H&H interview: Edward Gal — ‘riding to Totilas’ music again gave me goosebumps’ *H&H Plus*

  • “He’s like a clone of his father; the same white feet, the same head, and even his expression. He’s so like Totilas it’s almost scary” — a look-alike Totilas son could contend next year’s Olympics with his sire’s former rider. Alice Collins asks Edward Gal about Glock’s Toto Jr and his other top horses

    Not much of note happened in the competitive sphere in summer 2020. But one black horse with a striking similarity to his famous father made a quiet debut at grand prix level at a national show in the Netherlands in July. The Dutch darling, Olympic dressage rider Edward Gal, showed the enthusiastic (though minimal, thanks to Covid-19) spectators that he has a new star in his stables, nine-year-old Glock’s Toto Jr. The black stallion has an uncanny resemblance to his father, Edward’s former superstar Totilas.

    Edward was so keen for a low-key outing for his latest superstar that they didn’t even feature on the start lists. But there was nothing low key about the 79.43% score, and the video of their test quickly circulated online.

    To put that in context, Charlotte Dujardin and the rising nine-year-old Valegro made their grand prix debut in January 2011 at Addington and scored 74.62%.

    Toto Jr’s FEI level debut – Edward had only ridden him at stallion shows and in young horse classes some time ago – was a much-needed bright spot in what has been a torrid year globally. Competition in the Netherlands has been all but cancelled since, but the Dutch championships were able to go ahead in a narrow window in which shows were permitted in September. It gave Edward the chance to prove Toto Jr’s sensational score was no fluke, and to dust off Totilas’s emotive old music score – the first time he has done so.

    The victory was poignant as it came exactly a decade on from Edward’s final competition on Totilas, at the 2010 Kentucky World Equestrian Games, where they won individual gold on 91.8%. This time round, Toto Jr scored 80.68% in the special and, to Totilas’ floorplan, pulled off 86.15% and a standing ovation in the freestyle.

    “Toto Jr was green, but in Ermelo at the championships the special was much more confirmed and then to ride to Totilas’ music again gave me goosebumps,” said Edward, who turned 50 in March. “In the test when I did the transition to walk I got a bit emotional and I had to tell myself, ‘Come on, there’s still half a test to go.’ The special was just the second test with Glock’s Toto Jr, but even then he was giving me an incredible feeling. It felt like he’d already done a lot of competitions.”

    As is usually the case with a developing horse at any level, Edward says the horse is even more confirmed at home, and capable of yet higher scores. So how does he compare with his famous father?

    “With Toto Jr, he can do really good piaffe/passage and the collected work,” says Edward, who has trained him since Glock bought the young stallion at auction for €100,000. “I think naturally he has a better hindleg by himself. Totilas was really exceptional so it would be tricky to say Toto Jr will be better, though it is certainly possible. With Totilas I had never felt such a thing before, but now I know how it can feel.”

    The likeness to Totilas doesn’t end there.

    “The first thing I thought when I saw Glock’s Toto Jr [who is out of a Desperados dam] was that he’s like a clone of his father; the same white feet, the same head, and even his expression is similar. He’s also really similar in character: the ‘stalliony’ behaviour in the field and the way he moves out there, with big strides – it’s so like Totilas it’s almost scary.”

    Although the Netherlands has been in some sort of lockdown for most of 2020, Edward, his partner Hans Peter Minderhoud and trainer Nicole Werner count themselves very fortunate. They are based at Glock Horse Performance Center Netherlands (GHPC NL), a purpose-built state-of-the-art facility with 42 stables, an indoor and outdoor arena and ample paddocks. The GHPC NL team have called the place home for five years.

    “When we had the first lockdown, we couldn’t teach at all and that was hard,” says Edward. “For weeks we just stayed on the premises with the home team and didn’t see anyone else. That was really weird.”

    The Netherlands remains on partial lockdown: some restrictions have been eased since the spring, but life is by no means back to normal. Restaurants are still closed and shows cancelled indefinitely.

    “At least we can now teach with social distancing,” he adds. “The training goes on. We can do indoors but only one on one – which is easy for us as that’s the norm – and a limit on the number of horses and riders working at the same time. GHPC is really a beautiful place: it’s just outside the town of Oosterbeek [near Arnhem], and also near to the forest, which is great for the horses. But it is not just beautiful, it’s also functional.”

    One of the most delightful aspects of the high-spec horse paradise is that provision has been made for all Edward and Hans Peter’s retired horses, who live out their days on the premises. It’s another major positive to having the deep-pocketed sponsor Glock on board.

    “All the old ones like Undercover, Nadine and Next One are here,” says Edward. “In the beginning when they retire it takes a bit of time for them to adjust to being out in the paddock all day with their group, but now that they’re fully adjusted, they scream in the mornings to go out with their friends. We are so happy to be able to give them a really nice retirement here.”

    Clearly Edward has not been idle over this strange season and has cultivated not only Glock’s Toto Jr as a possible for the postponed Tokyo Olympics, but also has another Totilas son, Glock’s Total US, in the pipeline. He hopes the eight-year-old will come out at grand prix in the new year.

    And behind them is yet another crop of emerging horsepower, with a lot of that talent being directly by Toto Jr, including the three five-year-olds Glock’s Taminiau, Glock’s King Karim and Glock’s Kardam’s Whisper. Whisper was selected for the FEI WBFSH Dressage World Breeding Championships for Young Horses, due to start next week, but the show has recently been cancelled due to Covid.

    The pandemic has hit close to home for Edward and his team.

    “An aunt and an uncle of mine are both infected,” he explains. “My aunt is in hospital now being put into an induced coma. Back in the spring we heard of people being ill. And suddenly it came close to us when our horse feed advisor Willy van Doornik passed away of coronavirus. That was a great shock for the whole team. And so now everyone knows someone who is in hospital, someone who has been sick – or worse.

    “We use face masks in shops and public areas,” he adds. “In the beginning it was really weird to see people with masks everywhere. But we are used to it now. It’s important to wear them, because you protect not only yourself, but others too. You have to take the virus seriously and look out for each other, especially for older and vulnerable people.”

    Everyone is grappling with this new normal. Not the least the organisers of the postponed Olympics. What was to be the highlight of the calendar this year is now not
    a certainty even for next year.

    Being in the horse world, Edward is well aware of the inevitable last-minute changes of plan with horse illness and injury, so his outlook is pragmatic. He’s in the fortunate position of being likely to have three horses to choose from for Tokyo, but he won’t be drawn on which is most likely to be selected.

    “I have Glock’s Zonik and the two by Totilas,” says Edward. “We’ll just have to see which horse is in the best shape at the time. You can plan all you like, but you never know what will happen. We just have to wait for the moment.”

    The cloud of Covid-19 hangs over all of us, and radical changes to Tokyo – if it happens – are likely, including tighter limits on the number of spectators allowed to attend.

    And for the moment, Edward and Hans Peter must wait before going out competing again, and it looks like the schedule will be barren until next year.

    “I’m OK, but Hans Peter is missing the shows now,” says Edward. “He wanted to do Lyon and Mechelen with Glock’s Dream Boy, but everything was cancelled. He was all right for two months, but now he’s really missing his shows.”

    Edward also misses the small things that Covid has taken away.

    “We stay in touch with our friends and family on WhatsApp groups, but we miss the other things, like going out for dinner. And normally you’d shake hands or hug people, and you can’t do it now,” he laments. “You have to get used to it, but when someone is sad or just needs a hug, you can’t. Luckily we can still hug the horses and our dogs.”

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 3 December 2020

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