Friday, February 19, 2010

Totilas: Twinkle-toes or or tarted-up? (Gaits Part 2)

I once had a professor of architecture tell me that you should never use Las Vegas or New York City as examples. I'm pretty sure he meant that both cities are unique and incomparable -- freaks, really, at least in terms of city planning and architecture. I think when you're talking about dressage, Totilas is in the same class.

His movement is so outrageous! It does make you wonder where it all came from. For awhile I pondered whether artificial training methods -- like weighted shoes -- might have been used in his training. When I posted this question, half jokingly, on COTH, one member gave the response that put the question to rest in my mind...

Just for grins, can you promise us that weighted shoes will assure that a horse could have movement such as that which we see in Totilas? :-)
Training methods
There have been suggestions that training methods have made his gaits impure, that he is "all-show" with a flashy front end. In an Equisearch forum posting, Dressage Today editor Patty Laskow offers a perspective on Totilas that rings true with me...
Here is the latest video with commentary of Totilias ridden by Edward Gal. It shows how breeding is producing these amazing athletes. This is really a new mark in excellence. It used to be that horses who had so much knee action often dragged their hind legs and you had to be careful not to be too impressed with the front end. But this horse is beautifully proportioned to support all his work with his hind end. Watch how he steps under his body with them and at the same time get amazing lift with his shoulders. Enjoy the video and commentary.
I've read that his sire Gribaldi in his early years (sadly I can't find a video) had similar movement, and Totilas' mom/mare line was pretty special too. We should acknowledge the possibility that Totilas' breeder just hit the jackpot of crosses. He is uphill, his shoulder is long and sloped, he is compactly built -- the movement reflects his conformation/breeding.

This is not to say I like the LDR/Rollkur/Hyperflexion training approach. As someone who scoffs at the whole heated debate, I was surprised at the dismay I felt watching the young Totilas ridden in an overflexed frame. It doesn't look like good training. My own humble opinion is that Totilas is what he is irrespective of, or in spite of, LDR training. Horses are amazingly tolerant and resilient. I suspect they become what they are meant to become with only a little help, or hindrance, from us.

Still it's fun to wonder what Totilas would be like if he were trained by Ulla Salzgeber, or Imke Bartels, or Steffan Peters.


  1. Just did a little research on a stallion my friend tried to breed his mare to(frozen semen, she never "took")named Cheenok. I remember seeing a video of him as a youngster and his movement was very similar to Totilas.

    Trouble is, if Totilas becomes the new "standard" of dressage, does that mean everyone will be teaching their horses Spanish walk to create the extravangant movement--or appearance thereof?

    I love the softness and suppleness I see in Ravel when Steffan rides him. Wonder, as you do, what Totilas would look like if he'd been the trainer.

  2. I discovered an interesting photo of extravagant movement taken in 1910. It's the bottom picture on page 15 of

  3. Argh, I suck at links. Go to the site above, click Knowledge Base down on left, then click Tre Collection on right, see bottom pic on page 15.

  4. Hi anon, the first link worked for me -- the visuals are very helpful...

  5. AGain - what are you saying is being done in the early videos that you are calling "over flexed" or LDR???

    It was not done for long - at worst one length of the arena. I wouldn't call that a training "method."

    What I saw was a horse that would get stuck in his neck and the rider trying to find a way to unstick him without loosing contact and collection.

    If that is the horse's natural way to evade, then you get over flexion. Some horses do that when they are being pushed beyond where they want to be.

    FYI - I have seen Steffan ride similarly in private clinics here in Vegas. I can point you to the YouTube if you'd like. Asking a horse to drop their head with your hands is a technique that shouldn't automatically be labeled "horrible." Its a method. It, like any other, can be abused, especially if you don't "give" when you get the correct, obedient release. Gal does release. FYI - Gal trained Ravel before he was sold and Steffan began riding him.

    Also - the other thing I saw in that video was a horse too young to carry himself in the front end for the work he was being asked to do, resulting in him leaning on the rider's hands. Gal supported him, but with the snaffle, not the curb, another thing I would say was not the Rolkur method. Remember, Gal did not start this horse... it is possible he inherited a horse that had tension issues and this is a method for teaching him to engage his shoulders and back when tense.

    At worse, this horse was being a pushed a bit too fast for the work in the earlier videos. I would NEVER call what we saw "moments of Rolkur." Rolkur by definition is sustained hyperflexion. Hyperflexion happens to EVERY horse as they progress up the levels... its part of the pendulum swing to find the balance to carry themselves. Some horses rely on that end more than others.

    By criticizing Gal and using the word "Rolkur" you would be very hypocritical if you never used your hands to create boundries or support your horse, especially if they came behind the verticle as part of their attempt to evade contact or figure out what you were asking them.

    Don't get me wrong - I think cranking on a horse's mouth till their lips touch their chest and riding that way for 30 minutes or more is no better than using draw reins or side reins to force a head set. But you're riding a dynamic system, and there are times where you help them discover where they can move freely.

  6. Totilas is certainly a spectacular horse. However, every time you look at a horse with an extravagant trot, as yourself whether the leading fore- and hindlegs are parallel to each other--this is the mark of a pure gait. With many of the recent extravagant horses (check out the picture of Gribaldi currently on the dressagedaily website), you'll see that the front leg is extended much more than the hind leg.

  7. I think there is an analogy between horses and people here. Animals (us, too!) are born with certain physical aptitudes. With concentrated training, those aptitudes can be maximized (often at the expense of other things).

    The Olympics give me a great example. Look at the massive thighs of the speed skaters as opposed to the long lean bodies of the figure skaters. The differences are partly due to intense training, but that is layered on a set of physical aptitudes that predispose the athletes to be gifted in a particular way.

    Horses or humans: you have to have the biomechanics just right, and then you can add the training for maximum performance. That pushes the aptitude beyond what would be possible for most others. In many cases the result is freakish (think the short, solid girl gymnasts with the massive upper bodies) and I wonder what the long-term physical price will be.

    At the very least, though,the human athletes are choosing for themselves to be stonger, faster, and reach higher. Our horses don't have a lot of choice.

    So for me, the question is how coercive is the training? Does it lead the horse to be the best he can be with his talent in a way that he steps into gladly?

  8. To all: Please read the article from the link in Anon's comment.


  9. I read the aticles on that site regularly, in rotation. It helps keep mind and priorities straight! Fads come and go, but the horse remains the same.


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