Horses are lucky in that they don’t have the intellect to obsess about what others think of them, but if ever a horse deserved to retire with dignity, it’s Totilas.
I am not the only person who thought his 2015 European championship appearance would end in tears, though I would have happily eaten my hat if it hadn’t.
I have not been able to attend these championships because of a clash with two significant family occasions (for which reason I had to write this blog before the freestyle at Aachen).
But if I could have got there somehow, it would have been to see Toto, even though he is not now as super as he used to be. Who will ever forget the first time they saw him in real life? Goose pimples. Of course there are things not to like about “flashical” dressage. We will never know how durable Toto might have proved had he remained with Edward Gal who is, after all, a proponent of hyperflexion. But Toto obviously wanted to do his best for Gal, they were a partnership, and their magic swept dressage into a new era.
This week, the over-hyped Rath/Dujardin showdown turned out to be non-event of the year. I wish I had placed a bet on Totilas being withdrawn after the Grand Prix, though in hindsight it would have been difficult to find any bookmaker prepared to offer odds against!
It’s coming up to five years since Totilas was sold. While Totilas himself, mercifully, cannot suffer from hurt feelings, it is utterly staggering to me that his connections remain cocooned in their own fantasy world after half a decade. They seem blissfully unaware that no one cares about their latest Official Announcement about what happens next with Totilas and its importance for the planet. It’s like a has-been actor who, despite being written-out of a new drama at the end of series 1, still tries to blag an invite when his ex-castmates win an Emmy for Series 6.
Toto was apparently been whisked to a top clinic to discover the cause of the near hind unlevelness in the Grand Prix: a niggle not so bad that the judges felt they had to take him out at the first inspection (though it was a close call;) nor to disqualify him during the test itself; and not so bad that the rider didn’t notice it himself.
Matthias has actually said, on record, he thought their Grand Prix was rather good and substantially better than the mark awarded (75.9). Bizarrely, the running scoreboard both in the arena and on the FEITV live-stream stopped working, so Rath didn’t have the oral reaction of spectators to give him any clue about how the marks were shaping up. I guess he didn’t hear, either, the whistling and jeering that several media colleagues on site have mentioned, because of the decision to relocate the dressage to Aachen’s main stadium, where the 60x20m was isolated somewhat from the stands.
Credit to the German judge, Katrina Wuest (at E), for blanking out all the hype and marking it as she saw it – 72.9.
Whatever it is, the hindleg niggle cannot be labelled career-ending, because poor Toto hasn’t in reality had a career for yonks. Of course, he shouldn’t have continued at the championships if he wasn’t quite right, but he should not have been there in the first place.
There must be a lot of schadenfreude about the decision to stick him on the team without even starting all the prescribed selection trials. One of Team Rath’s spokespersons told us soberly that Toto won’t resume his non-career until he can do three tests. Hello: the last time he managed that was Rotterdam 2011.
The general public certainly does care a very great deal about Totilas himself, but only inasmuch as it wants him to have a proper retirement. We’d all would love some see some pictures of him in a paddock or going out for hacks (like Valegro). Or even running with his mares (now who’s fantasising!)
The entire farrago is a lesson about the folly of spending mega-bucks on a horse and thinking you can take up where the previous rider-producer left off. You can’t, unless you are already pretty great yourself. Not that it will ever stop.
This comprehensive blog recounts the sorry tale right from the beginning, interspersed with some very telling video clips. She now has another depressing chapter to write.
Let’s move on: it was certainly a strange team championship. The medals found the right wearers, but how they got there is another matter, as the Grand Prix judging was all over the place and the supervisory panel worked over-time.
Dressage usually runs to form, but this sits uneasily with the aim – especially with all the Olympic and WEG format changes afoot – to make the result less predictable and so more exciting for the public.
The anomaly is that it fudges what the judges are hoping to see, and suggests that those in charge don’t understand that some sports really are only meant to be watched and appreciated by those with a modicum of knowledge. The inherent fluency of Valegro or the step-by-step precision of Glock’s Undercover (albeit expensive, when the tension bubbles over, as we saw quite literally with the pink foam during his Special) are both fascinating to watch. But which is the more “correct?”
The Dutch won team gold, fielding their first all-male line-up in longer than I can remember. Hans-Peter Mindehoud emerged from the shadow of his partner, Gal, recording the fourth-best team test score with Glock’s Johnson and then his first individual medal.
Charlotte Dujardin blamed herself for Valegro’s mistakes in the Grand Prix – just another 1.5 points and Britain would have won team gold (soon forgotten, of course after their glorious ride in the Special). But equally I am sure Rath and Kristina Sprehe (Desperados) would be saying the same after their own below par team tests. If they had got 2% more each, Germany would have robbed GB of the silver, after all.
But without an either real or fantasy 80% from Totilas in the bank, Germany is looking unusually weak so, barring accidents, Britain goes Rio with confidence that it’s the Dutch pose the greatest threat.
The new-look Dutch squad will of course, improve in the meanwhile too. But even if Valegro treads water between now and 2016, Carl Hester is making giant strides, both actually and metaphorically, with Nip Tuck, and Fiona Bigwood has made a wonderful team comeback (since WEG 2010) with Apperupgaards Orthilia.
Carl also managed to bury old ghosts at Aachen, where he suffered a career-worst 15 years ago. It looked as if these ghost were still haunting him on the Wednesday when he was walking Nip Tuck round a big grass field and a waiter dropped a tray of glasses in front of him, alarming Nip Tuck so much that he spun round and fell over. No harm done. NB, even at a championship Carl sticks to his regime and will always find somewhere to take his horse for a hack.
Talking of the pretty Greats, despite my inconvenient domestic schedule I managed to see snatches of Saturday’s Special on FEI TV, including Isabell Werth’s epic save. She went into walk by mistake, realised she should be half-passing – asked for it and got a slick response from Don Johnson. I am sure it will turn up on YouTube soon!