. The judges give marks in the 90s to a horse & rider who have never shown a correct understanding of the classical movements. But they have flashy extensions. And I don’t really blame the rider, she is just a student doing what her trainer tells her. Would have liked to see what that horse could have done but … classical training takes too long.

      My horses (an Andalusian and a Hanoverian) spend their days together outside and when I come to them – we dance.

  17. Rollkur training was a training technique often used throughout Europe and America in varies riding disciplines long before Sjef Janssen ever sat on a horse ! ( he had no involvement with horses or training until he was almost 30)
    So how can he be named in this article as inventor of rollkur?

    • You’re absolutely right, hyperflexion was used long before. If I remember correctly, I wrote that he’s a “rollkur advocate”, not its inventor. The paper writes that, I’m just quoting here. You can read that in the German press all the time. He is one of it’s most important promotors right now, that’s for sure, and probably he perfected the method.

  18. Pingback: Totilas has returned to competition! - Page 6

  19. Maybe there has to be one “amazing Totilas”, to come to our senses. I agree that things are not so simple! It certainly can not only be blamed on a “Dutch training method” as there are many others in Holland training according traditional principles. In earlier times a French Classicist called “Baucher” was very much criticized for his seemingly “cruel” training methods. Though classical riders among them the grand master himself “Nuno Oliveira” learned and taught according to his principles. Good read and good research!

    • Part of the problem is in expecting horses with drastically different conformation to conform to the same outer look. The ‘warm’ in European warmbloods is often from carriage horses bred for pushing power and high flashy leg action, rather like modern Hackney harness horses. Baucher developed his techniques working with speedy TB types, who move differently from Nuno Oliviera’s Baroque horses that have a distinctive springy hip structure. Rather than observe, learn, and allow for differences, riders resort to force to obtain certain external appearance:

    • Classicists reject his earlier system of training dressage but accept his later approach, on the whole.

  20. This was very well done and extremely interesting/informative. I have never been on the Toto bandwagon, because I know how he’s been trained, and don’t think his exaggerated movements are even attractive – much less worthy of stratospheric scores. Seeing him as a youngster before the real training started just breaks my heart. There was a happy, willing animal with lovely, natural gaits. Now all you see is artificial everything and a clearly miserable horse. No joy, no lightness, no true partnership that makes REAL dressage such a pleasure to watch.

    I have feared that, like with Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horses and Western Pleasure/other Western horses, that when people saw Toto being rewarded in the show ring that they would all want to jump on the Rolkur bandwagon. Seems like that has happened, at least in Germany (and I would assume in the Netherlands). Thank God for Charlotte and Carl doing so well now! Seriously, how can ANYONE – I mean ANYONE – look at Rolkur and think it’s “ok”? You just trying holding your chin into your chest for 10 minutes!

    For the record, I do blame the judges. They are the same people I blame for the unmitigated suffering of the Big Lick Walkers, Quarter Horses and other breeds here. You think Rolkur alone is bad, you ought to see what goes on behind the scenes in addition to it at your average barn in THOSE disciplines . :-((

    • Thank you very much for your comment! I’m always amazed by what kind of scores hyperflexed horses get, when even I as a ‘normal’ person (not a judge 😉 can see it. Well, let’s hope people will get tired of rollkur soon!

  21. Totilas……if only they all could suffer, the way that you have, perhaps human kind would wake up and realize their terrible wrong doings. If you cannot treat an animal with decency and respect, then you do not deserve the gift of having these special animals in your lives!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!as they deserve so much more out of this world. Judgement day will still come!!!
    Let a horse be a horse and not a machine. Soooo sooooo sad with soo much talent and too much money- Please do the right thing…pls

      • as the above comment states and each page of pictures notes, the Rath pictures for this comparison are taken from last week’s 2014 Kappelen GPS, which could lead to an early suspicion that a trainer uses whatever technique the rider is able to put into practice… Let’s hope that building on relaxation and proper use of the horse’s body takes precedent over show flash. (I am still hoping that the 90 degree curb will slowly move to a better connecting 45 degree curb, and that the nose will increasingly point where the legs go. Let us keep in mind though that redoing years of tight neck / tight back riding may take a few years to undo.)

  22. A great article. I watched the London olympia video in 2009 and already then I was thinking “but he has no energy at all in extended trot, he just scoops with his hindlegs”. I’ve seen many eagerly and actively moving horses and know the theory well: the horse should be like a spring that shortens and extens. I didn’t see that in Totilas in 2009 and I still don’t see it. I thought if I just can’t see the perfectness of Totilas because my eye is not professional enough. But now I’m becoming more and more sure that I was right.

    • Yes, it was the same with me. I was never really impressed by Totilas and didn’t really know why. I also didn’t express my doubts because I thought that I probably wasn’t educated enough to see it. I thought, if the judges award such a high score, it must be right. Since I’m educating my own horse and had to school my eye a lot, I saw these videos and though: wait a second, that’s not how it should be! Now I know that even ‘normal’ people like me can see the mistakes, and I’m sure the judges can, too. And that’s what I really don’t understand. Thanks for stopping by!

  23. ^ He just scoops with his FRONTLEGS, I was saying. But all in all, his hindlegs were not any better.

  24. This is not for or against rollkur BUT its easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize these top competitors and mounts. Until you yourself have trained and competed a horse to Grand Prix you are just an “armchair quarterback”-a US term for criticism coming from the comfy chair in front of the TV.

  25. That is the best article on this subject I have ever read. It is such a sad story, which makes it hard not to get all emotional and to start throwing cusswords (though I might have added some in my head). You show in a very objective way the deterioation of the relation between humans and horses, all for the sake of money. It is heartbreaking, but true. There are so many people involved in the sport of destroying animal health and spirit and most of them (not all!!!) have as hollow and weak spines as the horses thy watch, train, ride, own and judge.

    • Thanks so much! Sadly, the horse is winning again. There was a moment, about a year ago, when people said, hey, this kind of training doesn’t bring results, so maybe it’s wrong? But I guess that ship has sailed now. I had some hope that something might change for the better. Of course there are some people, like Ingrid Klimke and Uta Gräf, who train the classic way and are also successful. I really hope that the “Dutch school” will have less and less supporters in the future. Thanks again for reading and sharing!!

      • That’s true, as long as the horses trained this way and get points, there will always be weak people that will use the short cuts instead of taking the long way and try to bond with the horse and build them up correctly. Since this is a very sensitive topic I admire your courage to write about it! You go girl! 😀

  26. I knew nothing about high level dressage before reading this. What a story and well researched. Judges need to be held accountable and events are clearly begging for animal rights protests. Makes the life of a $800 trail horse look pretty good.

    • That’s very true 🙂 I’ve actually just come across a statement by David de Wispelaere, high level dressage rider, who had a chat with a trainer he doesn’t name, but from his description it’s obvious that he’s talking about the same Totilas Trainer that I talked about in this article…said trainer wasn’t interested to talk about horses during dinner conversation, said he hated those stinky animals and preferred talking about car racing, his favourite hobby. De Wispelaere goes on saying that now he understands why this trainer and his famous wife treat horses the way they do. They just hate them and train them because they’re making good money. Explains a lot. I always thought that you can’t love horses and treat them this way…

      • I have the same experience with a prominent owner of the warmblood breeding service in the Czech Republic, who admitted to me at a dinner conversation, that he has never really been a horseman by heart. He liked the business of the reproductive technology, and the warmblood horse had been the most profitable choice of an animal, since the breeding was also heavily subsidized and the prices were very steep. Plus, it gives a social status with all that glory, which does not happen when you are in a cattle, or any other livestock’s business.

        On another occasion, a professional GP rider confessed to me, how much he” hates those animals, but it is the only thing he knows how to do, it is his livelihood . He cannot wait for a retirement, when he never sits on another horse again.”

        All the more reasons to wean ourselves from these trick riders.

  27. I have been one of the critics of this Totilas phenomena since 2009. After I had posted a frame-by-frame analysis of his disunited movements, I had received threats from many, asking administrators to take down the website, or even reminding me of a Dutch law about prosecuting fabrications etc. I called Totilas the “First, Perfect European Gated Horse in Dressage”. You did not need a sophisticated equipment, nor an educated eye to see the slow motion revealing disunited trot (not 2-beat!) and canter. You don’t need to be a scientist to realize, that regular gates are objective criteria in judging anybody’s breeding and training methods. Ironically, regular gates are being mentioned by classical dressagists in the last century, but look how little attention it gets in the today’s polemics about the method of training. And yet, we have high-end cameras at our disposal, but we seem to ignore this technology, when we scramble our heads around what is a good or bad methods of horse motion. The warmblood industry (and yes people, it is not SPORT, it is an INDUSTRY) needs to decide, if they want to breed gated warmblood with all these enhancing techniques, or if they want to breed for regular gates. And come up with methods of evaluation.

    As far as the welfare of these animals is concerned, it is troubled just like any other welfare of animals bred for profit. We only lie to ourselves if we pretend otherwise. I quit equestrian sports long ago, I do not contribute with my money and participation to this circus, and I have discovered a life with horses that is healthy for me and my horse. I encourage you to do the same. Do not support this with your participation. The sponsors of this industry rely on you – buying products, pay fees, travel to shows, read their ads… Only you can stop the money flow!

    • I was quite surprised that I didn’t get attacked so much for this post. There were some critical comments, yes, but on a basis of discussion and nothing personal. Thanks very much for the link!!!

  28. This was a truly great article. I do not know a lot about dressage but I was taken by Totilas in about 2007. While I had heard of rollkur I still am not sure if it just another term for hyperflexion or if is more extreme hyperflexion. I do know that I was just so enamored of Gal and Totilas’ flying changes and overall showings. I had no idea that Totilas had been “boxed” in such a cruel way even by Gal. All of this mistreatment (including rollkur) seems to me to be part and parcel of the judging system. Perhaps the judging system needs to be completely overhauled similar to what Ice skating did. That sport was made much better by that overhauling of their system. Thank you for such a fine article. Let’s hope there is better treatment on the horizon for all of the horses in this sport.

    • The definition of Rollkur depends on who is defining it ;), the FEI says it is hyperflexion plus force which seems the narrowest possible definition. I see LDR-Rollkur as an undesirable continuum.

  29. All very sad, I admired Totilas in his earlier career. He was magnificent. I agree with earlier comments that a way should be found to give him a happier life.

  30. your translation is spot on! Fantastic article. I am a hunter rider and I think our sport had many of these same issues. Maybe not so much with the training methods- although there are some people who will sacrifice the horses well being for a crisper jump and get the effect by poling the horses, though these people seem to get a bad reputation in our sport. It’s definitely the same with keeping them from being turned out where they could potentially injure themselves. Like it or not, these animals are extremely valuable, and an injury often times means a big money loss for those involved, but there is a fine line between keeping our horses protected and safe- and still letting them “be horses” this was a great read, thank you.

  31. The riders’ heads are too high. They should be trained to have their necks forcibly bent down, so that they are looking at their own ankles.

  32. Very good article. Look at the way Hester trains and Charlottes success. It all comes without Rolkur

  33. Pingback: Gerd Heuschmann, Totilas, Glock’s Undercover, Edward Gal och slutligen Dr Reiner Klimke | Frida Källgren

  34. After the 2015 European championships disaster where totilas was presented clearly lame in one hind leg questions need to be asked about the management and training of this horse. Would I breed to toto the answer is no at his current stud fee given he has been apparentlyunsound for the past 4 years.. maybe if it was reduced given his obviously forgiving temperament.

    Under gal totilas had a connection to his rider and looked proud. Whilst his former rider did ride him deep sometimes he would reward often and ride with light aids.Compare this to the videos in recent years which make me feel sick at the sight of a beautiful animal looking like its being forced to work long and hard with its head ljammed to the chest by a hard curb rein and heavy spurring with few breaks between. The judges at the euros who awarded an obviously dog lame horse with over 80percent should be stood down. the people who fronted a lame horse to perform a Grand Prix Test in a major championship the best trainers and vets in the world .. words fail me. The welfare and love of the horse is paramount to our sport of dressage. Above fame and fortune has that been forgotten I this whole saga. I hope toto is retired and lives a happy life from now on he’s worked hard and deserves it. A toast to you toto for being a champion and I wish you a happy retirement now.

  35. Pingback: Horse Movement - "Inverted" or "Round" - Page 5

  36. Although I think it’s sad that the horse might have been abused, for this writer to complain about the horse not to be able to move and perform naturally, is a bit confusing for me. How is anything done in this type of world class dressage “natural”! Do you see any dressage horse executing flying lead changes naturally out in the pasture? Too funny!

  37. thank you so much for clearing up facts for me. i knew that Totilas has had some tough times, but i never understood this much. i feel so bad for all horses that have to suffer Rollkur and are never let out of their stalls to be horse! i think every horse has to be happy with their lives – both physically and mentally – and i think that Totilas isn’t. thank you for showing me the truth.

  38. I’m not much of a dressage rider predominately Western however I still use some dressage techniques in my riding One of the things I do uses getting their head down I can like it being tucked up but ultimately I do that by the horse depends on the horse that use and I’m working with them unfortunately for totalist I’m not sure if he’ll be able to enjoy retirement with other horses given the fact that from what I understand you had a private jet that he was flown in and it’s a pity that he had to be trained in such away some of these really high and trainers don’t get it horses need to be able to have a life after their careers done I need a screw him up in the head when you just train them the way they do it times . I’ve been a little work with these type of horses before I’ve dealt with the trainers my opinion they’re jerks and some of them are cruel the nicer ones are the ones with as some would say lower caliber horses however they have a longer and better career I myself have run a 30 year old horse and he’s i’m doubtful totalist could’ve competed till the age of 30

  39. Hello Bee,

    Thank you for your superb reporting. I don’t have any connection with the equestrian world, so I hope the following doesn’t sound just stupid . . .

    Has anybody considered crowd-sourcing enough money from concerned equestrians to appeal to the greed of Totilas’s owners and buy him out of incarceration into retirement?

    Helping so high-profile a horse as Totilas could serve to shine a light upon the conditions you write about. It could be one means of starting a change that admittedly won’t happen overnight.

    Best wishes!

  40. I loved that horse and how wonderful he was I dressage but now my heart just breaks for him. Don’t think I will ever watch dressage again.

  41. Pingback: In defence of dressage? | Helen Blackman

  42. Well there are lots of ways to change a horse’s natural movement. And just because that you ride at that levels, doesn’t mean that you can traine a horse and still make it show it’s natural beautiful movements

    So sad

  43. There is so much that is right about your post. I, too, was entranced by Totilas at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, but still…there was that nagging voice in my ear that said, that’s not what I learned that dressage is supposed to look like. No balance, no harmony, no …happy ears and tail. My sister, alongside me, said, he’s all flash but that’s not dressage, that’s circus horse stuff. Of course you didn’t dare say it out loud…but now I do.
    Rollkur should be banned. It’s cruel.
    But it won’t be..because there is money to be made on the backs of horses.

    Thank you for a most excellent post, one that pulled no punches.

  44. Those absolutely ignorant and foolish Judges are ENTIRELY to blame – if they judged as they should, based on what is good, proper and wholesome for both horse and rider, then no-one would use this heinous, barbaric and ludicrous training method because they could not be rightfully judged on their flawed and artificial methods.

    These people are collectively bastardising the art of Dressage, and in a few short years have succeeded in destroying many decades of what true, classical dressage achieved, and these morally bankrupt, money-grubbing owners and trainers should be BANNED!

  45. Pingback: Real life data and evidence – Life Sciences for Sustainable Business Practices

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