The Rise of the Phoenix: Totilas Returns to Winning Form at 2012 CDI Hagen

Sat, 04/28/2012 - 14:57
2012 CDI Hagen

After an eight month break from competition Matthias Rath and the 12-year old Dutch warmblood stallion Totilas returned to winning form at the 2012 CDI Hagen in Germany. Scoring a smashing 83.809%, Rath dominated a field of 30 competitors in the Grand Prix for Kur at the Horses and Dreams CDI Festival at Hof Kasselmann on Saturday noon 28 April 2012.

After a disappointing appearance at the Paul Schockemohle Stallion Show in February 2012 and the controversial announcement of their training partnership with Sjef Janssen, Team Totilas climbed from valley deep back to mountain high with today's relieving perfomance.The black stallion (by Gribaldi x Glendale) looked frisky and fresh and made no major mistakes in his test. The trot extensions had one to two hooves overtrack (which is enormous for Totilas), the half passes were good with a clawing front leg. The first passage had extremely high lift of all four legs while the piaffe was good but slightly forward. The extended walk was very nice with good overtrack but the nose could have been more out. The collected walk was pure. The second piaffe-passage was very nice even though the piaffe already started two meters before the centerline.

The horse showed improved relaxation in the canter work. The tempi changes, which were often a stumbling block for the 2010 World Champion, were all clear. In the two's he became very crooked in the body and behind the vertical, in the ones he was tight in the neck and lacked ground cover. The extended canter was awesome, the pirouettes were good though the right one could have had more strides. In the last extended trot the horse was not entirely regular in the length of each stride. The final piaffe-passage centerline had very good energy and lift in the legs, but the piaffe at X was much too forward.

Rath made a big sigh of relief and balled his fist after he saluted. The black stallion, whose doom was written in stone by the Dutch media, rose from the ashes like a phoenix and was greeted with much enthusiasm by the judges. The panel in Hagen consisted of five O-judges, Isobel Wessels (GBR), Katrina Wüst (GER), Ghislain Fouarge (NED), Evi Eisenhardt (GER), and Jean-Michel Roudier (FRA). They awarded fourteen 10s (for piaffe, passage and transitions) to Rath's test and their marks ranged from 82.979% (Roudier) to 84.255% (Fouarge).

Only one judge saw a different winner today, Roudier. He ranked second placed Laura Bechtolsheimer on her 17-year old Danish warmblood gelding Mistral Hojris (by Michellino x Ibsen) first. Totilas and Mistral could easily have swapped places as both horses put in excellent rides in which there were minor issues affecting the image of total harmony. While overall Mistral Hojris is the more complete horse with more highlights (more powerful from behind, better extended trot, better walk, more regular in pi-pa), Totilas is the cuter one of the two lookswise and shines with more elasticity and lightness. Bechtolsheimer's very visible half-halting might have cost her the victory today.

Mistral's powerful trot extensions and half passes were superb. His piaffe and passage showed awesome cadence and spring and he was rhythmical like clockwork though in piaffe his left hind leg steps more under the body than his right. The extended walk was brilliant. In canter the horse showed outstanding pirouettes, a strong extension and big two tempi changes but one change didn't come through from behind. The one tempi's were correct but could have been more ground covering. The final piaffe-passage on the centerline was world class.

Laura and Mistral scored 82.745% ranking  them second with Wessels, Wust and Fouarge and third with Eisenhardt, though the score range between the judges was very close and acceptable.

Kristina Sprehe and Desperados are the new hype in Germany, as they need to save the country's biscuit at the Olympics in a pas de deux with Totilas. In 2010 Desperados made his Grand Prix debut under trainer Falk Rosenbauer and already back then the horse was brimming with 80% scoring potential. Sprehe took over the ride in 2011, gained some mileage in the Under 25 circuit and made her transition to the senior ranks this winter with a major victory at the 2012 CDI Dortmund.

The 11-year old Hanoverian stallion Desperados (by De Niro x Wolkenstein II) is absolutely a star horse and can be counted amongst the best in the world, but his day score of 81.851%, which placed him third, seemed more an infatuation than a realistic, critical judgment. It is only human to be swept away by the beauty, grace and talent of Desperados; this horse has so many highlights. However he seemed very generously assessed today. Sprehe and Desperados certainly earned their third place in the pack, but a mid 70s score would have been more respectful in regard to the performances of the other competitors.

In trot Desperados had very good activity from behind and his forwardness and suspension in the extensions and half passes were commendable. The first passage was, despite its bounce and elasticity, irregular behind with the left hindleg going under and the right hock being pulled high. The piaffe had super sit but was slightly forward. The extended and collected walk was good. The second passage was once again very uneven despite being high off the ground. The canter work was very solid with no mistakes, but there were some beauty flaws which a more seasoned Grand Prix rider like Bechtolsheimer and Rath would filter out of their ride. The two tempi's were crooked and could have been more forward, the ones were very correct but can be more ground covering. The zig zag was outstanding! The horse was also crooked to the right in the extended canter. Desperados can really take the weight on the hindquarters, which a properly schooled dressage horse is supposed to do. He proves this constantly in the piaffe and pirouettes. The left pirouette was a bit large, the right one was better. On the final centerline the first passage was very forward. The piaffe at X was superb with real sit but the last stretch of passage became very irregular again.

The demure Sprehe scored a personal best of 81.851% which put her in a league of a few elite riders able to crack the 80% mark. Yesterday Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro won the Grand Prix for Special with 81.426% which would have put her fourth were the fields merged together.

Text by Astrid Appels
Photos © Selene Scarsi

Check out quotes from Rath, Bechtolsheimer and Sprehe at the press conference.

Eurodressage Coverage of the 2012 CDI Hagen