Ah yes. Did anyone really think I would not join in on this particular discussion? How little faith ye have. So, Edward Gal and Totilas. 89.40% And how do all of you feel about this, hmmm?
There are moments when I doubt myself. Awww...hell, I doubt myself a lot. But when I saw the video of their freestyle at Hickstead, something just didn't sit right with me. He's a beautiful horse and he seems a pleasant enough lad, so I wanted to be able to just enjoy the video and congratulate their success. But the fact of the matter is that this pair just achieved a new world record score and even though I know I won't like the majority of dressage rides I subject myself to anymore, I made the effort to click over and watch their ride, perhaps looking for some brilliant display of a talented newcomer. And let me reiterate, I do love the horse. I think he is beautiful, talented and appears to have a good head on his shoulders.
However. It is greatly dismaying to me to see this ride score so highly. In fact, I suppose it's dismaying to me to see dressage still stuck in the exact same place it was last year during the Olympics fiasco / disaster. I guess it's partly my bruised ego that is fueling my irritation at seeing this ride score such a high score. You know -- didn't the dressage officials get a copy of my memo? Ultimately however, it's just a general disenchantment with the sport I used to so love. Totilas is a lovely horse and could be a very good dressage horse, but in the manner he is being ridden currently, they did not merit that score.
Must I harp on this? Totilas is behind the vertical throughout the entire test. His poll is never at the highest point. His trot extensions are ALL FOREARM. And please, do not chime in to tell me that a horse can have huge shoulder movement (this word shoulder, I do not think it means what you think it means -- please start referring to it as FOREARM) and equal push from behind. Yes, I think that this horse is adequately pushing from behind. But what is totally unnecessary and actually hinders his freedom of movement is his giant "park trot" forearm extension. I would love to see the difference in movement if he was allowed to lift his forehand more (sorry, but in order to do what you are seeing, there is too much weight on the forehand), actually lengthen his neck and come up slightly in front of the vertical. I guarantee that level of stretch and relaxation would wipe out that showy trot.
Let's talk about this tight frame for a second. His nose is too cranked in, his neck is far too constricted. No doubt this horse does have a nice passage and piaffe, but in the form in which it is presented here, NO WAY! That "hang time" of his in the passage is artificial, folks. That is not what a passage should look like. Please watch it frame by frame and you will easily see what I mean. The problem stems from the way he is ridden, too short in the frame and poll too low (absolute elevation). He cannot properly lift the forehand and sink the croup. In order to compensate he has to hollow out and pull himself forward with his shoulders (not that there isn't push from behind; there is, but not enough). The same happens during his piaffe, where it really counts! He looks like he is being ridden downhill; the poor boy tries valiantly, but he just cannot achieve true collection. The best stride of piaffe was the one taken just before he transitioned back into passage. It transformed him instantly. And I do realize that EVERYONE and their mother is praising this boy's piaffe and passage. I am not blind, people. The fact is that he is remarkably good at faking the collection and suspension; it is far less obvious than it would be in other horses. But you need only look at the frame, the elevation of the front-end and the angles of the hind legs. It cannot allow the purity of movement that everyone is praising about him. He's very clearly incredibly athletic and built close-quartered enough that he can fake it better than some of the recent modern warmbloods.
I fully admit that in order to see a lot of this, I had to review the video, frame-by-frame. And, you know what, there is no shame in that. I knew that something was off in his performance, but it took closer examination to discern exactly what that was. I tend to believe that sometimes we can think that a movement is correct because the overall outcome or picture appears successful. Dressage is far more complicated than that though. Often our impressions are simply wrong. Our eyes are not quick enough to see the individual parts that make up the whole. This problem is leading us down a very slippery slope and rewarding training methods that are not correct, balanced and harmonious. That is something that our current competitive dressage scoring system cannot correct for and cannot cope with. And it results in a pair like Edward Gal and Totilas. Beauty and showmanship galore, but false underlying fundamentals.