Totilas’ Former Owner Talks About “THE” Sale

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Totilas with Edward Gal aboard and Tosca and Kees Visser at Aachen, Germany in July. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-neqs.com
Totilas with Edward Gal aboard and owners Tosca and Kees Visser at Aachen, Germany in July. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-neqs.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Kees Visser agreed to sell Totilas one week after the World Equestrian Games when Paul Schockemöhle offered to pay a price the Vissers set years earlier and it would have been “ridiculous” to “tempt fate” by keeping the 10-year-old black stallion for the London Olympics in 2012.

And he wondered why another rider could not achieve the same results–“why not say it could be better”–as Edward Gal. The pair won two gold and one silver medal at the 2009 European Championships, winning the only World Cup Final in which they competed, in Holland earlier this year, and three gold medals at the WEG in Kentucky.

“What didn’t we win?” Kees asked of the four years he and his wife, Tosca, owned Totilas during which time Totilas was competed 55 times and beaten only twice, both times by Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival.

“The Olympic Games. They are two years away. With the money that was involved and the risk we had to take to keep a horse like that, the decision for us was not an easy one.

“But if I had to do it again today I would do it.”

In a conversation with dressage-news.com about the sale of the son of Gribaldi that stunned the horse world, Kees said the criticism of his family was “emotional” but the decision was “logical” and the “right one.” He said that he and Paul Schockemöhle of Performance Sales International had agreed not to disclose the purchase price. It has been reported at between €9.5 million and up to €15 million (US$13.3-$21 million).

Paul Schockemöhle, he said, was “like a shadow” in pursuing the purchase and he praised the German who parlayed his fame as a top jumper rider into probably the most successful sport horse sales and breeding operation in the world.

“One of the great advantages of dealing with him is that Totilas will be very professionally guided,” Kees said. “Mr. Schockemöhle knows how to do things.”

The Vissers bought Totilas for Edward four years ago as an international prospect after the stallion Lingh was sold to the United States and Ravel also went to America as a 2008 Olympic hopeful. They are active in horse sports including as a major sponsor with Anthony Kies in the Exquis World Dressage Masters, the richest series of dressage events with five competitions each with prize money of €100,000 (US$140,000) in 2010.

Dressage-news.com: What were the circumstances that led to the sale of Totilas?

Kees Visser: We set an amount and Tosca and I talked and said, ‘if someone comes up with an offer like that it would be a perfect strategy. It would be ridiculous for us to keep a horse with all the risks.’ This year we lost one of our horses with a broken bone, so we know what it is to say goodbye to horses.

To be quite honest with you, the price was the main reason; and, don’t tempt fate.

We have had everything with the horse. He has been 55 times in the arena with the Moorlands flag and he won 53 times. The two times he didn’t win was when he was fighting himself, and the other horse on both occasions was Parzival and he was better. We have three world records, three world championship gold medals, two European gold medals and one silver and the World Cup in Den Bosch.

Totilas ridden by Edward Gal in the victory gallop after the Grand Prix Freestyle at Kentucky and their third gold medal. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Totilas ridden by Edward Gal in the victory gallop after the Grand Prix Freestyle at Kentucky and their third gold medal. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

DN: You and Tosca enjoyed the horse so much, how does it feel not to have the horse in your life any more?

Kees Visser: You can see how the bidding goes. You can more or less feel that during Kentucky or half a year after Kentucky somebody would reach the level that we set for ourselves that he would go for. So it’s not something that popped up right away. If you put a figure forward on a horse like that which we did, where my wife and I agreed upon, it’s already on a level that you say, well, first see someone who tries to reach that level. It goes slowly. Someone comes up and makes an offer and someone else comes up. The offers have been going on for the past two years.

When he first went in Aachen (Germany) in the small tour 2 1/2 years ago that was when real attention was focused on the horse, when people first saw him in the big arena. From that time on there was sometimes a month when nobody called but there were months when several people called asking whether he was for sale. Some were very interesting others were from lunatics with all kinds of constructions they like to make. Half of it was very serious. We enjoyed it very much. The only thing we said was that if it reaches a certain level it would be economically daft for us to keep him on.

DN: We talked at Aachen at that time and I asked whether you worried about whether the gaits may be too big. Goes to show what I knew. I guess I was one of those lunatics.

Kess Visser: I do remember that because he was moving so extraordinary and the other horses you mentioned, and can a horse cope with that… is he outperforming himself in certain stages.

But we knew how he was working at home, how he was reacting to the tension and letting it go. For us it was a question of whether the horse would be able to keep on going like he did.

We did not realize the international power of a horse like that. We knew, of course, that in Holland it would be fantastic and a ‘good feeling’ horse because he is black, he is a stallion, he is a nice horse. As Edward shows him he looks like he is easy to handle even though he is a stallion. He has a good trot, a good walk, his gallop is perfect, he can do pirouettes, that’s the great difference between Totilas and other good horses.

At Aachen in 2008, a sign of things to come. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
At Aachen in 2008, a sign of things to come. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

DN: When did you make the final decision to sell Totilas?

Kees Visser: The week after WEG. Mr. Schockemöhle put forward the amount that he offered that was the amount that we had in our minds. It was for us a clean-cut deal. Let the vet come. The strange thing about it, he has never been tried by any other riders. It’s not like he has been tried a few times by one of Mr. Schockemöhle’s own riders or by someone who wants to have the sporting part of the horse. The only three people who have been on the back of Totilas in the past four years have been Edward, Hans Peter Minderhoud and my wife who has sat on him a few times. So that’s also a rather strange part of the deal is that he’s never been ridden by anyone from the Schockemöhle team.

DN: You mean Paul didn’t bring one of his riders to try him?

Kees Visser: No, no. We were both there during the vet check and that was it. We knew the horse was healthy because we had him checked before we went to Kentucky. Still I understand if you pay a certain amount for a horse you want your own vet to double check everything.

DN: Tosca used to get very emotional watching Totilas compete. How did she react to the sale?

Kees Visser: The horse didn’t die. We are still emotional. I think if he goes with another rider I will enjoy still the perfect horse that he is. He’s not mine now. It doesn’t make him a worse horse. It makes him still the black beauty that everyone can enjoy.

Of course, Edward has been his rider for the past four years and has done beautiful things with the horse. But why couldn’t another riders do the same? I won’t say better but… why not say it could be better with another rider. There are enough horses known to have been good with one rider and later in their life performing with a new one. The only sad thing would have been if the the horse had died or unable to compete any more.

The horse is alive. He will be perfectly managed within the stables of Mr. Paul Schockemöhle. I don’t think for a moment he will suffer or won’t get the treatment that he needs. We don’t have to worry about that.

DN: Were you surprised by the reaction to the sale?

Kees Visser: Yes. But when you have football players who play all over the world for different teams and they only come back to Holland to play for their national teams. They earn their money everywhere and we don’t have any problem.

It would be ridiculous to say, ‘Mr. Visser you can sell him but not to the British as they are good at the moment, not to the Germans because they like a good horse, not to the Americans because next to Steffen Peters there would be another good horse, not to someone because they are within range.’

If that would be the case, it would not be up to me. I would find it almost offending if it was something like that.

They were applauding when we won the world championships. A lot of Germans were standing behind me, Klaus Balkenhol and some of the others, they congratulated me in a way that I could see it was honest, the right way to do it. So I was proud that they could see the beauty of what happened. Then to say, ‘You can sell him, but not to Germans. not to the British or not to Americans because they all have the capability to build a team around it or produce a better team,’

No, no. That’s not my style. I find those kinds of reasons pathetic.

DN: Do you expect to buy other horses for Edward?

Kees Visser: I hope to buy 10 of them. It would be very beautiful for the sport, but I don’t think we will find another horse like that. We did find one and we were lucky enough to keep him for four years. I don’t see why we couldn’t have another good horse, that good you always have to wait. We did it once and we could probably do it again if the horse is there.

But there are other investors in horses. In America you have Steffen Peters who has a good lady (Akiko Yamazaki) behind him. The Bechtolsheimers (of Great Britain) they invest in good horses. In Holland there is Ton Kies investing in good horses. There are a lot of people around the world who have the capability, the knowledge and financial power to buy good horses.

The amount of money involved in Totilas is in an extraordinary league. The problem is that there are a lot of good horses but a limited amount of really good horses. There are a lot of good riders. If I look at Holland there are probably 10 riders who have the capability of riding in an Olympics. But we have only a few horses, so cherish your horses and hopefully in a few years time there will be a new generation of Totilas with some new horses to compete at the highest level.

DN: How many mares do you have in foal to Totilas?

Kees Visser: Three mares. The earliest mare will be born about the end of January. That will also be the first Totilas baby to see the light. Hopefully he will bring a new generation of movement into the dressage world.

Totilas with new owner Paul Schockemöhle. © 2010 Julia Wentscher
Totilas with new owner Paul Schockemöhle. © 2010 Julia Wentscher