Barbara Young meets record-breaking dressage superstars Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas

By: Horse Deals

Barbara Young meets record-breaking dressage superstars Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas
Edward at the European Championships with team-mates Adelinde Cornelissen and Anky van Grunsven

For those of us fortunate enough to witness the magical partnership between Dutch dressage supremo Edward Gal and his stunning black stallion Moorlands Totilas as they smashed successive world records at the European Dressage Championships at Windsor, those remarkable performances of sheer brilliance will remain etched in the memory.

The buzz about this extraordinary combination began earlier this year when they took on the best in the Dutch championships and came out in their first ever grand prix special as winners, topping 80% ahead of triple Olympic Champion Anky van Grunsven and Salinero.
However, this 39-year-old quietly spoken wunderkind appears bemused by the hype and is poles apart from a dressage diva you might expect.

Edward runs a training yard with his partner Hans Peter Minderhoud — who has Carl Hester’s former ride Escapado— and grand prix rider Nicole Werner in Harskamp, Holland. It features two schools, a covered round pen and exercise arena with surrounding turn-out paddocks.
Here, this trio has established a winning formula within a positive environment, where the radio plays upbeat music throughout the day and the staff and employers pull together as a close-knit team.

Edward admits that following their world record of 90.70% in the freestyle at the Europeans, he is still coming to terms with the adulation and focus of interest in Totilas, now routinely dubbed the "wonderhorse".
"I don’t know what to say anymore," said Edward after posting an awesome 29 perfect 10 scores at Windsor. "He feels so good you cannot describe it, you have to feel it but you cannot put it into words."

But Edward isn’t just a one-trick pony. His name has been linked with success for his entire riding career. He first became the focus of media attention in 2005 when he beat his one-time mentor Anky on Salinero for the first time in the World Cup with the
stallion Lingh, an occasion he still describes as one of the most memorable moments of his career.

Having started riding at the age of 14, Edward’s career after leaving university quickly gained momentum. He was fourth with Kappuccino in the PAVO Cup, the national championships for
young horses, and then went on win an advanced medium title. In 1999 and 2001, he won four silver medals at the national championships and a year later with Lingh took the gold medal in the small tour.
Edward has proven experience as a world-class rider having produced four grand prix horses including as the approved stallion Gribaldi, who sired Totilas.

His big breakthrough came with Lingh in 2003 when he became a member of the Dutch team at the European Championships. He followed this up with good results in Europe that saw him qualify for the Athens Olympics, although injury just before leaving ruled them out of contention. Then in November 2006, Lingh was sold to Karin Reid-Offield in the US.
"It was like losing a friend," remembers Edward. "I hated seeing his empty stable, so I had to put another horse in there the next day. I went to see him a couple of months later in the US, which was hard. I don’t know if he recognised me but I could see that he was in a good place and I was happy to know that when the time came, he’d have a happy retirement there.
"I’m not good at saying goodbye to horses. I have three old horses I can’t sell, so it’s a bit like a retirement home at our yard. They’ve become good friends because I’ve had them since they were three years old. I’m quite soft, and that’s not always good businesswise!"

At the time, Edward said Lingh would always have a special place in his heart and he never thought he could have a better horse, but Totilas has already superseded expectations.
"They’re totally different, so are impossible to compare to each other," he explains. "What I have learned is that you have to be careful and take your time. It’s easy with a horse like ‘Toto’ to be tempted to do too much — everyone wants to see him and people want to pay us to come to their shows, but he’s only nine years old.
"Toto doesn’t need a lot of work and that’s one of his talents. He loves routine. After competition he has a week off and in between I ride low and deep with a few transitions in canter and trot to help him respond to small aids. About 10 days before the next competition I start to ride him in more of a competition frame and perhaps go through the test or some of the movements. At midday, he goes on the walker and is then walked in-hand twice in the afternoon.

"Toto is always happy and wants to work, but he’s not arrogant. In the stable he’s a happy person and has his ears forward looking for attention, which I’m happy to give him. I believe our bond is part of our success. I’ve never had such a horse, he’s amazing!"
Bred by Jan and Anna Schuil from Gribaldi’s Trakhener bloodlines out of a Glendale dam, Totilas was just six when Edward first rode him. After being bought by Edward’s sponsors, Cees and Tosca Visser of Moorland Stables, the black stallion didn’t take long to attract attention and start collecting accolades describing him as "the best in the world".
"We’d never talked about them finding me a horse, but after Lingh was sold they said they wanted me to get a potential top horse, but none of us ever expected this outcome," says Edward. "I knew he could be special, but not like this."
It was at Hickstead’s Exquis World Dressage Masters earlier this year that Totilas made his memorable UK debut, setting his first world record in the freestyle.

"When he first went into the arena at Hickstead, he got a bit scared and I could almost feel him saying: ‘Help, what should I do now?’, but you just reassure him and pat him and because we have this special trust, he is fine again," says Edward. "He was just a little unsure of his surroundings at first but once he started his test he just got better and better. He felt great, although we had mistakes in the two-times, and the result was just amazing. It was the biggest buzz ever... until Windsor!
"Toto loves an audience, you can see him saying: ‘Hey, look at me’ and that’s a good quality! He loves the crowd appreciation, he’s a showman and a show off, but once we’re in the arena we are completely focused and in a zone. It’s easy to get into the flow with him.

"Training Toto is a pleasure. He doesn’t give you problems, he learns everything very quickly and is so supple with a good mind that it comes easily. He’s also easy to switch on and off. One minute he can be electric with the fantastic off-the-floor paces, but you can also switch him off and ask him to relax, so his trainability is a big talent!"

Edward also has two future grand prix stars at home in Interfloor Next One (by Jazz) and Sither de Jeu (by Gribaldi), as well as Uusminka, a full-sister to Totilas.
"Toto has the same capabilities as Gribaldi for collection and piaffe/passage and looks very similar with four white feet, but he isn’t a breeding stallion so doesn’t get distracted," says Edward. "Toto is more focused on me. It’s difficult for a breeding stallion to compete, and we’ll look again at this possibility perhaps once he’s finished his sports career."

Edward and Totilas were mesmerising in their freestyle at Hickstead and Windsor.
"We both really like the freestyle test. I look forward to it once the grand prix is over because I love music around me. I always have it playing in the car, at home and on the yard. It gives a happy feeling," says Edward. "I like all sorts of music, modern dance, classic and ballads — and it’s best when it’s turned up loud!"
The freestyle called "Totally Totilas" was put together by Joost Peters and Edward over a number of weeks.
"We videoed Toto and spent evenings looking for music on the Internet. Everything we found matched him, so the eventual choice was difficult! We’ve only used this music a handful of times. The first time was in March at the Dutch indoor championships and afterwards we got a standing ovation, which gave me goosebumps!"
So what is their winning formula?
Edward laughs and shrugs his shoulders: "I’m a pretty easygoing type of person but I’m also a bit of a perfectionist. Most of the time I remain very positive and always think of challenges as solutions, not problems. At home I like to just chill on the couch and watch TV or maybe mow the lawn, but I’m not domesticated and don’t like shopping or cooking. You have to stick to what you’re good at!"

• Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas will be back in Britain to take part in the FEI World Cup™ Dressage qualifier at Olympia on Tuesday, 15 December. Edward will also be giving his first ever dressage masterclass at Olympia before the freestyle to music on Wednesday evening, 16 December.