The highlight of this year’s Global Dressage Forum was going to be homegrown talent Edward Gal riding wonder horse Totilas. But then, of course, owner Cees Visser went and sold the 10-year-old stallion to German breeder and former show jumper Paul Schockemöhle.
Instead of a showcase and celebration of this incredible athlete, the demonstration billed as “the secret to Edward’s success” was unavoidably downcast since the “secret” was settling into his new pad across the continent. In Germany, of all places, the Germans being longtime dressage arch rivals to the Netherlands. You couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s pure tragedy.
Call me a cynic (I’ve been doing this job a while), but I’ll admit I just assumed that Edward would be getting a fair cut of the (10 to 15 million Euro) deal to see him right through this ordeal. I’ve seen enough riders in agreement with owners parting with horses in return for financial security – and who can blame them? But seeing Edward at the forum today I fear not, since he appears truly heartbroken that “Toto” has been taken away.
“It’s better if I don’t talk about it,” he said. “They came yesterday and took the horse. It’s shit. We had a lot of fun in Kentucky, and then we had a week together back home. Now he’s gone and that’s that.”
Schockemöhle broke his silence on the subject today, saying he intends to use Totilas for breeding purposes and perhaps secure a German rider for him at some point, but not yet.
As for who would ride him if he does come back to competition, Edward said: “I don’t know, and I don’t even want to think about it. All I know is they picked him up yesterday and that that was really really hard.”
Edward fought back the tears. He couldn’t bring himself to watch the video of his ride in the grand prix special in Kentucky, either, leaving trainer Nicole Werner to talk through the test on the big screen for the forum audience.
Nicole, who is as upset as anyone by the news, was stoic in handling the inevitable questions. She explained: “We had agreements with the owners until Kentucky [that the horse wouldn’t be sold earlier]. After that we heard he was sold, but of course nobody came to try him out so we didn’t know when he would go. That said, it’s harder when people start coming and trying a horse, I guess I’d rather it this way.”
In the past 10 years, Edward has lost the ride on (WEG bronze medallist) Ravel to America’s Steffen Peters; World Cup star Lingh, again to America; and now he’s lost the best horse we’ve ever seen. I don’t think any of us could feel sorrier for him. That truly, truly sucks.
Edward and Nicole went on to demonstrate their training methods, which you can read all about in next week’s Horse & Hound alongside the bombshell news that riders want to see the judging system changed completely in the next five years – talk about a revolution.
At the end of their demo, Edward and Nicole received a standing ovation. The support for them here was overwhelming. Nicole finished: “We are really determined to go on and we will stay on this level with other horses.”
Good luck to them. And is there any chance of the sort of contract that stops a fourth mega star being taken out of their stables?
Meanwhile, call me a bunny hugger (I’ve not been doing this job for That long), but I’m sort of feeling for Totilas. He’s done our sport the greatest service, catapulting dressage into a new league, but in doing so he’s made himself the biggest commodity the sport has ever known. It just doesn’t feel right that a living legend has become a pawn, a weapon available to the highest bidder wanting to crush their dressage adversaries at the next championships.
Good luck to his next jockey, I truly hope he has one. But right now it all tastes quite bitter, frankly, I feel.